“When New England won its Super Bowl, Las Vegas and SportsBettingOnline.ag had already posted odds for NFL Super Bowl 50″
The haymakers had scarcely stopped flying at the end of New England's Super Bowl win when Las Vegas was already posting odds for NFL Super Bowl 50 or Super Bowl L. The favorites in most books around town were Seattle at 5-1 and New England at 6-1. But pre-season favorites making it to the Super Bowl champion's podium have been a rare breed of late, Seattle notwithstanding in 2013. New England this year rated no more than a 15-1 backing in the preseason and after a horrid start that even had reporters asking Bill Belichick if he was thinking about replacing Tom Brady the Patriots were a tepid 12-1 into October.
Consider the pre-season odds for the six previous Super Bowl Champions:
Super Bowl XLVII (2012)
Baltimore Ravens 14-1
Super Bowl XLVI (2011)
New York Giants 20-1
Super Bowl XLV (2010)
Green Bay Packers 16-1
Super Bowl XLIV (2009)
New Orleans Saints 20-1
Super Bowl XLIII (2008)
Pittsburgh Steelers 20-1
Super Bowl XLII (2007)
New York Giants 30-1
Before that the last preseason favorite to capture a National Football League championship were the Indianapolis Colts who pranced into the season as 7-1 favorites and survived to allow Peyton Manning to touch his only Lombardi Trophy. So there is value to be found in preseason odds of 20-1 or less. What can we expect from these pretenders in the 2015 NFL season?
Green Bay is a popular short-odds team after coming agonizingly close in this year's NFC championship. But the oft times inconsistent Packer defense was not able to cash the conservative checks coach Mike McCarthy was writing on offense and that theme could likely play out again in 2015. And of course league MVP Aaron Rodgers will have to escape untimely injuries that have affected him in recent seasons, including this year's hobbling through the playoffs.
The Cowboys have been posted as an optimistic 10-1. Their quarterback-running back-wide receiver trio of Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant is without peer which undoubtedly has sparked optimism. Romo will be 36 years of age in 2015 but has only played ten years and is coming off a Pro Bowl season that was his first since 2009. Last season was the first Murray was able to stay healthy for all 16 games (a heavily-taped broken hand from Game 15 did not sideline him) and he shouldered a heavy work load, toting the rock almost 25 times a game. The toll of that grind will bear watching but whether Dallas is truly a Super Bowl L contender will depend on its young, overachieving defense that was roundly considered the worst in football entering the 2014 season but repeatedly silenced doubters through the campaign. This all assumes the contract negotiations with Bryant and Murray go according to Dallas plans.
Denver is a solid 12-1 in most Vegas books but it is too early to tell how Peyton Manning will mesh with new coach Gary Kubiak. Or whether Manning will be around for Kubiak to mesh with at all. The record-holding quarterback suffered through a dismal second half of the season when his effectiveness plummeted, his arm strength was questioned and injury concerns were rumored. Denver was able to cover for Manning's sharp decline with a punishing defense and a spirited running game so with or without Manning fans can expect to see a different Bronco eleven in 2015.
If this year's Super Bowl demonstrated anything it was the value of a complete roster. The brutality of today's 20-game schedule puts a premium on roster depth and while you can never be certain to have a game-changing fifth-string cornerback from West Alabama (Malcolm Butler) or contributions from a Canadian Football League reject (Chris Matthews) organizations matter. In Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly has engineered a power play to gain complete control over personnel matters and fans will have to wait to see what he does with it. One position he will have to stabilize is quarterback as fans wait to see if an ironclad commitment to Nick Foles is on tap. Due to the uncertainty Eagles backers can find odds from 12-1 to 20-1 in early Vegas postings.
One team with no quarterback concerns is Indianapolis, which has moved forward in each of Andrew Luck's three seasons, culminating in an AFC Championship appearance this year. But it is hard to point to a strength elsewhere on the Colts roster which keeps their preseason odds hovering in the 15-1 range.
Of course questions swirl around each of these pretenders given an outside shot at Super Bowl L. Can Pittsburgh rebuild a dominating defense after the departure of sideline guru Dick LeBeau that will compliment the transcendent talents of running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown? Can Detroit ever get a potential-fulfilling year from quarterback Matthew Stafford to take some pressure off its game-changing defense? Will Coach of the Year Bruce Arians be able to keep a quarterback healthy to back up his own raucous defenders in Arizona? Can anyone figure out New Orleans which was torpedoed by non-existent defense in 2013 and sabotaged by the no-show of its high-powered offense in 2014?
As for sleepers, how about those New York football Giants who purloined two Super Bowls in the past decade at odds of 20-1 and 30-1. Eli Manning spent most of 2014 learning a new offense and the team was dead and forgotten by mid-season and Tom Coughlin was assumed to have a limousine to retirement waiting outside Giants Stadium. But somehow Coughlin, with a big boost from rookie phenom Odell Beckham, resurrected a dead clubhouse and the Giants were as tough an out as any team in league down a meaningless stretch. Coughlin is back for 2015 and New York may be as well.
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