As this NFL season gets underway, we have already seen that there may be some chinks in the armor of the Super Bowl champions, as the Baltimore Ravens went down to the Denver Broncos and the seven touchdown passes from Peyton Manning.
Who does that leave as the logical choice to win it all?
Could it indeed be the Broncos, who are priced at +500 in the latest NFL futures at Bovada.com? Surely this team, which won its last eleven regular season games before running into the Ravens in the playoffs, could get stronger as the season progresses, as Von Miller comes off his suspension, Champ Bailey moves back into the lineup, and a running game starts to develop. What could slow Denver down? And who could blanket that set of receivers, with the addition of Wes Welker and the possible emergence of Julius Thomas at tight end?
You can bet that the San Francisco 49ers, who are +700 to win it all in the NFL futures odds, are going to put their best foot forward. The Niners got close last season, and one has to imagine that in being able to take the controls for a full season, Colin Kaepernick will be even more comfortable in the offense. We know that San Francisco is going to be able to run the ball; any team Jim Harbaugh coaches can do that. And they are going to be super-aggressive on defense, as they bring back just about all standouts with the exception of safety Deshon Goldson and defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois. But are the receivers Kaepernick has at his disposal scary enough to prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box, even with the addition of Anquan Boldin? Remember, Michael Crabtree is gone for the year with an Achilles injury. Let’s see how explosive the Niners can really be.
Maybe the same goes for the New England Patriots, who lost Welker, who had 111 or more receptions in five of the last six seasons, not to mention Aaron Hernandez, who was one-half of the most productive tight end combination in NFL history. But they are +1000 to win the Super Bowl, and that is a tribute to two individuals. Tom Brady is going to find outlets, no matter who his supporting cast is, and maybe he can make a star out of Danny Amendola, who is a little Texas Tech guy and punt returner, like Welker, and operates out of the slot like Welker as well. He may have been on his way to a hundred catches in St. Louis last season if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Bill Belichick has a reputation for improvising in the face of personnel changes, so he should be able to tweak things enough to make it a non-race in the AFC East. And he has a defense that could be one of the best in the NFL, as well as a deep running game. Don’t be surprised if this team goes “under” a lot early.
Do the Seattle Seahawks (+800 to win Super Bowl) have a lot going for them? Sure they do, but Russell Wilson needs to avoid the sophomore jinx. And it’s not exactly their good fortune that they are in the same division (the NFC West) as the 49ers, because that has the potential to limit any home field advantage they could have in the post-season. There is little doubt they have what it takes to get to the playoffs, with perhaps the league’s gnarliest defense, an underrated receiving corps and Marshawn Lynch ready to roll once again. Wide receiver Percy Harvin, who was acquired from Minnesota, could actually return from hip surgery by mid-season.
The New Orleans Saints (+1800 to win the world title) are bringing back Sean Payton, and that could bring things back to normal in the Crescent City. That means Drew Brees will be awesome, of course, and the Saints will continue to run by committee, with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and situational back Darren Sproles. But it will be the same old story, in that this team will literally have to go out there and outscore opponents. The defense allowed more yards than any team in NFL history. That is not the stuff of Super Bowl champions.
Some of the scuttlebutt involves what the fate of the Indianapolis Colts could be. Coach Chuck Pagano got the team off to a 2-3 start before he was diagnosed with leukemia and Bruce Arians had to take over. And Andrew Luck threw 18 interceptions, although the other side of that coin is that he took his team on seven fourth-quarter comebacks., which is extraordinary for a rookie. Now his Stanford offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) has arrived, and if Ahmad Bradshaw can avoid being sidelined with foot problems, the Colts (+4000 to win it all at Bovada) could have a deep running game for a change. They’re going to rely a lot on first-round draft choice Bjorn Werner to get pressure on the quarterback.
The Green Bay Packers (+1200 in NFL betting) will once again leave Aaron Rodgers (39 TD’s, eight INT’s last year) with offensive line problems, but it is their full intention to establish a running game, which is why they spent a first-round draft choice on Eddie Lacy. Excuse us if we are not sold; Green Bay hasn’t had anyone rush for 100 yards in 43 straight games.
What about the Houston Texans? This is a team that can look so awesome; that is, until they face off against elite opposition. They did blow out the Ravens, until Baltimore had made its turn, but also had their clock cleaned by Green Bay and New England. At +1400 to go all the way, it is clear that there is a little skepticism about Houston, but they have a great defense, which could get even better with the addition of Ed Reed, a serviceable quarterback (Matt Schaub), an excellent running game (spearheaded by Arian Foster) and the possibility of a big threat opposite Andre Johnson with rookie DeAndre Hopkins. Maybe it’s time for JJ Watt & Co. to get over the hump.
Obviously the big question involving the Washington Redskins (+3300) is how Robert Griffin III is going to rebound from his knee surgery. And as most NFL bettors know, he battled a bit with Mike Shanahan about how quickly he should be able to come back. Will this ultimately result in an aggravation of that injury? Shanahan has a way of getting big years out of little names in his backfield, and the latest guy is Alfred Morris, a sixth-round draft pick who gained over 1600 yards. At what point will he have sustained too much wear and tear?
The Atlanta Falcons (+1200 at Bovada) got oh so close last season, and they got lucky when tight end Tony Gonzalez agreed to come back for another year. So the best receiver group in the NFL stays intact, and Matt Ryan just signed one of the richest deals in NFL history. They got someone a little fresher at running back with Steven Johnson, who supplies the added dimension of being a very effective receiver. This is another team, much like Houston, that needs to do something to get over the hump.
And then there are the Baltimore Ravens, checking in at ++3300 in the Super Bowl betting odds, and making a go of it without the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Bernard Pollard on the defensive side. But when all is said and done, Elvis Dumervil could make a big difference in the pass rush, and the offense could continue to be balanced, even without Anquan Boldin. Don’t write them off just yet; the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco combo has made it to the playoffs every year so far.
Here’s a quick look at the rest of the teams:
Arizona Cardinals (+10000) — Carson Palmer had better work out, because the defense can only take things so far.
Buffalo Bills (+15000) — The indoctrination of EJ Manuel will cause a lot of growing pains.
Carolina Panthers (+6600) – A team with upside, but Ron Rivera’s future depends on improvement in the defense.
Chicago Bears (+2500) — The Marc Trestman-Jay Cutler relationship is uneasy already.
Cincinnati Bengals (+2000) — Enough talent, but a receiver has to emerge opposite AJ Green.
Cleveland Browns (+10000) — We’re not expecting much out of Rob Chudzinski’s “downfield” approach.
Dallas Cowboys (+2500) — Monte Kiffin’s new defensive scheme could have a real impact.
Detroit Lions (+4000) — Matthew Stafford needs to show he’s about more than just big numbers.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+30000) — Justin Blackmon’s suspension gets this team off on the wrong foot.
Kansas City Chiefs (+5000) — With Alex Smith at QB, this team can cut the turnovers that killed it last year.
Miami Dolphins (+5000) — Less in the way of excuses for Ryan Tannehill this year.
Minnesota Vikings (+5000) — Is it all about Adrian Peterson getting his 2500 yards?
New York Giants (+2500) — Can David Wilson handle the whole burden of the rushing game?
New York Jets (+20000) — Whether it’s Sanchez or Smith, times will be rough for Rex Ryan.
Oakland Raiders (+25000) — Is the Terrelle Pryor experiment a mistake?
Philadelphia Eagles (+5000) — A most intriguing proposition with Chip Kelly’s hurry-up offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+2500) — Probably should be in a rebuilding phase.
St. Louis Rams (+5000) — Time for Sam Bradford to put up or shut up.
San Diego Chargers (+6600) — Philip Rivers needs to cut back on those giveaways.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+5000) — An improved secondary means much-improved prospects.
Tennessee Titans (+15000) — Offensive line upgrades, but Jake Locker needs to prove he belongs.