With just two weeks remaining in the 2015 NFL regular season, the playoff picture has become clearer and teams are really starting to separate themselves from the pack. The question now is which teams are setting themselves up the most for a run to the Super Bowl.
There seems to be less parity this season than usual, with only 11 teams currently having a winning record. The good news is at least the leaders in the NFC East and AFC South have gotten back to .500 to help set up what could be an exciting playoffs throughout.
However, we have seen plenty of instances in recent years where record doesn't necessarily guarantee playoff success. In the past five seasons, No. 4 seeds Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants have won Super Bowls as well as the No. 6 Green Bay Packers. The Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers have also won games despite posting losing records going into the playoffs.
No team should be counted out when it comes to potentially making a run at the Super Bowl. With that in mind, here is a look at the latest odds to win a championship and a breakdown of the favorites and sleepers in each league.
|Odds to Win Super Bowl 50|
|New England Patriots||+333|
|Green Bay Packers||+1000|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+1800|
|New York Jets||+7500|
|New York Giants||+7500|
|via Odds Shark|
For a brief moment in the regular season, the New England Patriots were vulnerable. They had lost back-to-back games to the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles and had dropped to No. 3 in the AFC standings. This now seems like a long time ago.
With two wins in a row, New England is back in first place in the AFC with a clinched first-round bye. With the rest of the conference struggling to keep up, it's clear this team is once again the favorite to at least reach the Super Bowl, if not win it.
The only challenge has been injuries, as Rich Hill notes how many players have been used this season:
As long as Tom Brady remains under center and Bill Belichick is on the sidelines, though, the Patriots will remain in good shape. The payoff isn't great for a bet on them now, but this is clearly the safest pick on the books.
The next two teams in the standings are much bigger mysteries at this stage, both due to quarterback concerns. The Broncos have lost two straight with Brock Osweiler and are now hoping for Peyton Manning to hurry back, although he wasn't playing exceptionally well when he was injured. Andy Dalton is surprisingly a bigger loss for the Cincinnati Bengals, and it is unknown whether AJ McCarron can keep the team winning in his absence.
A Week 16 matchup between these two teams will tell us a lot about what to expect in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the biggest threat for New England might be a team still struggling to get a spot in the postseason. The Pittsburgh Steelers sent a message with their 34-27 win over the Broncos, showing that a great offense can beat a great defense. Terry Bradshaw of Fox Sports might be biased, but he believes this team is winning the Super Bowl:
One potential sleeper to pick could be the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of eight in a row after a 1-5 start. The key has been a dominant defense allowing just 13.5 points per game during the winning streak and an offense that can run the ball and avoid mistakes.
Not many have faith in Alex Smith to lead this team to a championship, but the talent is there throughout the squad to make a serious run.
The obvious pick here is the Carolina Panthers, which have swept through the regular season to this point and sit in first place with a 14-0 record. Somehow, despite an undefeated season, the group is underrated, with doubters expecting a drop at any moment.
Carolina really isn't going anywhere with a defense featuring elite talent at every level. Josh Norman and Luke Kuechley have been the team's biggest playmakers, but a great defensive line and steady veterans in the secondary have kept opposing offenses in check. Meanwhile, Cam Newton has led an offense that now leads the NFL with 32.1 points per game despite few noteworthy weapons at skill positions. There are a lot of MVP candidates, but Newton is the clear favorite at this stage.
Of course, getting to the Super Bowl won't be easy with the Arizona Cardinals playing just as well over the past few months.
Thanks to eight wins in a row, Arizona has clinched the NFC West title with its sights on a first-round bye. While the players did celebrating the division championship, head coach Bruce Arians still wasn't satisfied:
The coach and the players all want something bigger, and they expect to be contending for a Super Bowl this postseason. They certainly have the offensive talent with Carson Palmer playing as well as anyone in the NFL and rookie running back David Johnson providing plenty of balance. The big question is how the defense will respond after losing Tyrann Mathieu to an ACL tear, per Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network.
Arizona will suffer in the secondary without the Honey Badgers, who had become a legitimate candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
There is a clear drop-off after the top two teams in the NFC, but that doesn't mean there aren't sleepers available. The Seattle Seahawks are obviously a group to be scared of regardless of their seed based on their talent and experience in the postseason, although the oddsmakers are clearly on the same page.
One much deeper sleeper could be the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that still controls its own destiny for the playoffs despite a 6-8 record. Even after a blowout loss to the Cardinals, Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus notes the team isn't too far off:
Sam Bradford actually looked good aside from some mistakes, and the offense moved the ball well. Considering this is the only team to win in New England, there is clearly plenty of ability on this roster.
While it isn't likely this group turns things around to win a Super Bowl, the upside at the current price is there for those looking to take a risk.
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