Though each of the four remaining teams in the 2013 NFL playoffs have gone through their respective peaks and valleys, there has to be one group that's patting itself on the back heading into this weekend: preseason oddsmakers.
We're oftentimes fed the narrative that the NFL is an inexact science that changes every single year—and that's mostly true. But of the four teams remaining in the playoffs, the Falcons are the only team that paid out at better than 15/1 odds if you had taken them in August.
Every contending team's odds obviously dwindle as the season goes along, making this just about the worst possible week to make a Super Bowl bet from a value standpoint. Nonetheless, with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers coming into Sunday's slate as heavy favorites, there could be some value in the underdogs.
For that reason, let's take a look at all the latest Super Bowl betting odds as we prepare for conference championship weekend.
(All odds are courtesy of Bovada.)
Baltimore Ravens: 15/2
As we learn just about every January, regular-season records only determine where a playoff contest is held—not its ultimate result. That was certainly the case last week in Denver, where the Ravens defeated a heavily favored, Peyton Manning-led Broncos team to reach the AFC Championship Game.
Heading into Sunday's matchup against the New England Patriots, Baltimore's back has once again been pressed against the wall—this time by the Vegas oddsmakers. The Ravens are far and away the least-favored among the four remaining playoff teams, but it's once again understandable.
While it's easy to poke fun at Manning's cross-bodied interception in double-overtime, Denver should have beaten Baltimore in regulation. Had it not been for a complete lapse in judgement by Broncos safety Rahim Moore on a Hail Mary throw, it's highly unlikely that the Ravens navigate their way 70 yards down the field in less than a minute.
It also seems like an inherently difficult task to not only take down Manning, but to do the same to Tom Brady a week later, both coming on the road. Based on what we've seen from Ray Lewis and his inspired teammates, anything is possible.
However, in the gambling world, you work in likelihoods. The Ravens may be worth a $100 flier for someone hoping to make a quick buck, but laying heavy money on Baltimore would be an ill-advised venture.
Atlanta Falcons: 6/1
Of the two non-favored teams heading into this weekend's action, Atlanta seems like far and away the more likely team to make a trip to New Orleans.
The biggest overarching reason for that belief starts with the man under center. Other than an ill-advised fourth-quarter interception, Ryan was sensational against the Seahawks, who possess what most experts would call the best secondary in the game.
Ryan finished the contest 24-of-35 passing for 250 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions, all numbers that were well above the mean against Seattle. He also put together the game-winning drive after just about everyone in the Georgia Dome had left the Falcons for dead.
There's not a stat for that, and I usually eschew non-statistical analysis, but that has to give Ryan confidence heading into this weekend.
Perhaps more importantly, Ryan played completely unafraid of Seattle's two top cornerbacks. Sixteen of Ryan's 35 throws went in either Brandon Browner or Richard Sherman's direction, and the Atlanta offense had particular success against the former. Ryan targeted Browner's man eight times, and his receivers made six receptions for 66 yards on those attempts (per Pro Football Focus).
That bodes well for the Falcons this week against San Francisco. Though the 49ers have a stout pass defense of their own, neither Carlos Rodgers nor Tarell Brown is quite at the elite level of Browner or Sherman.
If there's anything we've learned over the past decade, it's that the better quarterback tends to win most games. Even though Colin Kaepernick was sensational last week, Ryan is at the very least a more reliable option.
The Falcons aren't the favorites and that's totally understandable. However, 6/1 odds are awfully enticing for a team that has the ability to be the best in football when playing up to its potential.
San Francisco 49ers: 9/5
Truth be told, if the 49ers play like they did in the final three quarters of Saturday's game against the Packers, we might as well lock up shop now and hand them the Lombardi Trophy. Following a first 15 minutes that saw Green Bay go up 14-7 thanks somewhat to a pick-six from Kaepernick, the 49ers played the next 44 minutes plus-28 before the Packers scored a garbage time touchdown.
As just about anyone within earshot of a television saw on Saturday, Kapernick was sensational from that opening-drive pick on. He finished the game 17-of-31 passing for 263 yards and two touchdowns against that one interception. But it was Kaepernick's historic performance in the ground game that was truly remarkable.
The former Nevada star finished Saturday's game with 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. It was a performance that set the all-time record for rushing yards by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era, including both the playoffs and regular season.
Now, no one on the big blue marble would ever suggest Kaepernick will need to have that type of game every time out. It's impossible, and the 49ers are good enough to where they've survived middling performances from him in the past.
San Francisco simply cannot survive a performance like the one it turned at Qwest Field in Week 16. Just as the 49ers looked like the NFL's best team last Saturday, they looked equally abhorrent that Sunday night against the Seahawks, who dominated in a 42-13 victory.
The transitive property says that if Atlanta can beat Seattle at home, it could do the same against San Francisco. Hardly anyone is naive enough to buy into that.
But at less than 2/1 odds, betting San Francisco doesn't really pay enough financial dividends to make it worthwhile at this juncture.
New England Patriots: 11/10
If you think the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl—and they're deservedly a favorite—then lay money on these odds. New England's moneyline for this game is -400, per Bovada, and the team would most likely be favored by at least 3.5 points against either NFC representative.
The case for the Patriots being the favorite is quite easy. That Tom Brady guy? Yeah, he's not too terrible and is surrounded by his best offensive cast of characters since 2007. Stevan Ridley has been a revelation in the backfield and the offense didn't miss a beat in stretches without Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez.
What's more, New England's offense is joined by one of the more underrated run defenses in the NFL. The Patriots finished sixth in run defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and the longest carry they allowed all season was a meager 31 yards.
That's a massive ascent from even last season's Super Bowl team, which allowed 4.6 yards per carry and was 25th in run defense DVOA.
As it's seemed to be for what feels like forever now, the case against New England begins and ends in its porous secondary. Aqib Talib has been a bit of an improvement from his predecessors, but he's still been at or below replacement-level most weeks. Opposing quarterbacks have a 103.7 quarterback rating throwing in his direction with the Patriots, per Pro Football Focus, and he hasn't really peaked or valleyed from that level of late.
Bill Belichick is certainly at the helm of the Super Bowl favorite, but it will be awfully interesting to see his secondary try to curtail Julio Jones and Roddy White.
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