In the tradition of apple pie signaling the start of summer, the first Thursday in September signals the end of life outdoors in the United States because football starts. There's always drama and intrigue around an NFL season, but this year feels different.
The way we feel about a team is always in a state of flux, changing on an hourly basis on Sundays. Even now, before Week 1, with players suspended and inconsistent performances in preseason, no one knows what will happen when the games kick off.
One group that always seems to have the upper hand on things is the oddsmakers in Las Vegas. It's their job to be ahead of the curve (otherwise, they lose money), but the way they are so on top of things is incredible to see.
Therefore, in the tradition of power rankings, we are going to rank all 32 NFL teams in order based on the current Super Bowl odds.
Note: Odds via Oddsshark.com
No. 32 Jacksonville Jaguars (Super Bowl Odds: 250/1)
It's no surprise to see the Jaguars bringing up the rear. Their best quarterback, Blake Bortles, is starting his rookie season on the bench, and head coach Gus Bradley is just two years into a massive rebuilding project. He's got the franchise moving in the right direction, but it's going to take more time.
No. 31 Oakland Raiders (Super Bowl Odds: 150/1)
All you really need to know about the Raiders' ineptitude can be summed up in this tweet from ESPN's NFL feed:
NFL on ESPN @ESPNNFL
Worst Record Since 2003: Raiders 53-123 Lions 55-121 Browns 56-120 Rams 63-112-12014-2-9 03:00:05
Head coach Dennis Allen named rookie quarterback Derek Carr as starter thanks to an impressive preseason (66.7 completion percentage, four touchdowns), but he's still a rookie who will endure growing pains when the games count.
The front office spent money this offseason but did it in a wise way with short-term investments (Charles Woodson, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Justin Tuck) to supplement the roster and save cap space for the future.
It's the first positive development for this Oakland franchise in over a decade, though not one that will put it anywhere near playoff contention in a loaded AFC West.
No. 30 Tennessee Titans (Super Bowl Odds: 100/1)
It's fascinating to see how oddsmakers look at Tennessee heading into the season. The Titans have the third-worst odds to win the Super Bowl, despite being the runner-up in the AFC South last year.
Granted, they were 7-9 and have an unstable quarterback situation, but the division is terrible—does anyone really think the Titans are going to be in the bottom tier of teams in the league?
No. 29 Buffalo Bills (Super Bowl Odds: 100/1)
The Bills enter the 2014 season coming off a 6-10 campaign last year. E.J. Manuel had moments when it looked like he can be a quality NFL quarterback. In the first two games against New England and Carolina, he was 45-of-66 with three touchdowns and one interception.
Injuries and inconsistent play wound up ruining Manuel's rookie season, but the Bills do have pieces to build around. They had the second-best rushing attack and fourth-ranked pass defense. If the passing game (28th) and run defense (28th) can improve, they can at least hang around .500 in a mediocre AFC East.
No. 28 Minnesota Vikings (Super Bowl Odds: 75/1)
While you could say this about almost every non-contending team, if the Vikings had any kind of stability at the quarterback position, they could be a nice sleeper to watch. Adrian Peterson is a monster out of the backfield who ran for nearly 1,300 yards last year with no help from the passing game.
Cordarrelle Patterson has insane potential that we saw at times last year, though he was more effective in the return game than as a wide receiver. Thomas Johnson of The Washington Post even posits that the second-year wideout is poised for a breakout season, though expectations from fantasy owners are getting out of hand:
Patterson’s perception can be attributed to two individuals—Norv Turner and Josh Gordon. Turner is Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator and the person credited with doubling Gordon’s receiving yards (from 805 to 1,646).
The addition of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator will make things better, but Matt Cassel is still just a serviceable guy, and the secondary that allowed nearly 288 yards per game last year didn't get much better in the offseason.
No. 27 Cleveland Browns (Super Bowl Odds: 75/1)
The numbers won't show it because of the offensive ineptitude, but the Browns will have one of the best defenses in the AFC this year. Joe Haden is a legitimate shutdown corner; Justin Gilbert has tremendous potential as a No. 2 cornerback; Donte Whitner gives them an enforcer at the safety position.
Unfortunately for that group, the offense lost its best weapon when Josh Gordon was suspended for the season, and the expectations for Brian Hoyer are minimal at best. Johnny Manziel is the popular choice to be the first quarterback taken in the first round of this year's draft to start a game.
However, going back to the rookie dilemma and limitations to his game, does Manziel make the offense good enough to help a strong defense? Color me skeptical.
No. 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Super Bowl Odds: 66/1)
This is a case where past reputation gets in the way of present talent. Lovie Smith may not be revered for his conservative coaching style, but it worked well enough to get the Bears to a Super Bowl when Rex Grossman was the starting quarterback.
Now, with a veteran in Josh McCown that Smith knows from their days in Chicago and huge pass-catchers like Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs are poised to have a big season.
Don't discount the impact that a culture change has on a locker room. It's no secret that Greg Schiano wasn't well liked by his players, with Michael Silver writing for Yahoo! Sports in 2012 that he was viewed as a bully around the league:
As one veteran NFL coach said of Schiano earlier this week, "It's his way or [expletive] you. He needs to back up a little bit, or he's going to have a very hard time in this league over the long haul."
In conversations with nearly a dozen NFL general managers, personnel executives, scouts and coaches familiar with Schiano's time at Rutgers, I detected an almost unprecedented degree of resentment and disdain for a man who has yet to coach his third professional game.
Smith isn't exactly the second coming of Vince Lombardi, but his demeanor and coaching style seems to work for the players around him. They are a great sleeper heading into the season.
No. 25 St. Louis Rams (Super Bowl Odds: 66/1)
I didn't check to see St. Louis' odds before Sam Bradford went down with another torn ACL, but it's doubtful this would have been the landing spot initially. For all the problems Bradford has had staying healthy throughout his career, he's been solid when he does play with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions last year.
With journeyman Shaun Hill now taking the reins as starting quarterback, there's even more pressure on the defense to improve upon last year's breakout campaign that included 53 total sacks, including 19 from Robert Quinn.
No. 24 New York Jets (Super Bowl Odds: 66/1)
The Jets did address the wide receiver position this offseason by signing Eric Decker away from Denver. Now we are going to find out if he was more than just a product of playing with Peyton Manning last year.
Rex Ryan can coach defense as well as anyone in the league, but the offense is a real problem area. Geno Smith was all over the map as a rookie and has the shadow of Michael Vick hovering over him if there are any problems.
No. 23 Miami Dolphins (Super Bowl Odds: 66/1)
If the Dolphins can find any sort of offensive line to protect Ryan Tannehill and open up holes for the running game, they are going to be very good.
Unfortunately, we've been asking that question for two years now, and the results haven't gotten any better.
No. 22 Houston Texans (Super Bowl Odds: 66/1)
To win in the NFL, you have to be able to throw the ball and get after the opposing quarterback. Houston has one of the best pass-rushers in recent memory, the newly minted $100-million man J.J. Watt and freak athlete Jadeveon Clowney to attack the quarterback.
Head coach Bill O'Brien is an offensive guru, coming from Penn State and previously working with New England, but he's working with a limited palette that includes Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage.
They won't lose 14 straight games again, but it's still going to be a rough season in Houston for the Texans.
No. 21 Washington (Super Bowl Odds: 50/1)
We saw last year the importance of Robert Griffin III to Washington's playoff hopes. When he isn't playing well, the team around him isn't good enough to win. Dan Snyder did help him by adding DeSean Jackson as a deep threat to play on the outside with Pierre Garcon.
There are two quality pass-rushers with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo to give Jay Gruden's defense some hope. When you rank 27th in opponents' red-zone scoring percentage, though, things aren't going to get instantly better without any major changes.
No. 20 New York Giants (Super Bowl Odds: 50/1)
New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has been trying to make Eli Manning a more effective and efficient quarterback this preseason. The results have been mixed. Gillian Van Stratt of MLive.com noted that Manning and the first-team offense had just two touchdowns in four games, and first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. wasn't able to play a snap in live games due to injuries.
With changes on offense and an aging defensive line, the group that carried this team during those two Super Bowl runs, the Giants face an uphill climb to get back in the playoff picture even in a bad NFC East.
No. 19 Kansas City Chiefs (Super Bowl Odds: 50/1)
Last year at this time, Kansas City was a dark-horse playoff contender with Andy Reid taking over as coach and Alex Smith at quarterback. The Chiefs won 11 games and were a bad half away from playing in the Divisional Round of the postseason.
Now, it seems everyone is focused on the team's 2-5 finish to the season. There's certainly merit to the way they played down the stretch, not to mention a schedule that includes two games against Denver and matchups with New England, Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona.
Yet it's hard to look at the talent on this Chiefs team, not to mention some of the teams with better odds ahead of them, and think someone is missing something.
No. 18 Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl Odds: 50/1)
The Cowboys have finished 8-8 the last three years, 6-10 the year before that and lost the few defensive playmakers they had from 2013 due to roster cuts or injuries (DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Jason Hatcher).
Until someone figures out how to build a defense for this team, mediocrity will be the order of the day. Even with a great offense with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, they aren't good enough to change the fortunes of this franchise.
No. 17 Carolina Panthers (Super Bowl Odds: 50/1)
It was an offseason of change for the Panthers after winning a division title for the first time since 2008. Cam Newton will have to take on an even bigger role for this team with Steve Smith, Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell on new teams.
The heart and soul of Ron Rivera's team is on defense, which gives the Panthers a chance to win every game. However, the uncertainty surrounding Greg Hardy's domestic violence appeal could net him a six-game suspension.
As good as Newton is, there's only so much that he can make up for. The team will still be good but not at the same level as 2013.
No. 16 Cincinnati Bengals (Super Bowl Odds: 40/1)
However, until Dalton stops turning the ball over in the postseason, the ceiling for Cincinnati will be limited.
No. 15 Baltimore Ravens (Super Bowl Odds: 40/1)
The Ravens fell into obscurity one year after winning the Super Bowl, the product of having salary-cap constraints in the NFL. Joe Flacco took two steps back after signing a long-term extension with the team.
Now, Flacco is getting to work with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Don Banks of SI.com notes the marriage between quarterback and coach seems perfect:
The fit between Kubiak and Flacco has been superb, and their rapport easily betters any working relationship Flacco had with past Ravens OCs Cam Cameron or Caldwell. Kubiak’s offense is ideal for the talent on hand in Baltimore, plays to Flacco’s strengths and the quarterback raves about it being simple to master, but organized and detailed in its approach, with success in the run game setting up the rest of the attack.
As long as Flacco doesn't throw 22 interceptions again, the Ravens will be better. The rest of the roster isn't overloaded with talent or depth, though it's solid enough to compete in the AFC North.
No. 14 Atlanta Falcons (Super Bowl Odds: 40/1)
It seems like the Falcons are a team that's either a championship contender or one of the worst teams in the league. There is no middle ground. In 2010 and 2012, they had the best record in the NFC. Last year, due to a rash of injuries and poor performances, they finished 4-12.
The injuries have already started to creep up, with starting left tackle Sam Baker out for the year. At least now they have a contingency plan in place with first-round pick Jake Matthews taking over.
Questions about the defense, specifically the pass rush, have hovered around this team for years and aren't going away anytime soon. Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones have to be at their best for the Falcons to get back in playoff contention.
No. 13 Arizona Cardinals (Super Bowl Odds: 40/1)
Carson Palmer is going to be the difference for the Cardinals in the playoff race. ESPN Stats & Information noted, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com, that the quarterback's turnover problems weren't as alarming as they initially seem:
When Bruce Arians was hired in January 2013, he talked about having six "bullets" on his play sheet, meaning he wanted to take six downfield shots every game. As the season wore on, he didn't call as many long passes as he intended, but Palmer still led the NFL with 145 passes of 15 or more yards. He also led the league with 13 interceptions on such throws. While 13 seems like a lot -- especially when they account for 59 percent of his total picks -- they only amounted to about 9 percent of his passes of 15 yards or longer being intercepted. Still not a bad rate.
Unfortunately, turnovers have been a huge part of Palmer's game for years. He's had at least 13 every year since 2009 and 72 in the last four years. As good as Arizona's defense is, it's being put on the field too many times by an aging quarterback.
It's also what prevents the Cardinals from being a top-10 Super Bowl contender, based on these odds.
No. 12 San Diego Chargers (Super Bowl Odds: 33/1)
There are few offenses you can look at with as much confidence as San Diego's. Philip Rivers looked like a rejuvenated man with Ken Whisenhunt at offensive coordinator last year. He's working with Frank Reich now.
The big-play potential for the Chargers is off the charts. Ryan Mathews ran for more than 1,200 yards; Keenan Allen had more than 1,000 yards as a rookie; Antonio Gates had his best year by yards and receptions since 2009.
Yet there are two sides to the game that have to be played. The Chargers couldn't stop anyone from throwing on them last year, allowing nearly 259 yards per game, That's the only thing stopping this team from being among the elite.
No. 11 Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl Odds: 33/1)
The next two teams on the list are getting too much love. Starting with the Steelers, who have a bad offensive line that allowed 43 sacks protecting an aging Ben Roethlisberger and the oldest defense in the NFL once again: Why are they getting praised?
Yes, this is one of the great franchises in NFL history. What is that good for right now? The defense showed cracks last year, and it didn't get any younger in the offseason. Roethlisberger can hide some deficiencies, but not enough to make them a real Super Bowl contender.
No. 10 Detroit Lions (Super Bowl Odds: 33/1)
The good news is the Lions got a head coach who preaches discipline more than Jim Schwartz seemed to care about. The bad news is no one really knows how good or bad Jim Caldwell is as an NFL head coach.
Caldwell made it to a Super Bowl as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but he took over a group Tony Dungy built and that had Peyton Manning under center. This will be the first real test that we can properly use to evaluate him.
There's no denying the talent Detroit has on both sides of the ball. However, until we start to see everyone play with discipline and stop making stupid mistakes, it's hard to justify having the Lions as one of the 10-best Super Bowl contenders.
No. 9 Philadelphia Eagles (Super Bowl Odds: 20/1)
It's hard not to love the Eagles as a playoff team, at the very least. They play in a horrible division and appear to have the best talent on paper. Nick Foles isn't going to throw 27 touchdowns against two interceptions again, but he can be a solid starting quarterback under Chip Kelly.
The danger for the Eagles is they lost their best big-play threat by letting DeSean Jackson go. He may have issues behind the scenes, but there's no denying what he can do between the lines.
Yet when you look at where the Eagles are right now, they don't feel like a Super Bowl team. They belong in this area as far as odds go, but that defense allowed the most passing yards in the NFL last year.
Being able to score is great. It's the ability to get off the field that makes you a championship contender.
No. 8 Indianapolis Colts (Super Bowl Odds: 20/1)
It's amazing how much difference one player can make. Look at the Indianapolis Colts roster without Andrew Luck, then tell me how this team wins more than a handful of games each year? Yet somehow, the third-year quarterback is able to hide the lack of talent on this team.
Luck's performance looks even better when you consider the offensive line in front of him. Michael Marot of The Associated Press, via The Chicago Sun-Times, talked about how beat up the line is coming out of preseason:
Starting left guard Donald Thomas sustained a season-ending torn right quad during the first week of training camp. Starting center Khaled Holmes sprained his left ankle on the first possession of the preseason opener, hasn’t practiced since, and Wednesday’s long-anticipated return to practice is no sure thing, either.
Other than that, everything is great for the Colts on the field. They are also a team that benefits from playing in an otherwise terrible division, so they seem like playoff locks as long as Luck stays upright.
A Super Bowl contender? Not even in a weak AFC.
No. 7 Chicago Bears (Super Bowl Odds: 20/1)
It's strange to talk about the Bears and have your mind immediately go to the offense, but that's where this team is at right now. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall combined for more than 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.
Jay Cutler should benefit from just being able to throw the deep ball up and letting his big receivers make a play.
He'll need to do that a lot in 2014, because the Bears don't look much better defense today than they did when Aaron Rodgers broke their hearts in Week 17 last year, via Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune:
The defense set all sorts of team records for futility last season and was simply awful in run defense. How bad? Since-cut nickel back Isaiah Frey was on the field for only 48.6 percent of the snaps (507 of 1,042) despite playing on a team that was second in the NFL in scoring, averaging 27.8 points a game.
There's playoff potential with the Bears, but eventually you have to play physical to win games in January. They don't look strong enough to warrant this much love right now.
No. 6 New Orleans Saints (Super Bowl Odds: 12/1)
Since the Saints never lose at home, they can be a .500 team on the road and are guaranteed to win 12 games. That puts them in a great position to at least earn a first-round bye and home playoff game.
Since they don't lose at home, that puts them at least in the NFC Championship Game. You also have to love what Jairus Byrd brings to Rob Ryan's defense. They are going to blitz as much as any team, which is what they have to do with limited playmakers on that side of the ball.
Yet with Byrd as the center fielder and enforcer for the defense, Ryan can afford to take more chances in blitz packages because he's got one of the best safeties in the league over the top.
Oh yeah, that Drew Brees guy is pretty good on offense.
No. 5 Green Bay Packers (Super Bowl Odds: 10/1)
When you have the best quarterback in the NFL, you have a chance to win every game. Aaron Rodgers nearly led the Packers to a win over San Francisco in the NFC Wild Card Round last January.
That's impressive, considering the team's best defensive player, Clay Matthews, missed the game due to injury. They are still trying to figure out their pass rush, which is why the front office actually dipped into free agency by signing Julius Peppers.
The Packers and Bears are the class of the NFC North. Since Green Bay has the better quarterback situation, it's a safer bet to make the postseason.
No. 4 San Francisco 49ers (Super Bowl Odds: 15/2)
To say this has been a rough seven-month stretch for the 49ers after losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game would be an understatement. NaVorro Bowman is still recovering from a torn ACL; Aldon Smith was suspended for nine games; Ray McDonald was recently arrested on suspicion of felony domestic abuse.
That doesn't even take into account the apparent rift between head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke that was a hot topic in the offseason.
Yet it's hard to look at how much depth the 49ers have built on both sides of the ball and think they are anything less than a playoff team. The offense didn't look good in the preseason, but with basically all the key players from last year's group returning, including offensive coordinator Greg Roman, it's hard to be overly concerned right now.
Plus, how many teams can say that they are going to add two All-Pro players to their roster at midseason? The 49ers legitimately can when Bowman and Smith return. The first half of their schedule is rough with games against Dallas, Chicago, Arizona, Philadelphia, Kansas City, St. Louis and Denver before the bye in Week 8.
If they can come out of that at least 5-2, they will be fine.
No. 3 New England Patriots (Super Bowl Odds: 7/1)
The Patriots operate on a level separate from everyone else in the NFL. When you think they can't possibly do something, Bill Belichick shows you why he's a master at playing the system. Who would have ever expected Darrelle Revis would end up in New England?
The big question on offense will be about Rob Gronkowski's health, but even without him for most of last year, Tom Brady still had 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns with a new receiving corps.
With a much-improved defense and potentially healthy Gronk, the Patriots are geared up to make another Super Bowl run.
No. 2 Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl Odds: 13/2)
Being the defending Super Bowl champions should be a blessing. However, no team has won a playoff game the year after winning a title since New England in 2005, via Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports.
However, few teams in recent memory can match the kind of defense Seattle has. What the Seahawks did last year, not just in the Super Bowl, was incredible. Dan Pompei of SportsOnEarth.com had that unit as the fourth-best in NFL history:
They didn't lose anyone who can be deemed irreplaceable, so there's no reason to expect regression in 2014.
Offensively, the loss of Golden Tate will hurt Russell Wilson, but he's been so effective at spreading the ball around that he won't be affected enough to make a difference. They are also a run-first team, so the pressure on the quarterback isn't the same for Wilson as it is other situations.
No. 1 Denver Broncos (Super Bowl Odds: 6/1)
If you were forced to pick one team to win the Super Bowl, how do you not put Denver first? The Broncos got blown out by Seattle in last year's big game, but they still return all the major pieces from the best offense in NFL history.
Where the Broncos needed to get better, and did, was on defense. They needed to get more physical, so they signed Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to upgrade the secondary. DeMarcus Ware will help the pass rush that will also get a boost from the return of Von Miller.
This is a Super Bowl-or-bust year for the Broncos. On paper, everything is in place for them to be the best team in the AFC and at the very least play in the big game for the second consecutive season.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.