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Joe Flacco cuts into Damar Hamlin’s Comeback POY lead

Dec 24, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) passes against the Houston Texans in the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco already has cemented his status as a cult hero in Cleveland by leading the Browns to the franchise’s second playoff berth in 21 years, just five weeks after signing with the team.

In a typical year, a team’s fourth starting quarterback of the season accomplishing what Flacco has in just over a month might be enough to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. But as Flacco is aware of after having spent most of the season waiting for a call from an NFL team, this is anything by a typical year.

Flacco, 38, joined the Browns on Nov. 20. Thirteen days later, he was in the starting lineup for a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

At the time, the Browns’ playoff hopes were sinking fast and Flacco was understandably not even on the board for Comeback POY at most sportsbooks. Then the turnaround started, with Flacco engineering wins over Jacksonville and Chicago.

Before Week 15, Flacco entered the Comeback POY picture at BetMGM at +1200 — immediately jumping to the second-shortest odds behind Buffalo’s Damar Hamlin at -600.

Hamlin, understandably, has been the odds-on favorite since opening at -350.

The Bills safety has remarkably returned to the active roster after nearly losing his life when he went into cardiac arrest following a tackle in a game against Cincinnati on Jan. 2. Hamlin has contributed mostly on special teams in five games for Buffalo this season, recording a pair of tackles while playing 17 defensive snaps and 94 on special teams.

Various players have made runs at Hamlin’s favored status throughout the season.

His odds moved as high as +100 before Week 4, with Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa rising to +160 following his injury-plagued 2022 season. Tagovailoa remains in the hunt for MVP honors, but his Comeback odds have steadily risen to +1200.

Like Flacco, Denver quarterback Russell Wilson was off the board for most of the season, entering the market at the book at +1200 ahead of Week 14, when Hamlin was -275. Wilson dipped as low as +4000 ahead of Week 16, but a loss to New England all but extinguished the Broncos’ playoff hopes and the nine-time Pro Bowl selection subsequently was benched this week.

Meanwhile, Flacco has continued his charge, throwing for 300-plus yards and multiple touchdowns in four consecutive games — all Browns victories.

Flacco was +400 to win Comeback POY entering Week 17, but a 37-20 victory over the New York Jets on Thursday night catapulted Cleveland into the playoffs.

It also helped Flacco close the gap significantly, as he is now +115 at BetMGM. Meanwhile, Hamlin went from -450 before the start of Week 17 to -155 on Friday.

Hamlin is the -150 favorite at DraftKings, followed by Flacco (+100) and Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield (+1000). Wilson, who is no longer on the board at BetMGM, is still on the board but as a +30000 longshot at DraftKings.

Flacco’s spirited run up the board likely will fall short as Cleveland will close its regular season at Cincinnati in Week 18. However, a victory against a bitter rival to close with a five-game winning streak could further spark the debate.

The Bills have two games remaining, with Hamlin expected to continue his special teams role. The fact that he is even on an NFL roster — much less active on game days — has been a historic accomplishment.

Hamlin, 25, returned to the field for the preseason in August, nearly eight months after spending six days in the hospital following the incident on the field that nearly claimed his life. The third-year player was a full participant in team drills by June and cleared by doctors for full participation in July, going on to finish second on the team in preseason tackles.

Hamlin was a game-day inactive for much of the season before injury issues continued to mount in Buffalo’s secondary. He was on the active roster for the first time in Week 4, playing 18 snaps on special teams. Hamlin has since seen limited snaps on defense in two games while being active for four of the Bills’ games since Nov. 13.

–Field Level Media

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