Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks. Their performance in routing Denver 43-8 in Super Bowl 48 was outstanding in every facet of the game.
From a wagering standpoint there seemingly was a huge difference in opinion between the public and the professionals. The public was all over Denver while the pros, for the most part, strongly sided with the underdog Seahawks.
This was evidenced by the very brief appearances of the number 3 on a few betting boards around Las Vegas. Almost immediately the “Seattle plus 3” was scooped up by limit bettors such that perhaps only one or two bettors per property were able to bet at that most favorable of point spreads.
In the end it did not matter and, in fact, it almost did not matter from the very first play run from scrimmage. That play resulted in a safety and Seattle’s 2-0 lead virtually took the number 3 out of play.
As we put the wrap on the 2013 season it is never too early to start thinking about the 2014 season and consider which teams might be attractively priced such that an early Super Bowl futures wager might be tempting.
It’s common for the public to favor the team that just won a Super Bowl to repeat the following season. And considering the youthful roster of Seattle it can be tempting to wager that the Seahawks will repeat. In fact, history is against a team successfully defending a Super Bowl title.
Only 8 times in the previous 47 opportunities has a team won back to back Super Bowls, and four of those successful defenses occurred in the first 13 such chances. Since Pittsburgh won back to back Super Bowls in SB13 and SB14 only San Francisco, Dallas, Denver and New England have accomplished the feat. It has been a decade since it last happened with the Patriots winning Super Bowls 38 and 39.
Carrying this theme a bit further New England’s appearance in Super Bowl 39 was the last time that either a Super Bowl winner or loser was able to even make it back to the big game the following season.
Thus, history is against both Denver and Seattle making it to Super Bowl 49 next Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. In most sports books that have already posted odds to win next season’s Super Bowl the Seahawks and Broncos are favored along with San Francisco at odds in the vicinity of 5 or 6-to-1.
Explanations as to why teams are unable to repeat winning, or repeat reaching, a second straight Super Bowl are many. Among the most widely acceptable are the salary cap, more liberal free agency rules, the unlikelihood of teams to have two straight seasons of not suffering key prolonged injuries and the overall competitive balance that exists in the NFL.
Realizing much can change between now and the start of the 2014 season, especially when it comes to pending free agency and the draft, here are some preliminary thoughts, Division by Division, with an eye toward teams that might make for attractive Super Bowl 49 plays.
After being the worst Division in all of the NFL from the 2002 Division realignment through 2011, the NFC West has produced the last two NFC Champions. Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco and Seattle were a combined 151-249 in non-Divisional games over that 10-season span, winning at a rate of just 37.8%.
The NFC West improved to 23-17 in 2012 and were 30-10 this past season. All four teams figure to be at least as strong in 2014. Arizona and St. Louis, the two NFC West teams not to make the Playoffs this past season, were 10-6 and 7-9, respectively.
With San Francisco and Seattle poised and positioned for continued success with strong defenses and up and coming quarterbacks it is a stretch to suggest, while improved, either the Cardinals or Rams can overtake the Division’s top two teams.
A similar situation exists in the NFC South where both New Orleans and Carolina made the Playoffs this season. Again, both teams have solid quarterback play and solid defenses. Atlanta figures to bounce back from their disastrous 4-12 season but the roster is aging.
Tampa Bay presents an interesting situation with a still unproven but developing QB and a solid defense. New coach Lovie Smith took Chicago to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at QB and got fired after going 10-6 in 2012. At 40-to-1 the Buccaneers might have some value but their offense is a concern and the overall toughness of the Division keeps this from being an enthusiastic endorsement.
The NFC North is an interesting Division that could provide a Super Bowl winner at attractive odds. New coaches take over in Detroit and Minnesota.
Of the two, the Lions have the more talented roster but it’s hard to recommend a team, though talented, to make that great a leap in a coach’s first season when he inherits a losing team.
Green Bay is favored to win the Division but the team with a solid upside is Chicago. The defense was down this past season but was riddled with key injuries from the start. QB Jay Cutler, also an injury risk, had a fine season when healthy as he had legitimate receivers to complement a strong running game.
After a sluggish start the offensive mind of rookie coach Marc Trestman was evident. Although the Packers will still be a formidable foe, at 25-to-1 “Da Bears” should be a legitimate contender to make the Playoffs and could be a surprise Super Bowl contender.
The NFC East is still largely in rebuilding mode. Dallas remains a talented yet dysfunctional franchise that has wallowed in mediocrity for more than a decade.
The New York Giants are showing signs of age and the poor play of Eli Manning in 2013 is a major concern, and will remain a concern unless the G-Men improve their running game.
Washington has a new coach but questions persist about QB Robert Griffin III in terms of his health/durability, leadership abilities and a potentially divisive locker room. That leaves Philadelphia as the team with the most upside.
Winning the Division in Chip Kelly’s first season as coach and Nick Foles assuming the starting QB role, the Eagles should be favored to win the Division. The defense has issues that should be addressed this off season and their odds of 25-to-1 might be a too low to recommend them for play as it may take one more season of development for the Eagles to gain separation from their three rivals and close the gap that exists between them and the top teams from the South and West.
In the AFC the East belongs to New England until further notice, and the Patriots overcame the loss of multiple receivers from 2012 and endured several key defensive injuries in 2013, yet still went 12-4.
At odds of 12-to-1 there is some value in backing the Patriots as there are enough concerns with Buffalo, Miami and the New York Jets to suggest New England will not just win the AFC East once again, but likely earn the number one or two seed. New England won the Division by four games in 2013, the fourth straight season the Pats have won the Division by three or more games.
The AFC North should be a contentious Division once again with Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all battling for Division honors. Of the trio the Bengals are held at the lowest odds, 18-to-1, with the Ravens and Steelers each having early odds of 30-to-1.
Cincinnati has the strongest defense of the three but also the weakest QB. This has long been the NFL’s most physical Division top to bottom and as such will produce a tested Division titlist.
The Bengals have the most talented roster in the Division and did win the North by three games this season. But the Bengals have been one and done in the Playoffs for three straight seasons and in four of the last five. And with changes at both coordinator positions it’s hard to consider a play on Cincy.
Pittsburgh’s age is a concern on both sides of the football, suggesting of the three, the Ravens may be the team to beat; and having missed the Playoffs after winning the Super Bowl a season early, well-coached Baltimore could be a surprise contender in the AFC.
Indianapolis appears to be the team to beat in the AFC South. Both Tennessee and Jacksonville have major rebuilding issues. At 4-12 the Jaguars’ realistic goal should be coming within a game or two of .500.
The Titans were making progress and were without their starting QB for much of this past season. But a coaching change means other changes are forthcoming and a repeat of their 7-9 record is doubtful.
Houston is the most enigmatic team in the entire league. With the No.11 offense and No. 7 defense the Texans’ 2-14 record is hard to explain. A coaching change and possible switch at QB may be more positive than negative.
We could see a similar turnaround with Houston as with Kansas City, which was similarly 2-14 in 2012 and made the Playoffs at 11-5 this past season after also making a coaching and QB change. At 30-to-1 odds Houston is a viable longshot that could be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Aside from QB they have a better overall roster than Indianapolis.
The Colts are at 25-to-1 and also have some nice upside. Remember, they defeated San Francisco, Seattle and Denver in 2013 when they were healthy. But questions about the running game temper the enthusiasm a bit.
Denver will again be favored in the AFC West, assuming Manning is cleared to return following his physical exam next month. At 6-to-1 odds there is no value in backing the Broncos and that has nothing to do with their poor performance in the Super Bowl.
A pair of first season coaches took Kansas City and San Diego to the Playoffs. Kansas City’s odds are 25-to-1, San Diego’s 30-to-1. Kansas City benefited from a soft early schedule whereas San Diego showed steady improvement throughout the season.
On balance, the upside may be greater for the Chargers than the Chiefs. A road playoff win at Cincinnati and three solid efforts against the Broncos, including a win at Denver, provide rationale for taking those 30-to-1 odds on a team with QB Philip Rivers, considered by many to be just below elite status.
So whereas it’s easy to make a case for the favored teams it does take a bit more boldness to predict a Super Bowl between a pair of teams somewhat under the radar.
But why not a Super Bowl between a pair of teams featuring coaches with great offensive minds at relatively long odds. If so, perhaps we’ll see Chicago face San Diego a year from now.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]