Unlike last season, when there was no true favorite to win the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots stand alone as the team sportsbooks deem to have the best shot at taking the Lombardi Trophy this season.
It's hard to argue otherwise, considering the Pats finished with a league-best 14-2 record and a 191-point differential.
The games aren't played on paper or in Las Vegas casinos, however, so let's take a brief look at the Super Bowl odds and provide the best value pick, the best sleeper selection and a prediction for the big game.
|New England Patriots||+165|
|Green Bay Packers||+700|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+800|
Best Value: Atlanta, +600
To be honest, it's a little confusing that Atlanta is only slightly ahead of Pittsburgh and Green Bay on the Super Bowl odds table.
Sure, the Packers and Steelers can lay claim to being as good or better than the Falcons, but Atlanta is a five-point home favorite against a Seattle team that has a losing road record (3-4-1), has to fly across the country and has arguably the worst offensive line in football. The Falcons can win this game by a few scores, putting them just two wins away from a Super Bowl title.
Green Bay and Pittsburgh aren't even favorites in their upcoming road matchups with Dallas and Kansas City, respectively.
Atlanta is lucky enough to be on the path of least resistance to the conference championship at the moment, so if you're in a betting mood and looking for good value in the mid-range, take the Falcons.
Sleeper: Kansas City, +800
Kansas City isn't a very sexy team. The Chiefs aren't a "crown-jewel" franchise like the Packers, Steelers or Cowboys. They don't have household names the casual football fan knows. Their players don't appear in national commercials or host Saturday Night Live.
But they get the job done time and again and finished with a 12-4 record.
Kansas City is the slight favorite against Pittsburgh. If the Chiefs hold the Steelers off, they'll likely face New England, who is undoubtedly the best team remaining. That will be a tall order for the Chiefs, but look at who they have beaten this year:
-- Oakland Raiders (twice, with Derek Carr healthy and playing)
-- Atlanta Falcons (in the Georgia Dome)
-- The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos (twice, including once by a 33-10 score)
-- Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts (in Lucas Oil Stadium by 16 points)
That's not a bad resume. Of course, the Chiefs also lost 43-14 in Pittsburgh in Week 4, but that feels like eons ago. Kansas City has gone 10-2 since then.
If the Chiefs break off a big play or two (as they are wont to do) against the Pats and pull off a big upset, then all of a sudden you're looking at multiplying your money by eight if the Chiefs beat the NFC representative.
If you're in Vegas and feeling lucky, go for it.
Prediction: New England, +165
Who are we kidding, though? The Patriots are the most well-rounded team since...the 2007 Patriots. However, that team started sputtering in the second half of the season and loafed through the playoffs before the New York Giants beat them in the Super Bowl. The weight of being undefeated eventually did them in.
This 14-2 Patriots team doesn't have to worry about that. The Pats are flying high, winners of seven straight and 11 of 12 since Tom Brady returned to the lineup. The defense is playing well, with the secondary shining brightly. Brady has three running backs, five receivers and a solid tight end to give the ball to every game. They also have more postseason experience than anyone in the league.
Furthermore, going back to the path-of-least-resistance point from earlier, New England gets to face Houston in the divisional round. Per OddsShark, the Pats are 15-point favorites against the Texans, who they beat 27-0 in Week 3 without Brady at quarterback. The Texans also finished with a negative-49 point differential in the regular season.
It's conceivable that the other three underdogs could pull off upsets (no team is facing more than a five-point spread, after all), but it seems just about impossible that Houston will knock off the Patriots in Gillette Stadium, meaning the Patriots have a big leg up on the rest of the field.
Because the Pats are the best team left, and because they have the easiest road to the Super Bowl title, take them to win the Super Bowl 31-17 over Dallas.