Is Playoff Path more Important than the Team?

When the NCAA Tournament bracket comes out, there are two distinctly different conversations that take place. First, there is a discussion about the best team; second, we ponder who has the best draw. In the NFL playoffs, the best squad remains a debate, but there is no doubt about the easiest path to the Super Bowl.

AFC

The New England Patriots (31/20) have the best odds of reaching the Super Bowl among the eight teams still standing. There’s not much value there; it’s a short price and the Pats will likely have to hit the road in the AFC Championship Game (if they make it that far).

It’s hard to love Denver (37/20), as well, since Peyton Manning is a huge question mark and Gary Kubiak isn’t a proven playoff winner.

The Chiefs (49/10) and Steelers (7/1) both have a difficult path and key injuries.

NFC

Like Pittsburgh in the AFC, the Packers (36/5) are the extreme long shot in the NFC. Green Bay has been inconsistent on both sides of the ball for much of the year. Looking good against Washington’s lousy pass defense is nice, but the challenge revs up significantly this weekend against Arizona.

That brings us to the Cardinals (9/5), Panthers (9/5), and Seahawks (37/10). All three are rightly viewed as legitimate contenders, however, their paths are not identical.

The Seahawks are getting the best price because (a) they had to play last week (and were lucky to win), (b) in order to make the Super Bowl, they’ll need to win two more road games, and (c) they’ll probably have to beat both of the other NFC favorites. That’s justified for a number six seed; if Seattle wanted an easier path, they should have had a better regular season.

However, the Panthers, who went 15-1, unjustly got the short end of the stick.

Carolina has home-field advantage in the NFC, but will likely have to beat Seattle and Arizona in back-to-back weeks. The three-point spread against the Seahawks indicates that bettors and sportsbooks see the teams as even (on a neutral field). If the Panthers survive this week, a similar spread would be in play next week against the Cardinals.

Unlike the Panthers, the Cardinals get a softball in the Divisional Playoffs, laying seven against a Green Bay team they just shellacked, 38-8. If that game is as easy as the spread indicates, Arizona will be in cruise control while Carolina and Seattle beat each other black and blue in Charlotte.

How, then, are the Cardinals and Panthers the same price to reach the Super Bowl?

Verdict

This is not an argument about who the best team is, simply a recognition that Arizona has the easiest draw. They are going to either host Seattle as (roughly) three-point favorites or travel to Charlotte as three-point dogs.

While nobody gets excited about 17/10, there is value on the Cardinals, who have the easiest route to Super Bowl 50.

(Photo Credit: Greg Buch | FFSwami.com (Originally posted to Flick)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/])

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