Preseason Super Bowl Odds & Analysis for Every NFL Team

Justis MosquedaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2015

Preseason Super Bowl Odds & Analysis for Every NFL Team

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    Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

    Now that the preseason is officially over, it's time to put full focus on the regular season—the stepping stone to Super Bowl L. However, not all 32 teams are playing with a clean slate. Though the NFL tries to promote parity, there are still heavy favorites and underdogs to come away with the Lombardi Trophy.

    The best way to measure the chances of a squad winning the title game is by using gamblers as a tool. For the most part, bookies in the desert know what they're doing, as they set odds for a living and are more accurate at projecting how the season will play out than fans and even the media.

    We'll take a look at Bovada's odds (retrieved September 1 on Odds Shark) to get a baseline for how Vegas gamblers feel about all 32 franchises' chances. From there, we'll look at why you should buy or sell on the opportunity to invest in a team's future.

    Maybe a big addition or subtraction from a team's 2014 roster pushes it high enough to give it an edge. It's possible a suspension or coaching hire could affect a team later in the season, too. No stone was left unturned in the search for the answer to life's most important question: How can I make some money while watching football? We'll go team by team, in order of Bovada's rankings, to complete the task.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Blake Bortles
    Blake BortlesJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 200-1 (T-31st)

    Analysis: The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't heading in the wrong direction as a franchise, but this just isn't their year for a title run. Quarterback Blake Bortles has shown improvement throughout the preseason, but all cylinders must be firing on the journey to a Lombardi Trophy.

    First-round pick Dante Fowler will miss the season with a torn ACL, and the team has performed poorly in pass-rushing situations since. They also have young skill players in T.J. Yeldon, who missed the first two preseason games, and Allen Robinson, who missed six games last season, who look like potential stars, but they just don't have the experience.

    Overall, the AFC South is a weak conference, but the Indianapolis Colts are a strong favorite. Some thought the Jaguars were a sleeper wild-card selection in 2014, but they finished with the third-worst record in the sport. Is this the year that Jacksonville makes the step into respectability? It's possible. Is this the year the team in teal can go toe-to-toe with the best in the NFL? Far from it.

    Take the odds? No

Tennessee Titans

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    Marcus Mariota
    Marcus MariotaCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 200-1 (T-31st)

    Analysis: Like their AFC South counterparts, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tennessee Titans are at the bottom of the league in Super Bowl odds. In 2014, the team transitioned to a 3-4 defense that featured moving their star interior pressure player, Jurrell Casey, from an undertackle 4-3 position—his ideal role—to a flex two-gapping position. On top of that, they weren't able to generate a pass rush with their outside linebackers.

    The team has since signed pass-rusher Brian Orakpo, who will be the squad's top sack artist in 2015, should the Pro Bowler recover well from a pectoral issue that ended his 2014 campaign in Washington. He isn't the most impactful new face on the Titans roster, though.

    Last year, Jake Locker, who has since retired, Zach Mettenberger, then a sixth-round rookie, Charlie Whitehurst and Jordan Palmer, who is now a street free agent, all saw time at quarterback for Tennessee. After rumors heated up about the franchise potentially trading for San Diego's Philip Rivers, the team eventually selected Oregon's Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick in the draft.

    Mariota is labeled as a "system quarterback." System quarterbacks, or game managers—whichever cliche you prefer—work fine on first and second downs, but on third down, if a drive starts to go off the rails, they must either have the arm or legs to make up for past mistakes. Mariota has proven he has the legs, posting over 700 rushing yards for three straight years while in Eugene.

    Are the Titans in a good position to take home hardware in February? No, but they have a quarterback who has a chance to light the NFL on fire and they corrected their biggest 2014 flaw over the offseason. At 200-1 odds, it's worth it to take a shot on Tennessee.

    Take the odds? Yes

Washington Redskins

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    Ryan Kerrigan
    Ryan KerriganMatt Rourke/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 125-1 (30th)

    Analysis: This era of Washington football is dark and grim. There are social debates surrounding the franchise's nickname. The team traded its future for a quarterback who has since become the face of perpetual injury in the league. The front office, because of its management of said quarterback, has also become the face of miscommunication in the NFL.

    Too many times, head coach Jay Gruden has apparently lied or changed his mind regarding who will lead the team. If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for everything. In 2013 and 2014, Washington didn't have first-round picks, since they were used as leverage to move up for Robert Griffin III, who is now a backup passer behind Kirk Cousins. Then in 2015 they drafted Brandon Scherff with the fifth overall pick, making him the highest drafted guard since at least 1986.

    There's no question as to why Washington is in the position it's in. The only 2011-2015 first-round picks in its starting lineup are outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and Scherff, who plays a non-premier position. There's no young talent for this team to develop. Sure, the Redskins have added free agents to their defensive line, which looks great on paper, but how often have we seen them win the offseason and lose once games start to count?

    General manager Scot McCloughan has a long way ahead of him to rebuild this franchise, and Gruden, while seemingly inept, appears to have job security heading into his sophomore season as the top dog. No one in Washington is thinking about laying it on the line for 2015. You shouldn't be, either.

    Take the odds? No

Cleveland Browns

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    Josh McCown
    Josh McCownScott Audette/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 100-1 (T-27th)

    Analysis: It's pretty simple: If you don't have a quarterback in the NFL, it's hard to win games. The Cleveland Browns used a first-round pick last season on Johnny Manziel, who did poorly and only posted a 42.0 passer rating during his rookie year.

    Still, it's rare for a team to give up on a quarterback after a single season. The only situation I can remember in which a team sold out a passer before his sophomore campaign even began was when the Carolina Panthers drafted Cam Newton first overall in 2011 after taking Jimmy Clausen in the second round in 2010. Even then, the Panthers didn't have a second-round pick in that draft, which forced them to cash in at quarterback early.

    Manziel was held out of the end of the preseason with an elbow issue, but, by that time, veteran Josh McCown had already won the job. This is the same McCown who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the worst record in football last season, prompting his former team to use the first overall choice on Florida State's Jameis Winston, another quarterback.

    You don't have to be an elite passer to win a Super Bowl. Joe Flacco took the Baltimore Ravens to a championship with his high-variance arm, as did Eli Manning of the New York Giants. Russell Wilson has done so by running the offense as a manager and allowing Seattle's defense to set up success. Unfortunately for the Browns, they neither have the defense nor a high-upside thrower to get them into contention for a ring.

    Overall, it just seems virtually impossible for the squad to make it to the playoffs, let alone Super Bowl L.

    Take the odds? No

New York Jets

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    Sheldon Richardson
    Sheldon RichardsonFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 100-1 (T-27th)

    Analysis: On defense, the New York Jets are loaded, but there are questions. Defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who may just be the most talented player from the 2013 draft class, is already suspended for the first four games of the season for a substance abuse violation, and is also facing another possible suspension for an alleged speeding incident which led to him allegedly resisting arrest.

    Luckily, the Jets were able to pick up Leonard Williams, a defensive end touted by many as the best player from the 2015 draft pool, with the sixth overall pick this April. If the defense performs half as well as it looks on paper, a playoff bid isn't out of the question.

    Offensively, though, New York will rely on game management from its quarterback, whoever he is. Geno Smith is still recovering from an injury that occurred during a locker room scuffle. His replacement, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is an NFL veteran who is coming off what should be considered his best season as a professional. His 95.3 passer rating with the Texans was 12 points better than his previous high of 83.3 in 2012.

    After both his 2012 and 2014 seasons, though, he was let go. How valuable can a passer be if after the two best years of his career, his team told him to take a hike? The faster Smith can get back on the field, the better the Jets' chances are of winning a Lombardi, but it's a long shot. I'd just skip the thought altogether.

    Take the odds? No

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Jameis Winston
    Jameis WinstonChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 100-1 (T-27th)

    Analysis: Jameis Winston. Despite having never played a regular season game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he's the first face the football public relates to the squad. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason, he looked like he had total control of the game, adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage and throwing darts. Still, he's had more than his fair share of mistakes.

    Doug Martin, a former first-round running back in a contract season, looks like he's back to his old, successful ways. If those two can surpass expectations in 2015, along with the progression of pass-catchers Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, they have a healthy shot at winning the NFC South.

    Last season was a down year for the entire conference, as each team finished 2014 with a losing record. For the most part, the Panthers, Saints and Falcons are the same squads. The addition of Winston could give Tampa Bay the edge. After all, many predicted the Buccaneers would win the conference last season. Equipped with an actual quarterback, they might reach that goal and more.

    Take the odds? Yes

Chicago Bears

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    Matt Forte
    Matt ForteAJ Mast/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 75-1 (T-25th)

    Analysis: The Chicago Bears had a horrible defense last season. They gave up the second-most points per game in the NFL and the third-most yards per game. They have also since transitioned to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3 defense under Vic Fangio, their new defensive coordinator.

    This all happened while star defensive lineman Stephen Paea left for the Washington Redskins this past offseason in free agency. The Bears' defensive backs have struggled for years, especially in the back end, and now they have no true star in their front seven.

    Shea McClellin, the team's 2012 first-round pick, is moving to inside linebacker this season, his third position in three years with the Bears. Their nose tackle, Jay Ratliff, is suspended for three games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Jared Allen is 33 years old, has lost a step and is a 270-pound outside linebacker. Pernell McPhee is the big free agent on the roster, but he's going from being an interior pressure specialist on the Baltimore Ravens to being "the guy" in Chicago as an outside linebacker.

    Offensively, the team lost receiver Brandon Marshall, and first-round pick Kevin White is on the physically unable to perform list. Matt Forte will turn 30 this season, and there's no stud in the backfield begging for his touches. Jay Cutler, who might only be in Chicago because of his burdensome contract, is also competing with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Teddy Bridgewater, all top-20 quarterbacks, in the NFC North.

    There's just no way the Bears make a title run this season. They will be much closer to battling for the first overall pick than the 32nd.

    Take the odds? No

Oakland Raiders

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    Khalil Mack
    Khalil MackTony Avelar/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 75-1 (T-25th)

    Analysis: The Oakland Raiders haven't finished above .500 since they lost in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2002 season. Since then, they've had 10 seasons of double-digit losses, with their only redemption being two 8-8 seasons in 2010 and 2011.

    Derek Carr is the quarterback for the franchise, at least for now. No one knows what the second-round pick will develop into, but he has all the tools. The team is constructing the offense around him, giving him new toys like Michael Crabtree and rookie Amari Cooper to work with. Most are expecting a career year from running back Latavius Murray, too, but that still might not be enough to compete in the AFC West.

    Sure, there are individuals on the roster, like defensive end Khalil Mack, who will attract national attention, but as a cohesive unit, there are still plenty of holes. To compound frustration, the team will also play two of the best passers in the league in Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers twice each. Their "easy" in-division opponent is Kansas City, who microwaved their franchise between 2012 and 2013, when they went from two wins to 11.

    Oakland might have the pieces for the future, but the growing pains are going to last a lot longer than just the first few weeks of the season. This is still one of the bigger rebuilding projects in the league, and even at 75-1 odds, it's not worth throwing your money away.

    Take the odds? No

San Francisco 49ers

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    Colin Kaepernick
    Colin KaepernickJoe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 66-1 (T-23rd)

    Analysis: Everyone knows the San Francisco 49ers had huge turnover this offseason. Not only did they let go of Jim Harbaugh, who then later signed a megadeal to become the head coach of the University of Michigan, but plenty of players are gone, too.

    Guard Mike Iupati, linebacker Dan Skuta, running back Frank Gore and cornerback Chris Culliver all signed with new teams in free agency. All-Pro pass-rusher Aldon Smith was cut after an alleged hit-and-run incident. Four more impact players, linebacker Patrick Willis, defensive end Justin Smith, offensive tackle Anthony Davis and linebacker Chris Borland, called it quits, retiring between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

    Sure, the squad is still quarterbacked by Colin Kaepernick, but it doesn't look like the one that faced the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Overall, I'm willing to skip over any title odds for the 49ers. I'm more interested in their odds for finishing 32nd.

    Take the odds? No

St. Louis Rams

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    Nick Foles
    Nick FolesL.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 66-1 (T-23rd)

    Analysis: Jeff Fisher is a tricky head coach to trust. He's been around for two decades, when he took over as the Houston Oilers' head coach in 1994. Still, he's only finished with a winning record twice since 2004.

    Looking up and down the St. Louis Rams roster, there are positions of massive strength and positions of massive weakness. Sure, the defensive line, loaded with Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley, is in the running to be the best in the NFL, but the secondary, outside of T.J. McDonald, is in question.

    The Rams have plenty of the youth on the offensive line, but it's hard to imagine they'll all mesh together in their first year. Second overall pick Greg Robinson's 2014 campaign should have led St. Louis' front office to expect growing pains from linemen. On top of that, the ground game may be stalled while 2015 first-round pick Todd Gurley recovers from his ACL tear.

    Fisher thinks Gurley can be better than Eddie George, but behind that line and with that injury, it's not worth rushing him back onto the field early. In the passing game, Nick Foles was added via trade. Foles had great success in Philadelphia in Chip Kelly's system, but Frank Cignetti, the first-time NFL offensive coordinator, isn't Kelly.

    Even if he were, Foles has limited options to throw to. Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens are all names known on the professional level, but it's a stretch to call any of them a No. 1 receiver.

    Facing Seattle and Arizona twice this year should give the Rams a huge obstacle to get over to land into the playoffs. I say this squad peaks around Fisher's trademarked 8-8.

    Take the odds? No

Buffalo Bills

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    Tyrod Taylor
    Tyrod TaylorGary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 50-1 (T-18th)

    Analysis: Head coach Rex Ryan could very well be building a monster in Buffalo. Defensively, the Buffalo Bills look like a top-five team. Not only is Ryan a defensive guru, but he has two quality pass-rushers in Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams, something he longed for at the end of his tenure in New York.

    On offense, the team still needs to shore up the line, but with running back LeSean McCoy acquired in a trade for linebacker Kiko Alonso, the Bills might have an easy 1,000-yard rusher in 2015. Sure, Tyrod Taylor isn't a great quarterback by anyone's imagination, but Ryan thinks like a defensive coordinator, and Taylor would cause him issues.

    One thing defensive coordinators hate more than anything is a mobile quarterback. Defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers aren't allowed to just pin their ears against passers with legs, because if that quarterback crosses their faces, he is free to run against a man-to-man defense when facing a blitz. Throwing out a "running" quarterback forces defenses to adjust and spend more time in practice focusing on containment and "mush rushes."

    Is there a world where I can see a Taylor-to-Sammy Watkins scramble pass winning a close game set up by a strong ground game and terrific defense? There's enough variance for that to happen to anyone in any game. I wouldn't pick the Bills to win the AFC East outright, but for 50-1 odds, their Lombardi chances are worth a buy.

    Take the odds? Yes

Carolina Panthers

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    Cam Newton (No. 1) and Jonathan Stewart (No. 28)
    Cam Newton (No. 1) and Jonathan Stewart (No. 28)Mike McCarn/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 50-1 (T-18th)

    Analysis: The Carolina Panthers start and end with the success of quarterback Cam Newton. When he was drafted first overall, it was on his shoulders to turn the franchise around. After spending years fixing their salary-cap issues and their defense, the squad finally started investing in offensive pieces to surround Newton.

    With their first-round pick in 2014, they drafted Kelvin Benjamin, a jumbo receiver from Florida State. Unfortunately for the Panthers, he's going to be on the injured reserve list for the entire season. Devin Funchess, this past draft's second-round pick, will replace him in the same role.

    Outside of the possible emergence of Jonathan Stewart, a 28-year-old running back, this is basically the same team that finished with a losing record last season. They sneaked into the playoffs last year because the NFC South was weak overall. The Buccaneers didn't have a passer, and the Falcons and Saints couldn't finish above .500, despite having quarterbacks, a rarity in today's NFL.

    It's hard to imagine more than one team coming out of the South, and with Carolina being a copy of its 2014 squad, why would it be the one to take the next step over three reloading rosters? There's a chance Newton and Stewart light the league on fire with an option offense, but we've said this year in and year out. The dream of this Panthers team winning in February is dead.

    Take the odds? No

Cincinnati Bengals

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    A.J. Green
    A.J. GreenBrian Blanco/Associated Press

    Vegas Odds: 50-1 (T-18th)

    Analysis: Oddly enough, the Cincinnati Bengals really do have a shot at winning it all this season. The big detriment of the team is the quarterback position, but it's not a lock that Andy Dalton plays 16 games for the Bengals. Quarterback AJ McCarron, while not great at Alabama, proved he could run a system, and that's exactly what Cincinnati needs.

    They have two running backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, an elite receiver in A.J. Green and a potentially elite tight end in Tyler Eifert. The offensive line in orange and black looks good, too, and with an option-based offense, this scheme could produce insane numbers.

    Defensively, the Bengals have built around interior pressure and coverage. With seemingly healthy undertackle Geno Atkins back, he once again should be in contention for All-Pro honors. Overall, on offense and defense, this looks to be an up year for Cincinnati if it can just get a quarterback who won't lose playoff games. The Bengals have as good of a shot to win the AFC North as anyone, and once the winter comes around, luck determines playoff games more than we like to admit.

    Take the odds? Yes

Houston Texans

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    J.J. Watt
    J.J. WattChris Graythen/Getty Images

    Vegas Odds: 50-1 (T-18th)

    Analysis: Head coach Bill O'Brien was the star of this preseason's Hard Knocks, but his team isn't even in the limelight in the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts have dominated the division over the past decade, and under quarterback Andrew Luck, they've established a new southern dynasty.

    The Houston Texans have prospects on their roster who may develop into key contributors to push out the Colts, but they aren't built to do so in 2015. The first name that comes to mind is pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, the former first overall pick who was called a generational talent coming out of South Carolina. If he and defensive end J.J. Watt hit their peaks at the same time, they'll be trouble for any quarterback who crosses their path.

    Offensively, there's transition. Receiver Andre Johnson, possibly the franchise's most storied athlete, has left Houston to join Indianapolis. 2013 first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins will look to replace those very big shoes. At running back, Arian Foster is injured, and there's no telling when the 29-year-old will be back to 100 percent health.

    This is a year when the return to respectability should be the stress of the organization. No one is winning a ring with Brian Hoyer playing quarterback. The progress of the young talent on the roster will be the end game, not a playoff bid.

    Take the odds? No

New York Giants

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    Eli Manning
    Eli ManningEd Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 50-1 (T-18th)

    Analysis: It seems like there's always something going on in New York. Last season, the Giants lost receiver Victor Cruz for the season due to injury, but rookie Odell Beckham Jr. had one of the better first years at the position in recent memory. With both of them back, quarterback Eli Manning, who is in a contract season, should look more consistent.

    That doesn't answer every question the squad has, though. Jason Pierre-Paul has yet to see the field since his fireworks accident. Can they replace the Pro Bowl pass-rusher, and will he be able to play in 2015? There haven't been any indications either way.

    The Washington Redskins are clearly the worst team in the NFC East, but both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are poised to make playoff runs this season. New York is in the third lane in its own division, and unless a major injury occurs, it's a stretch to project it as a playoff team this year.

    The Giants should improve on their 2014 season, but they still have plenty of work to do on a mangled defense, which seemingly loses another contributor every week. It's on Manning and Co. to make the squad look respectable this season, nothing more or less.

    Take the odds? No

Arizona Cardinals

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    Carson Palmer
    Carson PalmerKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 40-1 (T-13th)

    Analysis: Last season, the Arizona Cardinals went through multiple injuries to their quarterbacks. While Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton were in, they did well enough to coast into the playoffs. It was the Ryan Lindley portion at the end of the season that made fans lose hope in a title run.

    They've since lost defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to New York, where he's now the head coach of the Jets. Bowles is one of the brightest minds in football, and his scheme was unique to Arizona. Can the squad replicate the defense's success without Bowles, who kept offenses on their toes for an entire game?

    The Cardinals didn't regress in personnel over the offseason, but losing their defensive mastermind could hurt them in the long run. If Palmer stays healthy, the offense might be top-10 in passing in 2015. Arizona is a quality team, and in the NFC West, where the Rams seem to settle for 8-8 and the 49ers are free-falling, there's a healthy possibility that the squad can sneak into the playoffs. A 40-1 ticket relies on confidence that the defense is able to tread water, but it's well worth the gamble.

    Take the odds? Yes

Atlanta Falcons

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 40-1 (T-13th)

    Analysis: The Atlanta Falcons have a great passing offense, but they'll need more to win it all. Sure, the Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones connection is one of the best in the league, but it can't be the only consistent part of the offense.

    The Falcons struggled to run the ball last season, but have added Tevin Coleman, a rookie from Indiana, to the backfield. He's going to be a high-variance runner who hopefully will be able to break off a big run or two behind a poor offensive line. Still, don't expect a 1,000-yard rusher in the Georgia Dome.

    The team's defense has made massive improvements in the pass-rushing department, which was the squad's largest flaw in 2014. The Falcons added Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley, two freak athletes, to the defensive line. When you factor in the progression of sophomore Planet Theory candidate Ra'Shede Hageman, it's easy to expect more sacks and pressures as the season goes along and the unit grows together.

    The defense in Atlanta is now respectable. The passing offense is still well above the NFL standard. Behind that offensive line, though, it's going to be hard for the Falcons to ride into the Super Bowl.

    Take the odds? No

Detroit Lions

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    Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 40-1 (T-13th)

    Analysis: It's odd that the Detroit Lions can lose an absolute star like Ndamukong Suh and still compete for a playoff spot. Suh, the team's former second overall selection, signed with the Miami Dolphins this past offseason on a contract worth more than $100 million. Nick Fairley, another former first-round defensive tackle, also left, signing with the St. Louis Rams.

    Haloti Ngata, a former All-Pro with the Baltimore Ravens, was traded to Detroit this offseason, which has helped slow the bleeding on the defensive interior. Outside of that unit, the Lions look to improve in 2015. They still have a great passing offense, and their running backs and offensive line are progressing. Rookie back Ameer Abdullah is shifty, reminding Lions fans of the great Barry Sanders at times.

    A wild-card team in 2014, Detroit only lost by four points to the Dallas Cowboys, who arguably would have beaten the Green Bay Packers in the next round if some calls by the referees went in a different direction. The Packers blew a huge lead at the end of the NFC Championship to allow the Seattle Seahawks to win by six points in overtime on their way to a Super Bowl loss. 

    Playoff football has a lot to do with luck, but if you punch a ticket in, you're in the mix. The Lions will have to face the Minnesota Vikings and Packers twice this season, competing for an NFC North title with those two franchises. A 40-1 gamble on Detroit catching a couple of breaks seems worth it on paper, based on last year's performance.

    Take the odds? Yes

New Orleans Saints

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 40-1 (T-13th)

    Analysis: Last season, the New Orleans Saints were one of the top-ranked squads heading into the 2014 regular season. No one could have predicted that the entire NFC South would finish below .500. Some changes have been made to the team, such as Jimmy Graham being traded for a future first-round pick and a starting center in Max Unger, who filled an immediate need.

    They've also added plenty to their defense, such as rookie linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha as well as free-agent cornerback Brandon Browner. Overall, the team is more balanced now. Its cap situation is still in shambles, but the roster is less built around stars and scrubs. Instead, it's looking more consistent across the board, which is the yin to 2014's yang.

    Quarterback Drew Brees still has something in the tank, and emerging superstar Brandin Cooks could be the next Antonio Brown type of receiver. At this point, the Saints should be viewed as the clear leaders in the NFC South, especially when running back C.J. Spiller, a former top-10 pick, is healthy and able to play a pass-catching role out of the backfield, something Brees has missed since Darren Sproles left town.

    The media and fans are overcorrecting to a 7-9 2014 season. The Saints still have plenty of skilled players and a franchise quarterback. Not often does that resume miss the playoffs two years in a row, especially in a weak division. At 40-1, you have a solid value to cash in with New Orleans in 2015.

    Take the odds? Yes

San Diego Chargers

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 40-1 (T-13th)

    Analysis: The San Diego Chargers are in a weird spot. They've aged past being a team with a promising future, but they have enough talent on their roster to compete on a week-to-week basis. After extending quarterback Philip Rivers, the team looks to make at least one final run for the title, something Rivers needs to add to his resume if he wants to crack the Hall of Fame conversation.

    Outside of aging stars like Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, how many players can most fans name off this squad? Sure, there are young talents like Keenan Allen and Manti Te'o, but at the moment, neither are players you can build around. Eric Weddle might be in the conversation, but he's 30-year-old in a contract season.

    Even the team's first-round running back, Melvin Gordon, hasn't impressed much in the preseason. This is a team that can win and lose to anyone on any week. Lacking an identity hurts the Chargers going into the 2015 season. They will have to compete with Peyton Manning and company just to win the AFC West. If my neck was on the line, I'd avoid investing in the future of San Diego.

    Take the odds? No

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 33-1 (12th)

    Analysis: For quite some time now, the Chiefs have been a gleaming bastion of mediocrity. Like in any other year, the success of the Chiefs offense is going to be dependent on Jamaal Charles, who may be the most talented runner in the league. If the Chiefs plan on rising out of their grave as an offense, Alex Smith has to be a more aggressive passer, throwing more to tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, and allowing them to make plays.

    Alas, that is not going to happen, leaving a lot of Kansas City’s success up to the defense. To that note, the Chiefs have the kind of defense that embodies the “defense wins championships” mantra. With Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on the edge, Derrick Johnson commanding the middle and Dontari Poe acting as a force up front, the Chiefs front seven will provide easy pickings for their secondary, namely rookie cornerback Marcus Peters and returning safety Eric Berry.

    The Chiefs' offensive success should be no different than it has been the past few years. It is the defense, if anything, that is going to bring the Chiefs success. In 2014, the team's defense was top 10 in total defense, and it will be even better this season. The AFC West is of questionable strength, so Kansas City may be able to surprise.

    Take the odds? Yes

Minnesota Vikings

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 28-1 (11th)

    Analysis: Defensively, Minnesota seems to get better and better with Mike Zimmer as the head coach. Under Zimmer, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes took major strides in their second seasons, and converting Anthony Barr to an off-ball linebacker allowed him to thrive. Simply put, Zimmer’s defense has been about getting the most out of his players and putting them in the best position to win.

    Though, as much as Zimmer’s legacy is defense-based, the offense in Minnesota looks promising as well. Teddy Bridgewater is one of the best young passers in the league and can only get better after an impressive rookie season now that he has stud running back Adrian Peterson and speedy receiver Mike Wallace at his disposal.

    The questions on offense lie not with the skill position groups, but with the big men up front. The offensive line in Minnesota is atrocious. Even with the addition of fourth-round right tackle T.J. Clemmings, the Vikings offensive line is going to be one of the most miserable units in the NFL, making Bridgewater’s job a nightmare.

    Much of the Vikings roster looks good. This team is bound for success in the near future, but with that offensive line, this year is not going to be their year. The pass-rushers in the NFC North alone will cause too much havoc for the Vikings to overcome. Once the offensive line is solidified, Minnesota will rise, but do not count on it this season.

    Take the odds? No

Miami Dolphins

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    Andrew Innerarity-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 25-1 (10th)

    Analysis: Slowly but surely, the Dolphins have been progressing as a franchise, and now may be their time to strike. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is hitting his peak as a player, there is a plethora of receivers surrounding him now—including new acquisitions Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills and rookie DeVante Parker—and the offensive line should finally look somewhat competent.

    Tannehill, though he has been good in the past, has to take overwhelming command of the offense this season and emerge into the star that he could be. With all the pieces in place, there is no excuse for this not to happen. Granted, he is a good quarterback regardless, but he has the weaponry and skill set to take the next step.  

    That being said, the biggest catch for Miami this offseason was star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh, of course, is a force in his own right, but now he will be playing with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon as his allied edge-rushers. Between the three of them, opposing quarterbacks will be in a constant panic.

    Miami’s season is riding on how well the offense can open up and how well Tannehill can execute. If Bill Lazor can create space for his receivers and make it easy for Tannehill to hit them, this offense will be electric, and that is a very real possibility. The problem is, with as strong as the AFC East is looking to be, it is going to be a long season for Miami.

    Take the odds? No

Baltimore Ravens

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 20-1 (T-8th)

    Analysis: Despite a quality playoff run just a year ago, the Ravens are not ready to make a threatening run for the Super Bowl. The loss of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will hurt more than many presume, not to mention the skill players on the roster are a huge question mark.

    First-round receiver Breshad Perriman is not only injured right now, but he is a lateral move, at best, from Torrey Smith. Justin Forsett is not getting any younger. Other than Steve Smith, every receiver on the roster is limited. Joe Flacco is going to be depended on quite a bit this upcoming season, which does not bode well for Baltimore, if the last time Flacco was heavily depended on is any indication.

    Baltimore’s staple, as always, will be the defense. The only player Baltimore lost who theoretically should have been tough to replace was Haloti Ngata. Somehow, GM Ozzie Newsome found a way to replace Ngata by drafting defensive tackle Carl Davis, who made a name for himself this preseason. Aside from that shuffle, the Ravens will have no problem replicating their defensive success from a year ago.

    The Ravens barely skid into the playoffs last season. With an offense set to regress a little bit and the defense likely to stagnate, Baltimore’s chances of even making the playoffs are not favorable, especially with the strength of the rest of the AFC North.

    Take the odds? No

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 20-1 (T-8th)

    Analysis: In essence, the Steelers are the discount version of the Colts. They will have a high-scoring offense like the Colts, though their defense will be, somehow, worse. Every Steelers game is going to look like the NFL equivalent of a Big 12 college football game, where both teams go back and forth scoring touchdowns, hoping they get the ball last.

    The first handful of weeks will be a bit of a struggle for Pittsburgh as running back Le’Veon Bell is suspended for two games and receiver Martavis Bryant is suspended for four games. Though, once they are both back, or even once just Bell is back, the Steelers offense will have little difficulty putting up points.

    The offense in Pittsburgh was never in question, though. The defense was and still is, however. Miraculously, there are zero star players on the defense, and all of the young talent outside of Ryan Shazier, who was injured for a lot of last year, has not proven to be worth anything. They are going to be a horrendous unit, and there is no fixing that this season. The only answer is for the offense to keep scoring points.

    On offense, the Steelers will be a special team, but as soon as the ball is in the opponent’s hands, the Steelers will be pitiful. More than they are battling any other team, the Steelers are battling themselves for greatness, and it is not certain that they will win that battle. While it appears Pittsburgh should reclaim the AFC North title, a deep playoff run from them would be quite a surprise.

    Take the odds? No

Dallas Cowboys

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 14-1 (T-6th)

    Analysis: As great as the Cowboys rushing attack was a year ago, the loss of DeMarco Murray is detrimental. There is a notion that Joseph Randle will be able to replace his production to some degree. Behind the Cowboys offensive line, there is some truth to that, but Randle has been nothing more than an average secondary back. He is not going to replace Murray.

    The product of a weakened running offense will lead to a higher dependency on Tony Romo and his receivers, namely Dez Bryant, to pick up the pieces. Romo and Bryant make for one of the better passer-receiver duos in the league, but aside from Bryant, Romo is not left with much to work with. Jason Witten is not getting any younger, Terrance Williams is too linear to be a dynamic player and Cole Beasley is limited in his own right as well.

    Defensively, the Cowboys are looking up. They went after Byron Jones and Randy Gregory early in the NFL draft and signed Greg Hardy, who will miss the first four games due to suspension. With or without Hardy, the Cowboys seem primed to make subtle improvements on the defensive side of the ball.

    The offense will be returning to a more balanced attack and the team as a whole will have its talent level balanced out between offense and defense. But despite those changes in identity, Dallas is going to be highly competitive and make another strong run at the division title, especially considering the weakness at the bottom half of the NFC East. That being said, the best of the best in the NFC will be tough for the Cowboys to beat out when the playoffs get down to the wire.

    Take the odds? No

Denver Broncos

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 14-1 (T-6th)

    Analysis: Peyton Manning will lead one of the best offenses in the NFL until he is no longer playing. Though he won't have Julius Thomas at tight end, the combination of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver should be plenty of firepower for the veteran quarterback.

    Denver’s most glaring roster issue is that its rookies are not going to provide much production. Shane Ray is a lucky pass-rusher who jumps snap counts, Ty Sambrailo is a question mark as an edge-protector and Jeff Heuerman will be out for the year with an ACL injury. While Denver has a stud defensive back in Bradley Roby, who was a rookie last season, most of its production will be dependent on veteran talent.

    Furthermore, Denver is heavily dependent on a handful of players. On offense, there is not much talent to be excited about outside of the previously mentioned passing/receiving group. On defense, Von Miller is a standout on a mediocre pass-rushing group, in which his most talented ally is an aging DeMarcus Ware.

    Denver has a lopsided roster. There are a handful of superstars, but they are supported by middling players. The stars of this team will be able to win them a lot of games, but when good, well-rounded teams come to battle, Denver is going to have a hard time patching the holes in its boat to stay afloat.

    Take the odds? No

New England Patriots

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    Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 10-1 (5th)

    Analysis: Tom Brady struck again. After appealing his case, Brady will no longer miss the first four games of the season and will be ready to go Week 1. It’s tough to imagine that New England would have been bad even without Brady, but having him back makes it that much more intimidating. This team won the Super Bowl just months ago, it would not be far fetched to see them end up there again this year.

    Not much has changed on the offensive side of the ball for New England. They have had another slight shuffle at the running back position, which is nothing new for the Patriots, but the rest of the offense is much of the same. Brady led one of the best offenses in the NFL last season, and it would be foolish to count him out from doing so once again.

    The most interesting aspect of this New England team is the morphing of the defense. While their front is primed to be even better than it was a year ago, the secondary will seemingly regress. Up front, the Patriots have stud talent at every position, especially with the addition of Jabaal Sheard and Dominique Easley appearing to be much healthier than he was last season. New England will be dependent on stopping the run and generating pass-rush pressure.

    A defensive renovation gives some reason for pause, but doubting Bill Belichick is a mistake, and he has proven that throughout his career. The New England defense will look a bit different than the Super Bowl defense did, though it will still be a tough unit to outplay, especially with Belichick on the sideline. The odds here for New England are surprisingly low; it has everything necessary to repeat what it did last season.

    Take the odds? Yes

Indianapolis Colts

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 17-2 (T-3rd)

    Analysis: According to Jim Irsay and Chuck Pagano, the best way to fix a struggling defense is to score more points on offense. Instead of addressing the defense in the first round of the NFL draft, the Colts strengthened a strength by selecting Phillip Dorsett, a T.Y. Hilton clone.

    Now the Colts sport Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief and Dorsett at wide receiver, not to mention Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener at tight end. On top of that, Frank Gore was signed to hopefully give some sort of life to the Indianapolis running game. The offensive line gluing this group together is mediocre at best, but there are simply too many weapons on this team at Andrew Luck’s disposal for the Colts to not light up scoreboards.

    At the same time, teams are bound to score plentifully on the Colts defense. Pagano is a defensive coach, yet he has not fielded a respectable defense in Indianapolis to this point. Aside from Vontae Davis, most everyone on the Colts defense is replaceable.

    The Colts’ saving grace will be that the rest of their division is not good. Two of the teams, the Titans and the Jaguars, have a chance to be the worst team in football, and the Texans are respectable but hardly a threat to overthrow Indianapolis. The Colts are going to play in a lot of shootouts this season. It may be scary, but it is tough to doubt this offense.

    Take the odds? Yes

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 17-2 (T-3rd)

    Analysis: After years of not living up to his draft status in St. Louis, Sam Bradford may have his shot in Philadelphia. At the least, Bradford is the perfect type of quarterback for Chip Kelly’s offense: a smart facilitator. Kelly has yet to have this, or at least one of Bradford’s caliber, and it is going to be a treat to see where the Eagles offense goes from here.

    On the other side of the ball, the Eagles look good as well, even if defense is not Kelly’s forte. Their defensive front will be one of the most disruptive in the NFL, while the secondary will look to be improved by the signings of Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, as well as the drafting of Eric Rowe. Not only will the Eagles put up points, they are going to allow fewer of them.

    Back to the offense, the Eagles have a lot of weaponry. They have added Nelson Agholor and DeMarco Murray to their already overpowering skill player corps. The interior of the offensive line will be weakened, but with added star players and a new, smart leader to command the offense, the Eagles are going to strike fear into every defense.

    In 2014, the Eagles won 10 games. With big improvements on both sides of the ball, Philadelphia has nowhere to go but up. Kelly finally has the pieces in place to put pressure on opponents on both sides of the ball. It’s his time now, and his team is going to be a force.

    Take the odds? Yes

Seattle Seahawks

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 13-2 (2nd)

    Analysis: The Seahawks defense will still be one of the best around, there is no doubt about that, but they may not be quite what we are used to seeing. More than anything, this has to do with Kam Chancellor likely not being on the team due to a holdout. If he is, Seattle should look similar, but his return seems doubtful.

    Luckily for the Seahawks, they loaded up on the other side of the ball. The offensive line is still going to be problematic, but bringing in tight end Jimmy Graham and rookie receiver Tyler Lockett will give quarterback Russell Wilson the support he deserves. Adding Graham brings an extra element that the Seahawks have never had, and that is a dominant receiving threat. With someone like Graham for Wilson to rely on, there may be a shift in how often Wilson takes off with the ball.

    It is not by chance that the Seahawks keep contending for the Lombardi Trophy. The roster has been sculpted by a top-notch front office and led by a top-notch head coach. Pete Carroll will have Seattle competing for the NFL title again.

    Take the odds? Yes

Green Bay Packers

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Odds: 11-2 (1st)

    Analysis: Jordy Nelson is going to miss this season with an ACL injury, but do not fret. Though losing a player of his caliber is always a pain, the Packers offense is still set to be electric. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league and will be able to carry this team through the season even without Nelson.

    The bigger story in Green Bay may be the imminent uprising of the secondary. Not only is Casey Hayward back, but the Packers now have three quality rookie cornerbacks, one whom they snagged as an undrafted free agent, to assist Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in commanding opposing passing attacks. With a secondary to complement its strong front, the Green Bay defense will bring ease to their offensive counterpart.

    For as much bad news as the Nelson injury has garnered, the Rodgers-led Packers will always be a safe bet to take home the Super Bowl trophy. In a tough NFC North, the Packers may lose enough games to have to play a wild card game, but again, betting on Rodgers is always a quality move.

    Take the Odds? Yes