Super Bowl XLVIII is nearly three weeks away, and the NFL's last eight teams are gearing up for the divisional round this weekend.
Three of the four home teams will be heavy favorites to advance to next weekend's conference championship games, while the battle-tested San Francisco 49ers find themselves in prime position to return to the conference title game for the third time in as many years.
Seattle, New England and Denver are all touchdown favorites at home this weekend and, unsurprisingly, they join San Francisco as the top four favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2014.
With the stage set for another wild weekend of playoff football, let's take a closer look at the latest championship odds for each remaining contender.
|3||San Francisco 49ers||5-1|
|4||New England Patriots||15-2|
|6||San Diego Chargers||15-1|
|6||New Orleans Saints||15-1|
Odds via VegasInsider.com
Seattle, Denver Begin Playoff Journey as Odds-on Favorites
The two No. 1 seeds, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, will begin their respective postseasons this weekend as the odds-on favorites to win Super Bowl XLVIII.
Although both teams have their fair share of weaknesses, the advantages of a first-round bye and playing at home in January make these dangerous squads that much more fearsome. Keep in mind that both the Seahawks and Broncos went 7-1 at home during the regular season and finished with identical 13-3 overall records.
Seattle will be an eight-point favorite over New Orleans on Saturday, Jan. 11, per Covers.com, and for good reason. The Seahawks crushed the Saints 34-7 in Week 13 behind a dominant defensive performance. Not to mention the Saints are coming off their first-ever road playoff win on Jan. 4 in Philadelphia.
As Seahawks linebacker and leading tackler Bobby Wagner points out, the key to Seattle's top-ranked defensive unit is the trust between players, per Seahawks.com's Clare Farnsworth:
You look to the guy next to you and know that he’s going to do his job, it just makes life easier because you know that, 'Alright, if I can funnel this guy over here, he’s going to be there.' When you’ve got that kind of trust, it makes you have games where you’re holding people (down).
The Broncos will be 10-point favorites over San Diego on Sunday, Jan. 12 but will need to be sharp in the passing game in order to avoid a letdown for the second straight year.
Niners No Long Shot to Return to Super Bowl
While many are projecting a Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl showdown, the wild card San Francisco 49ers are certainly no long shot to crash MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2.
Jim Harbaugh's reigning NFC champions enter their divisional-round clash with the Carolina Panthers with 5-1 odds to claim the Lombardi Trophy. Those odds are the third best of any team left standing behind Seattle and Denver.
It's definitely no secret why the oddsmakers love San Francisco. Although the Niners struggled to test opponents through the air on offense for the most part in 2013 (ranked 30th in passing yards during the regular season), a third-ranked rushing attack and third-ranked defensive unit have provided the road warriors with a formula for postseason success.
Keep in mind that the 49ers rushed for 167 yards and held the Green Bay Packers to just 281 total yards in their Wild Card Round win on Jan. 5.
New England, Carolina Flying Under the Radar
Thanks to a handful of key injuries, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots begin their playoff journey with mediocre 15-2 odds to win the title.
Which team has a better shot to win its respective conference this January?
Meanwhile, the NFC's No. 2 seed, the Carolina Panthers also find themselves flying under the radar heading into their divisional-round game with San Francisco. Cam Newton and company will open the playoffs against the Niners with 10-1 odds of hoisting the crown at season's end.
Although it's hard to argue with Carolina's postseason inexperience, the Panthers are certainly built to win a title, having ranked second in fewest yards and points allowed during the regular season.
New England's defense gave up 1,100 yards more than Carolina's over the course of the regular season, but it did an excellent job of keeping opponents out of the end zone, something that will come in handy for the Patriots this January.
Bolts, Saints and Colts Hoping to Surprise
Wild-card teams San Diego and New Orleans have already pulled off impressive road wins this postseason. However, Vegas still has both the Chargers and Saints at 15-1 odds to win it all next month.
Only the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts have worse odds at 20-1 heading into their divisional-round showdown with the New England Patriots.
All three teams will be massive underdogs on the road this weekend. But if there's a team capable of defying the odds and reaching the conference championship, it's the Chargers, who have won five in a row and have beaten their upcoming opponent, Denver, as recently as Week 15.
San Diego was dominant defensively in that game, holding Denver to 295 total yards en route to handing the Broncos their only home loss of the season. Even though beating the Broncos on their field a second time is a tall task, the Chargers have to like their odds given where they were when the season began back in September, per ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell:
Super Bowl odds on 9/2/13: 49ers 6/1, Packers 9/1, Saints 18/1, Bengals 25/1, Colts 30/1, Eagles, Chiefs, Chargers 60/1— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 4, 2014
While San Diego has proven it can beat Denver at Mile High, the Saints and Colts were both overwhelmed their last time out against Seattle and New England, respectively.
The Saints lost 34-7 at CenturyLink Field last month, while the Colts fell 59-24 at Foxborough in 2012.
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