The most hyped countdown outside of New Year’s Eve has begun. In 28 days, the NFL will officially be back. Still, before we are all treated to the grand product on opening night, the vilified NFL preseason has to sort some things out.
While the games are often unbearable to watch for even the most football thirsty fans, believe it or not, the preseason is a crystal ball of sorts when trying to identify which team will defy the oddsmakers and make the playoffs.
From unknown players like Russell Wilson coming out of nowhere, to teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers being set back by injury, last preseason hinted at a reversal of fortunes for the perceived playoff contenders and pretenders. Seeing that I’m a betting man, I’m willing to gamble that such an occurrence will again happen this season. With that said, let’s take a look at three playoff underdogs to watch this preseason.
Odds courtesy of BeyondTheBets.com
Kansas City Chiefs, 3 -1 Odds to Make Playoffs
With Andy Reid and Alex Smith joining a roster featuring a bounty of former Pro Bowlers, Kansas City doesn’t have the type of roster one would often associate with a team who just picked first in the NFL Draft.
While I have some questions regarding how Reid’s pass-happy tendencies will mesh with this roster, there’s no doubting the talent edge Kansas City has over many of its competitors for a playoff spot in the weak AFC. That coupled with seven games against the likes of the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns, along with an outer conference matchup with the NFC East—a division Reid knows well—and it’s not difficult to envision Kansas City with at least nine wins.
As the preseason opener nears, aside from watching the players returning from injury, I’d keep an eye on what type of offense Reid employs. With No.1 pick Eric Fisher, Jamaal Charles and Branden Albert in the fold, Kansas City possesses the personnel to employ a run-first attack, like the one Smith ran with the San Francisco 49ers. Watch to see if Reid adapts to his roster and amps down his pass-happy ways or rehashes old habits.
Without a proven backup behind Smith, it’s imperative that Reid doesn’t do the latter. Otherwise, Smith, like Michael Vick was a season ago, will be Reid’s next human piñata under center and Kansas City will again be picking at the top of the draft.
Buffalo Bills, 6.25-1 Odds to Make Playoffs
Consider the Bills my long shot pick. From losing four consecutive Super Bowls to being victimized in the Music City Miracle, the Bills may be the NFL’s equivalent to the Chicago Cubs when it comes to cursed franchises. Nonetheless, this is the best season of any to jump on the Bills’ bandwagon.
From the Miami Dolphins lacking the offensive firepower—didn’t they look dreadful in the Hall of Fame Game?—to the New England Patriots missing almost every recognizable name from their receiving corps, to the New York Jets still having the butt-fumbler under center(Mark Sanchez),the AFC East is in a state of complete disarray.
What better time for the Bills to exercise their playoff demons, right?
Even though Buffalo cleaned house this offseason and seemingly ushered in another rebuilding job with new head coach Doug Marrone and first-round pick E.J. Manuel, there is enough talent on the roster to compete now. With Kevin Kolb, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson in the fold, the offense shouldn’t be an issue for Buffalo. The thing to watch this preseason is the defense.
After finishing 26th in scoring defense last season, the Bills are shifting to a 4-3/3-4 hybrid defense. With $100 million man Mario Williams, again, dealing with an injury and franchise-player Jairus Byrd still a no-show at training camp, you'll have to monitor how Buffalo’s defense comes together in the exhibition season.
While they’d be best served by getting their growing pains out the way during the preseason, with a schedule that only features four playoff teams, a slight improvement on the defensive side could get Buffalo the nine to 10 wins it’ll take to garner a playoff berth.
Indianapolis Colts, 1.3-1 Odds to Make Playoffs
In betting on the Colts to make the playoffs, you’d be making the smallest leap, as Indy did make the playoffs last season. With the AFC South scheduled to face-off against the NFC West in this year’s outer conference divisional matchup, Indy’s tougher schedule no doubt played a role in Vegas declaring them playoff underdogs.
The thing to keep an eye on during the preseason will be the Indianapolis offense.
As Fox59.com’s Larry Hawley noted, Hamilton is expected to incorporate a physical run game to complement Luck. With the offseason addition of one Ahmad Bradshaw, he certainly has the horse to head such a rushing attack.
After being exposed on defense in the postseason against the Patriots, and losing defensive stalwarts Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney in free agency, the Colts’ running game may be their best defense and ultimately decide if they make a repeat appearance in the playoffs.