The path to the 2014 Super Bowl is beginning to take shape now that the Wild Card Round is over and the contestants have been cut down to eight teams.
Smart bettors will use this time to gobble up favorable odds, and that certainly does not mean hopping on board with a favorite.
The smart play is with the underdogs. This is usually the case, as Wild Card teams have lately been the ones to win it all more often than not.
Two teams stick out like a sore thumb to the watchful eye of smart bettors in the updated odds after the Wild Card Round. Be sure to take advantage.
|San Francisco 49ers||9/2|
|New England Patriots||7/1|
|New Orleans Saints||15/1|
|San Diego Chargers||15/1|
New Orleans Saints
Yes, the New Orleans Saints have to travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, but now is not the time to give up on the gritty bunch from Louisiana.
The Saints were heavily criticized for being merely human away from home, but quarterback Drew Brees helped put that notion to bed with a 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
Sure, Week 13 was a 34-7 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle, but this is a different Saints team now. The road monkey is off its back, and coordinator Rob Ryan's defense remains one of the NFL's best against the pass.
Perhaps most importantly, the Saints have veteran leadership in place that understands a thing or two about winning big games in order to win a title. Tight end Ben Watson did a good job capturing this, per the Saints' official website:
To win on the road in this league is tough as we saw throughout the regular season. To win a road game in a hostile environment, the cold, in Philadelphia, in the playoffs, it brings great confidence for our team. We know moving forward that it is all road games from here on end. We are going to have to keep winning road games if we want to keep progressing through the playoffs.
Brees understands that the talk about the Saints' road woes is nowhere near through, as ESPN's Ed Werder documents:
Talk is cheap, but the Saints can score with any team and now have a top defense. What's not to like, especially at these odds?
San Diego Chargers
Look at those San Diego Chargers go.
Quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers technically backed into the playoffs with help, but there is no doubt they are one of the NFL's hottest teams at the moment.
The Chargers won four in a row to close the season and then traveled to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in the Wild Card Round. Despite the fact the Bengals entered the game undefeated at Paul Brown Stadium, the Chargers dominated the contest en route to a 27-10 victory.
A bout with the Denver Broncos in the divisional round seems like a big test at first glance, but remember that the Chargers beat Peyton Manning and Co. at home in Week 15, 27-20. As ESPN points out, Manning is prone to his struggles against the Chargers—and in the playoffs in general:
The @chargers will now face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning's career playoff record against San Diego? 0-2.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) January 5, 2014
Peyton Manning: lost first game of playoffs 8 times (twice as many as any other QB in Super Bowl era)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 6, 2014
Even better, the Chargers could be a team of destiny:
The last 4 teams to face the Eagles in Philly's home opener have gone on to win the Super Bowl. That team this year? - The @Chargers.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 5, 2014
All kidding aside, Rivers is playing great football under coach Mike McCoy, and the defense just got a huge boost with the return of linebackers Jarrett Johnson and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers are not a team to sleep on the rest of the way.
Instead, throw some cash down.