Many bettors think about future prices at the start of the season and never consider their value again. For a team like Carolina, which vaulted all the way from 60/1 to 4/1 thanks to a 14-0 record, there is no great reason to put cash on them to win it all at this stage.
However, heading into Week 16, the playoff picture is getting sorted out and we’re getting a better idea of potential postseason matchups. Savvy bettors can use that information to find a decent price among the contenders.
Finishing with one of the top-two seeds in the AFC (and getting a first-round bye) looks all-important. Right now, three squads have a real shot at the top slots: New England, Cincinnati, and Denver. The Pats (currently in first place) are poised to take one; the winner of the Cincy/Denver tilt next weekend should nab the other. With the Chiefs and Steelers in great shape to finish 11-5, should Cincinnati beat Denver, the Broncos will fall to the sixth seed (or potentially out of the playoffs, entirely, if the Jets keep winning). If Denver wins, they’ll take over the number two position.
Since the Broncos are a 3.5-point home favorite, and Cincinnati is starting back-up quarterback AJ McCarron, let’s assume Denver wins. If they go on to beat San Diego at home in Week 17, they’ll finish 12-4. In that scenario, New England would be the likely top seed, Denver would be number two, the Bengals three, the winner of the AFC South four, followed by Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
The Steelers – arguably the hottest team in the league – would then be short road-favorites against the Bengals and a less-than-100-percent Andy Dalton on Wild Card weekend. (Or they’d be big favorites over an AJ McCarron-led Cincy squad.) Remember, even with Dalton, Cincinnati has lost in the Wild Card round four straight years and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990.
If Pittsburgh prevails in that one, they’d head to New England thereafter, and either Kansas City, Houston, or Indianapolis would travel to Denver. If the Broncos won at home, they would either travel to New England the next week or host Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. Both would be very tough matchups, but Denver already beat New England this year and showed they can hang with the Steelers in Week 15. Their 27/2 price looks awfully fair.
For what it’s worth, if you think the Bengals will beat Denver this weekend, then the most likely playoff seeding is as follows: no. 1 New England, no. 2 Cincinnati, no. 3 KC, no. 4 AFC South winner, no. 5 Pittsburgh, no. 6 Denver or the Jets.
The Chiefs would be a short home-favorite against the Broncos or Jets, while the Steelers would be a sizable road-favorite against the South winner. Assuming Pittsburgh and KC win, the Steelers would go to New England while Cincinnati would host the Chiefs. Assuming Pittsburgh wins and KC loses, the Broncos/Jets would go to New England and Pittsburgh would face Cincinnati.
The only healthy team with value under this scenario is Kansas City at 20/1. They could win a home playoff game and then face a banged up Cincinnati team. If they get that far, they’d likely head to New England (or host Pittsburgh) with nothing to lose and juicy odds.
The NFC is much more straightforward than the AFC. The Panthers will be the top seed with Arizona number two. The winner of Week 17’s Vikings/Packers game in Green Bay will be the three seed, with the NFC East winner number four. The Seahawks are the likely fifth seed and the loser of Minnesota/Green Bay will be number six.
Seattle would be a big road-favorite over any NFC East team on Wild Card weekend. The Packers would also be a big home favorite against the Vikings. But if the Vikings take the NFC North and host Green Bay in the Wild Card game, they’d be short home-favorites or small home-dogs.
If the road team wins the Green Bay/Minnesota playoff matchup, they’d go to Carolina in the Divisional Playoff, sending Seattle to Arizona (after the Seahawks put the NFC East out of its misery). If the Packers or Vikings hold serve at home, then they’d get Arizona and Seattle would visit Carolina.
Based on how they are playing now, it’s hard to imagine the NFC North winner going on the road and beating either the Cards or Panthers. Assuming the home team wins the Green Bay/Minnesota playoff game, they’d go to Arizona as a pretty big dog. Seattle would also be an underdog at Carolina, but not by much, and the Seahawks have a history of knocking off the Panthers.
With a decent chance at catching the best road to the Super Bowl, Arizona at 29/4 has the best value in the NFC.
(Photo credit: Landry Heaton (flickr) “Arizona Cardinals Concept-White Pants” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)