The playoffs are the perfect time for a comeback. You've stopped wondering "what if..." regarding approximately 7,000 scenarios by which your season could have avoided disaster.
You've convinced yourself that you have learned from each and every mistake and that your luck is bound to turn.
Your swagger is back, your chest is puffed and your wallet is fat.
In short, you are primed for an 11-0 playoff run.
Of course, you're also destined for an 0-4 Wild Card Weekend to dampen your hopes for lucrative winnings in the month of January.
Welcome to the club.
Putting aside our fears and the inevitable letdown, let's feed off this unbridled enthusiasm for the next two days while we still can.
Before we get into the games, let's find the best values in the Futures.
Unlike in baseball (where I'm still awaiting my commission from those who followed my advice), I do not normally suggest riding multiple teams in the same conference. Instead, take a look at the brackets, see the different potential roads each team has to the Super Bowl and take your best guess. Sorry—I mean make your most educated, learned decision with complete confidence.
Odds to Win the AFC
Baltimore Ravens (8/1)
Indianapolis Colts (10/1)
Kansas City Chiefs (20/1)
New England Patriots (5/7)
New York Jets (12/1)
Pittsburgh Steelers (3/1)
Will anyone take down the Patriots? I think the only way to find value in the AFC is to discount as many teams as you possibly can.
I would have given the Chiefs a chance before the quietly messy Charlie Weis/Todd Haley breakup occurred. Now I'm convinced Kansas City is one and done with a loss to the Ravens. Sorry Matt Cassel, but at least you're still the best USC quarterback alum in the NFL. (Odds on that five years ago? About 20 million to 1.)
While it seems insane to discount the Colts and Jets, neither seems to have the horses to get it done this year. The respective strengths of each team (Colts offense, Jets defense) are simply not where they need to be, mostly because of injuries, in order to make a serious run to the Super Bowl.
That leaves us with the two AFC North representatives, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Along with New England, these three teams annually play a unique, unscientific game of rock-paper-scissors:
Pittsburgh generally beats Baltimore.
Baltimore always gives New England headaches.
New England always beats Pittsburgh.
So in terms of wagering on Futures odds, what do you do?
Take the one team that tends to give New England fits, and pray. It's too dangerous to make big moves on the AFC when New England looks so dominating, especially when the NFC is so wide open, but there is considerable value in Baltimore if you feel like taking a chance.
Odds to Win the NFC
Atlanta Falcons (9/5)
Chicago Bears (7/2)
Green Bay Packers (11/2)
New Orleans Saints (4/1)
Philadelphia Eagles (5/1)
Yes, I'm completely discounting Seattle at 40/1. The Seahawks don't even belong on the board.
If you're like me, the two most attractive teams here are Green Bay and Philadelphia.
New Orleans lost its best two running backs, and we all saw the Saints slump this season when the running game was nonexistent.
Chicago and Atlanta are most definitely stay-aways.
For those shaking your head or fist at me, upset that I'm not giving Atlanta and Chicago enough credit, consider this:
At Soldier Field this season, the Chicago Bears have lost to the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins. Also, in what was supposed to be a "statement game" for the Bears defense, the Monsters of the Midway were annihilated by New England. Home field advantage isn't an enormous factor for the Bears, and those 3.5 to 1 are not good enough to make a play.
Atlanta lost only once at home this year, but that loss to New Orleans proved the Falcons are not invincible at the Georgia Dome. You don't think Philadelphia (dominated Atlanta in Philly 31-17), Green Bay (lost 20-17 in Atlanta) or New Orleans will feel confident heading into a Divisional Round or Championship Game in Atlanta? At less than 2 to 1 odds, Atlanta has zero value.
The only problem in loving both the Packers and the Eagles, of course, is that Green Bay and Philadelphia play each other in the first round of the playoffs. If one were to make moves this weekend, my advice would be to place a large wager on the futures odds for whichever team you like to win the game. Then, hedge your bet by putting some action on the other team with the game's point spread.
Let's say you throw down 100 doll hairs (since wagering with real money isn't necessarily legal after all) on the Eagles to win the NFC at 5/1. You could then hedge by taking Green Bay at +3 for the game with the same amount.
If the Eagles win by more than three, your 5 to 1 odds are still alive heading to (most likely) Chicago.
If the Packers beat Philadelphia, you won't lose any money because the $100 you lost on the Eagles NFC wager is made up for by Green Bay covering the +3.
The party starts if Philadelphia somehow wins by one or two points, since you're then playing with house money on the NFC Futures bet, given your win with a Green Bay cover.
Philadelphia's potential road to the Super Bowl: home against Green Bay, at Chicago (assuming New Orleans beats Seattle), then either home against New Orleans or at Atlanta. I think most would agree that is a manageable road for Andy Reid's crew.
Good luck out there this weekend and throughout the playoffs. Look for my individual game picks coming later this afternoon.