When the 2013 NFL season started, the Las Vegas oddsmakers saw five teams as head and shoulders above the rest when it came to the Super Bowl betting odds. The Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers were the favorites, ranging from 3-1 to 6-1, and from there it was a big dropoff to the next team up at 18-1.
The “Big Five” still remains, ranging in price from Denver at 7-2 to Green Bay at 10-1, though I’m not sure if VegasInsider.com, where I’ve referenced these numbers has updated the Packers after the Aaron Rodgers injury. In any case, the bigger picture shows that four more teams are now drawing comparable prices, as the NFL season moves to the second half.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are now up to 10-1, and the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs are right behind at 12-1. The Indianapolis Colts, with head-to-head wins over a pair of Big Five teams (I know, I’m talking about the favorites like they’re college basketball teams in the city of Philadelphia) in the Broncos and 49ers, are sitting at 15-1. The AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals are 18-1, and then the big drop occurs, with the next entry listed at 35-1.
TheSportsNotebook took a clear position on the Big Five at the outset of the season. While I wasn’t necessarily down on any of them, none of them shouted “Super Bowl favorite” at me, and I was convinced that the eventual champion would come from someone off the board, so to speak. I further felt that both Super Bowl teams would be amongst the mass of preseason darkhorses.
Whether it works out that way or not obviously remains to be seen, but I stand by both predictions today. Back in the heady days of early September, I also felt compelled to not simply be negative against the Big Five, but to take my shot at picking the dark horses. I chose the Washington Redskins to win the Super Bowl and the Pittsburgh Steelers to make it. That’s the part of this story I’m wishing would disappear.
The emergence of four new teams with comparable odds to the lowest of the Big Five has at least given us some candidates to evaluate. Here’s a few brief thoughts on each…
New Orleans: The Saints are playing defense at a championship-caliber level right now, and Drew Brees gives you a chance to win any game. If New Orleans is going to win it all, they need at least a little bit of a running game. The recent losses at New England and the New York Jets were disappointing, but both were close, and neither will hurt the Saints in tiebreakers.
Kansas City: Can we get the Chiefs some respect? I know the 9-0 record has been built against a weak schedule, with both Denver meetings still ahead. I know Kansas City doesn’t always–or even usually–look overwhelming. But this is a football team with a very clear identity, in that they run the ball, play defense, don’t make mistakes and let the opponent beat themselves.
If they had to play a truly great team, I’d be fine ruling them out. But no such team exists, and I’m not sure the Chiefs’ warts are worse than any other contender.
Indianapolis: I am really impressed with the way the Colts are coming along. They’re getting mostly steady defense, a good pass rush, and a reasonably consistent running game. Andrew Luck can still be a little erratic, but his mistakes are down from his rookie year, and he’s still willing to take off and run and make clutch plays down the stretch.
Cincinnati: If the conversation is about anything more than winning one playoff game, I have a hard time taking the Bengals seriously. And even that “one playoff win” thing might be pushing it. The loss of Geno Atkins for the year with a torn ACL has now cost Cincy the best defensive tackle in football. I really don’t get why the odds are this favorable.
The door is open for the challengers. Denver’s got defensive issues, and a head coach who will be out 6-8 weeks, as John Fox has heart surgery. Seattle has injury problems on the offensive line and is barely surviving games against bad teams. New England is still trying to hit on all cylinders offensively, and even when they do, who wants to bet on Rob Gronkowski’s continued good health. Green Bay is at a big crossroads as they try and survive a few games without Rodgers.
At the start of the season, I compared this year to 1999. That was the season the St. Louis Rams came out of nowhere, Kurt Warner became an overnight sensation and they won the Super Bowl. The opponent was equally out of the blue, as the Tennessee Titans took the wild-card route to the AFC title.
Are Alex Smith and the Chiefs this year’s version of the Warner-led Rams, another Show-Me State team ready to shock the NFL world? Will the Bengals be this year’s version of the ’99 Titans? Or will it be something less dramatic, like everyone realizing the Saints were just badly underrated at the start of the year?
Or will the chalk reassert itself and give us something like a Broncos-49ers Super Bowl? An exciting second half is ahead of us. If you ask to me pick now, I’ll take New Orleans-Indianapolis, a rematch of the 2009 Super Bowl as the fulfillment of my preseason pick.