As teams head into Wild Card Weekend's scintillating slate of games, they all know that just one team can win Super Bowl XLVII. That fact is also true for bettors, as only one of their picks to win the Super Bowl will ultimately come with a payout.
However, based on the current odds (via Bovada), it's become readily apparent that hedging is the most likely way to bring a financial windfall.
I'm picking three teams for a pretty simple reason: If you pick any three teams in this field of 12 teams before Wild Card Weekend starts, bet an equal amount of money on each squad, and if one of them wins, you will make money.
Which teams represent the smartest bets to capture the Lombardi Trophy? Here is a breakdown of a few teams worth laying down a few bucks on.
(All odds come courtesy of Bovada.)
Seattle Seahawks (11/1)
Pete Carroll's bunch has become the en vogue pick bandwagon team across the nation. Even for those who were skeptical all season, the Seahawks' dominant stretch from Weeks 14-16 in which they outscored opponents 150-30 made them an obvious sleeper choice.
In most cases, it's smart to go against the grain. However, Seattle's ascent to Super Bowl contention may be the rare instance where public perception and reality conjoin.
The case for the Seahawks begins with Russell Wilson's brilliant ascent. Over the team's final eight games, the rookie signal-caller averaged 206.5 passing yards per game and threw 16 touchdowns against two interceptions—good for a 120.3 quarterback rating.
That's not just good for a rookie. Though Wilson lacked the requisite amount of pass attempts to get true postseason award consideration, one would be hard-pressed to leave him off a fictional second-half MVP ballot.
Obviously, it's not just Wilson who is responsible for Seattle's playoff berth. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the Seahawks rank fourth in total offense and defense and third in special teams. They are the only team that ranks inside the top five in all three categories and barely edge out Denver for the top overall spot.
Seattle also has a relatively clear path for a wild-card team. Though winners of seven straight games heading into the playoffs, the Redskins are an extremely flawed team in the secondary, and quarterback Robert Griffin III is clearly not healthy. Considering the Seahawks' defensive personnel already matched up well with Washington's read-option offense, they are by far the likeliest road team to win this weekend.
Winning four straight games in the playoffs is treacherous. But we have enough anecdotal evidence in recent history to suggest it's possible, and Seattle's excellent package of talent makes it a strong contender.
At 11/1 odds, it's at least worth taking a flier on turning $100 into $1,100.
San Francisco 49ers (6/1)
Let's stick with the NFC West here and discuss the team considered likeliest to be its conference's representative in February.
The team's defense, which returned 11 starters from a year ago, continues to be a strength, though Justin Smith's presence is absolutely essential in the postseason. As of right now, it seems like he'll be healthy enough to play, and San Francisco's defense should be top-notch as a result.
It's also pretty inarguable at this point that Jim Harbaugh made the right decision benching Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.
Though he has given 49ers fans near heart attacks at times with his penchant for fumbles, Kaepernick has exceeded just about every realistic expectation under center. Kaepernick, whose inaccuracies scared off many teams, ended the 2012 regular season with a 62.3 completion percentage and threw 10 touchdowns against only three picks.
Even when he struggled through the air, Kaepernick's dynamic running ability gave San Francisco a threat it simply didn't have last season.
If you want to poke holes in San Francisco's resume, it actually begins and ends on special teams. David Akers struggled throughout the 2012 campaign, missing a league-high 13 field goals and having the second-worst conversion percentage at 69.0.
San Francisco's answer to Akers' problems? Sign Billy Cundiff, who made just seven of 12 attempts this season before being cut by the Redskins.
Per Football Outsiders, the 49ers rank 20th in special teams efficiency, which is markedly down from their second-place finish a year ago. In other words, they've turned a huge strength into their biggest weakness.
Still, if Akers can find his 2011 form or Cundiff becomes an unlikely hero, there may be no stopping Harbaugh's squad.
Denver Broncos (11/4)
As of right now, I'm giving Manning's team a slight edge for one reason: Brady's struggles under pressure. We've seen it most notably in the Patriots' two Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants, but it's become readily apparent that Brady simply isn't a good quarterback under duress.
Brady's Comp % of 47% is worst in the league when given > 2.5 seconds— Steve Palazzolo (@Draft_Hub) January 3, 2013
To its credit, New England's offensive line rarely puts its quarterback in such situations. However, the Broncos' pass rush may just be too much for the Patriots to handle.
In Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos employ two of the best edge pass-rushers in the NFL. Miller finished the 2012 regular season second among linebackers in quarterback hits behind Aldon Smith, and Dumervil was inside the top 20 at his position as well.
Those in the greater Boston area have a pretty easy argument in their team's favor. We've already seen these two teams play, and New England annihilated the Broncos. The Patriots were up 31-7 in the third quarter before two garbage-time touchdowns made the final score respectable.
That's a compelling and nearly inarguable stance. However, context is everything. Denver was on the road, playing in its fourth difficult game in the season's first five weeks, and it certainly had not jelled into its current well-oiled machine on either side of the ball.
This is an incredibly improved Broncos team, and they will be playing at home. By no means is a victory over the Patriots a guarantee—far from it, actually. However, Manning barely edges his longtime rival Brady out as the favorite heading into this weekend's action.
2013 Super Bowl Odds
Denver Broncos: 11/4
New England Patriots: 4/1
San Francisco 49ers: 6/1
Atlanta Falcons: 7/1
Green Bay Packers: 8/1
Seattle Seahawks: 11/1
Houston Texans: 15/1
Washington Redskins: 18/1
Baltimore Ravens: 22/1
Minnesota Vikings: 40/1
Cincinnati Bengals: 45/1
Indianapolis Colts: 45/1
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