The odds for Super Bowl XLVIII should not be taken at face value.
In fact, the odds as to which NFL titans will play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 are so basic and straightforward that bettors would be wise to stay away from the top teams.
A tweet on ESPN.com's NFL Twitter account illustrates this point best:
6 of 8 Super Bowl champs since 2005 have played in the Wild Card round, including 3 straight (2010 Packers, 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 2, 2014
It is easy to get enamored with the Settle Seahawks and their impressive home performances this season. The same goes for the Denver Broncos, thanks to the play of Peyton Manning.
Seemingly more than ever, this is the year to bet on the underdog. Too many variables say the dark horses are going to steal the show, just as the Baltimore Ravens did last year.
|San Francisco 49ers||7/1|
|New England Patriots||17/2|
|Green Bay Packers||20/1|
|Kansas City Chiefs||30/1|
|New Orleans Saints||30/1|
|San Diego Chargers||50/1|
Note: Odds courtesy of Vegas Insider.
Making their third straight postseason appearance, the Cincinnati Bengals have the look of a polarizing bet. Chris Wesseling, of NFL.com, does a good job of explaining why:
Bengals were 6 points shy of first in history to score 40+ in 5 straight home games. Also only team without a postseason victory since 1990.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) January 3, 2014
To the savvy eye, that means the Bengals are destined for big things. The playoff drought has to end at some point, and this is opportunity No. 3 for the young Bengals to grab their elusive first playoff win under Marvin Lewis.
After that, anything is possible, as another AFC North team showed bettors a year ago:
Cincinnati's first opponent will be the San Diego Chargers, a team the Bengals defeated, 17-10, in Week 13—in San Diego. This time, they meet at Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals are 8-0 this season and have scored more than 40 points in four of their last five home contests.
Add in the fact San Diego has to travel across the country and has gone 4-4 on the road this season, and it becomes apparent the Chargers are a nice warm-up for Cincinnati. Not only that, the Bengals are accustomed to sloppy weather conditions, as Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, illustrates:
Momentum is a precarious thing to judge. The Bengals will have to hit the road at some point, but their offense is playing at a pace that can score with any team in the league and their defense ranks in the top five against both the run and the pass.
Green Bay Packers
Perhaps, but do not tell the oddsmakers. Aaron Rodgers is back—one miracle pass to wideout Randall Cobb in the de facto NFC North championship against the Chicago Bears should have firmly built confidence that Green Bay is a serious threat.
Even better, the Packers are at home to open the postseason, where Lambeau Field sounds as if it will resemble a sheet of ice, per ESPN.com:
The weather forecast for the Packers/49ers game in Green Bay on Sunday is for a high of ZERO and a low of -18. #FROZENTUNDRA— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 2, 2014
Their opponent is the San Francisco 49ers, a team the Packers lost to by six points to open the season.
But is Rodgers a player who bettors are comfortable doubting? Unlikely. The former MVP only appeared in nine games this season and the Packers still made the playoffs. Rodgers is complemented by star rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who ran for 1,178 yards and 11 scores this season, averaging better than four yards per carry.
Green Bay is certainly one of the least-favorable teams from a statistical standpoint, but the numbers are skewed due to Rodgers' injury. With the California product back under center, anything is possible.
New Orleans Saints
Yes, things look bad for the New Orleans Saints:
The New Orleans Saints have never won a road playoff game in their history. (0-5)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 2, 2014
Drew Brees is 0-3 in postseason road games, with the Saints defense allowing 38.7 points per game.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) January 2, 2014
Ouch. That alone is enough to deter bettors, but there is no time like the present for the Saints to turn things around.
Their aforementioned defense is a different animal this season under coordinator Rob Ryan, who has taken one of the league's worst units and molded it into a stout 3-4 with mostly leftover scraps from the Saints' 4-3 base defense of a season ago.
Best dark-horse bet for Super Bowl?
The end result has been a unit that allows an average of 19 points per game. Only three other teams allowed fewer points this season. New Orleans also ranks No. 2 overall against the pass.
In the NFC, that is all a team needs. First up is a trip to Philadelphia in the wild-card round, where Chip Kelly's air-raid offense may not only be stunted by inclement weather, but by Ryan's strong defense.
All of this goes without mentioning the Saints traditionally strong offense led by quarterback Drew Brees, who says the team has figured out the recipe for road success, per John DeShazier of the Saints' website:
I definitely say there’s something with momentum on the road, especially when you’re in a hostile environment. Don’t give them a reason to get excited, don’t give their fans a reason to stand up and get crazy.
If you can score points and get a lead, that’s great. In a lot of cases you just kind of weather (the storm) and you get rolling. I think one of our things is, we really haven’t started fast on the road.
Winning formula and elite defense in hand, bettors should not be afraid of the Saints this postseason. Recent trends are alarming, but this is arguably the most complete and battle-tested Saints team since Brees came to Louisiana.