With the NFL season less than a month away, we take a look at the contenders for the 2012 Lombardi Trophy; this includes their predicted regular season record and current SuperBowl odds which are courtesy of our friends from Las Vegas.
The NFC has won 4 of the last 5 SuperBowls and two of those teams (Giants 2008 and the Packers in 2011) were wildcard teams. The Giants won the SuperBowl last season despite a less than impressive 9-7 regular season record.
In 2011 the Packers went 15-1 before succumbing to the Giants in the playoffs. The Giants came alive in the post season in the same way that the Packers had done the year before. The 49ers over-achieved and the Eagles under-achieved, the Lions joined the playoff party for the first time since 1999. The Falcons have now made the playoffs 3 times in the last 4 years falling at the first hurdle each time.
Over in the AFC the Houston Texans made the post season for the first time in franchise history despite losing their starting quarterback Matt Schaub back in week 10. The AFC North sent 3 teams to the playoffs with the Steelers and Ravens being joined in the playoffs by divisional rival the Bengals. The Patriots were the AFC representative in the big game for the 5th time since 2002. One of the biggest stories in the AFC in 2011 was Tim Tebow who threw an 80 yard touchdown pass in overtime to knock the fancied Steelers from the playoffs but the Broncos were soundly beaten in New England.
Please note: these odds are subject to change but are correct as of August 2012.
6/1 Green Bay Packers
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers but they also have a defense that ranked last in total defense in 2011. The Packers have made no significant moves in free agency and still have the majority of the roster that won it all the season before last. The schedule is much tougher than last year which could actually help come playoff time.
13/2 New England Patriots
The Pats reached the SuperBowl last season despite having the 31st ranked defense, which hasn’t really been improved. They also have question marks on their O-Line especially at the all important left tackle position after Matt Light retired. Josh McDaniels is back as the offensive co-ordinator and Brandon Lloyd has been brought in to add explosiveness that hasn’t been seen since Randy Moss left town.
10/1 San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers were the surprise package of 2011 winning the weak NFC West and hosting the NFC Championship game. Their defense is one of the best but question marks may still remain on their offense. Alex Smith played well last year but the 49ers courted Peyton Manning in free agency so it seems the 49ers aren’t completely sold on Smith. Randy Moss is back and Mario Manningham will look to add to add explosiveness to the offense that relies too much on tight end Vernon Davis.
12/1 Houston Texans
The Texans look set to be a major player in the AFC for the next few years and they’ll be hoping to keep QB Matt Schaub and wide-out Andre Johnson healthy which could be enough to make the SuperBowl as their defense is much improved and is expected to be in the top 5 again. The AFC South is the weakest division in the AFC and their schedule is favourable which could lead to home field advantage come January. If the Texans can stay healthy 12/1 looks like a great price.
12/1 Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles were a huge disappointment last year after claims of a ‘dream team’ in Philly. Their offense will again live and die with Michael Vick who must try to stay healthy enough to play all 16 games. DeSean Jackson signed a new 5 year deal in March so no training camp hold out to hurt this offense. The defense is loaded with talent and has added Linebacker DeMeco Ryans but the unit struggled last year and defensive co-ordinator Juan Castillo is in the hot seat.
16/1 Chicago Bears
The Bears re-united wide-out Brandon Marshall with former teammate Jay Cutler in a move that helps their offense. The Bears were active in free agency and brought in Jason Campbell as Cutler’s back-up, another ex-Raider Michael Bush was also signed but the biggest addition was re-signing running back Matt Forte to a 4 year deal. Their division is tough but the rest of their schedule is favourable so if they can stay healthy they could make a run. 16/1 looks good for a team that went 7-3 before injuries struck last year.
16/1 Denver Broncos
For the Broncos everything depends on the health of Peyton Manning. Although Manning’s supporting cast on offense is not as good as he had in previous years inIndianapolis, if he can stay healthy he can lead them to the post season in a division that’s best described as un-predictable and with the help of a good defense. However the Broncos schedule is brutal, they play 7 teams that made the playoffs last season including road trips in New England, Atlanta and Baltimore.
Prediction: 9-7 (with Manning, otherwise forget it!)
16/1 Pittsburgh Steelers
With running back Rashard Mendenhall out indefinitely, wide receiver Mike Wallace still holding out and Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his rotator cuff injury, its fair to say that the Steelers have some concerns on offense. Much will depend on whether Isaac Redman can carry the load at running back. The defense is a solid as ever and they’ll be tough to beat as always. The Steelers are a perennial playoff team so 16/1 will get a lot of interest and rightly so.
18/1 New Orleans Saints
The Saints offseason has been engulfed by the ‘Bounty Scandal’ that has seen suspensions across the board. Head coach Sean Payton and Middle Linebacker Jonathan Vilma have been suspended for the season. The Saints have adapted an ‘us against the world’ type attitude and much will depend on the start they make to the season which is favourable, but the big question is can Brees be as successful without the play calling of Payton?
18/1 New York Giants
If the defending SuperBowl champions get to the post season then nobody will want to play them as it seems they are a different prospect come playoff time. However it is unlikely that the 9-7 record they posted last season will be good enough to win the NFC East this time around, so getting in is what presents the problem as their regular season form has not always been the best even in SuperBowl years of late. They better get of to a good start because the last 6 games after their bye are tough to say the least. If the Giants get to the playoffs then you won’t get anywhere near 18/1 but repeating is tough.
18/1 Baltimore Ravens
The loss of Linebacker Terrell Suggs is a big one although it seems Safety Ed Reed will be back. The Ravens will again be a major player in the AFC and will be battle ready come playoff time due to the tough nature of the AFC North. Question marks remain on the offense and the relationship between Quarterback Joe Flacco and co-ordinator Cam Cameron in particular. The Ravens schedule is tough and divisional games will be more important than ever. Considering the Ravens were a botched 32 yard field goal from overtime in the AFC Championship game on the road in New England 18/1 looks a good price in an open conference.
18/1 Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have made significant upgrades to their defense through the draft and free agency but the focus as always will be on Tony Romo and the offense. The Cowboys have the ability to beat any team including themselves, something that happens at least once or twice a year. The Cowboys concerns could come at wide receiver where Dez Bryant has talent but in true Cowboys fashion has the ability to do something stupid and Miles Austin has been unable to stay healthy of late. They’ll probably either win the division or miss out altogether and I’ll take the latter.
22/1 Detroit Lions
If this was a competition for having players arrested in the off-season the Lions would already be champions. The off and sometimes on field problems (Ndamkong Suh, I’m looking at you) must come to an end if the Lions are going to build on their playoff appearance last season. Their offense with QB Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson who lead the league in receiving yards last season can put points up but their defense can give them away just as easily. Their schedule is favourable but they only won once last year in four games against division rivals the Packers and Bears and that will need to improve.
25/1 San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are an enigma, they can lead the league in offense and defense and still miss the playoffs. You just don’t know what you’re going to get with them from week to week. Head Coach Norv Turner some what surprisingly kept his job but must still be on the hot seat after the failures of the last few years with a talented team. The Chargers lost their best wide-out, Vincent Jackson in free agency and although they added Robert Meacham and Eddie Royal neither is a legit number one receiver. They are loaded at the running back position and quarterback Philip Rivers will put up big numbers. The Chargers have also upgraded their secondary but have question marks on their O-line. On the plus side for the Chargers their schedule is bordering on the weak side, it’s just a question of whether you trust them to take advantage of it.
25/1 Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have had four consecutive winning seasons in the Mike Smith/ Matt Ryan era but until they can win a playoff game question marks will always remain. The playing roster is largely the same but more significantly both the co-ordinators have been replaced and this looks like an upgrade especially on defense were Mike Nolan takes over a unit that has talent including new addition Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Sean Weatherspoon, although the pass rush remains a concern. This offense on paper could be in the top 5. Julio Jones should really explode and Roddy White has had gone over 1000 yards receiving for 5 straight seasons, add Ryan, Gonzalez and Turner and this could finally be the year they get over that hump and if they do 25/1 looks a very good price indeed.
28/1 New York Jets
The Jets are rapidly becoming the most dysfunctional team in the NFL. Stories of in house fighting and players calling each other out are rife. The arrival of Tebow has irked current QB Mark Sanchez, who has struggled for form as it is. Defensively they are very strong and although Tebow will add another dimension to a weak offense it seems the Jets time has come and gone.