It is beginning to get a lot more difficult to find a legitimate alternative to the Patriots in the AFC. New England is around 10/13 to advance to the Super Bowl, and while the injury to TE Rob Gronkowski is significant, half the conference playoff field has bigger issues. Miami is without Ryan Tannehill, the Raiders lost Derek Carr, and Houston switched QB’s in Week 15.
The Chiefs haven’t won in New England since 1990, while the Steelers have one win in Foxborough since 1997. Though Kansas City and Pittsburgh have outside chances to represent the AFC, they will be more than three point underdogs on the road in New England.
If you think the Patriots have a good chance of going to the Super Bowl, who has the best shot in the NFC? The Cowboys are 17/10 to win the conference crown, but a decent 15/4 to play New England for the title. Seattle is about 7/2 in the conference, and 32/5 to take on the Pats. You get 5/1 on Atlanta in the NFC and 19/2 to get there and play New England. The Packers are 27/5 in the conference, and 10/1 to face Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Every other combo involving New England is at least 20/1.
The Cowboys are the clear NFC favorite, yet you get almost 4/1 for them to reach the game along with New England. Dallas will play all of their games at home in the conference playoffs. Seattle, Green Bay, and New York – arguably the three toughest obstacles for the Cowboys – will likely be forced to play on Wild Card weekend. The Cowboys are strong on both sides of the ball, can rest players down the stretch, and though there is reason to be concerned about rookies in the playoffs, are clearly the favorite.
For the better part of the past six weeks, I have been on the Seahawks. I thought their path to the Super Bowl was terrific: a bye, a home game, and at inexperienced Dallas. When they lost at Green Bay, I was thrilled it would help their odds. I have no idea what occurred on Sunday against the Cardinals. An inexcusable home loss that likely costs them a bye and a Divisional Round home game. Seattle has lost three of five, and yes, they beat New England and are good enough to go to the Super Bowl, but with a more difficult path, and coming off a bad loss, the Hawks have gotten tough to trust.
Winners of four out of five, the Falcons are most likely the team to earn the second playoff bye following Seattle’s stumble. They’ve played winning football under-the-radar for most of the season. Against likely playoff teams, Atlanta has beaten Oakland, lost by two points to Seattle, edged Great Bay, and lost by a point to Kansas City. They also beat Denver early on when the Broncos were playing well. The Falcons are number one in the NFL in offense, and appear capable.
Because of Aaron Rodgers and five straight wins, the public loves the Packers. Wins over Seattle and Houston during that span are notable. However, this is a team that continues to give up too many points, and lost to the two likely top seeds in the conference, Dallas and Atlanta. The Packers can’t rest anybody in Week 17 because they need to beat the Lions to earn a playoff home game. They’ve played well as of late and are viable, but the path is tough, and there are safer options to pick.
The Giants are in the playoffs, while Detroit is likely to make the postseason, and Washington is on the outside looking in. New York has two wins over Dallas, and have proven they belong with the big boys, but the road is awfully tough. The Lions can still get the two seed, or drop all the way out of the playoffs. There is still too much uncertainty to bet on them. Even if the Redskins make it, they will have backed their way in, and a good offense doesn’t feel like it is strong enough to outweigh a poor defense.
Dallas and Atlanta, who will probably have the two byes and home field advantage, are shockingly the best values. If you strongly like Seattle or Green Bay, team them up with the Patriots, and make a small play. If you believe New England is going to the Super Bowl, the odds are reasonable if you have confidence in your NFC selection.
Photo credit: By Andrew Campbell (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons