NFL returns: Back New Orleans Saints to win Lombardi trophy again
Superbowl XLVIII winners Seattle Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers in the primetime opening night matchup. But the big question is, who will be this season’s NFL champions?
Here, Coral take a look at the six main contenders to lift the famous Lombardi trophy in February 2015, and give you our pick for Superbowl XLIX.
Seattle Seahawks (11/2)
Defending champions Seattle begin the season as early favourites, and it’s easy to see why. In February, the Seahawks swept aside the Denver Broncos in Superbowl XLVIII with almost embarrassing ease. Their matchup was billed as the NFL’s best defense versus the best offense, with the Seahawks defense emerging as the clear winner.
Crucially, Seattle made moves this off-season to keep that highly-rated defense together for the long haul. Both safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman were tied down to long-term contracts this year. So what are their weaknesses?
The offense (ranked 18th out of 32 teams in 2013) remains underpowered and some question marks remain over the abilities of young quarterback Russell Wilson. It could be said, for instance, his task has often been made easier by the Seahawks’ defense keeping the number of points that their offence needs to score in order to win to a minimum.
Wilson has not had to perform at an elite level. However, that is a problem Seattle will not mind having should it continue in 2014.
Denver Broncos (6/1)
Broncos fortunes are tied to those of ageing quarterback Peyton Manning – and they know it. With the future Hall of Famer not far from retirement, Denver sense that their window of opportunity for winning a Superbowl may be about to slam shut.
During this off-season, long-term planning was brushed aside, as the Broncos made big splashes in free agency to bring in talent. Demarcus Ware and Aqib Talib make great additions to their defense – that could be what they need to win the Superbowl this year.
Denver’s faith in their 38-year old veteran is understandable. Manning was in phenomenal form last year as he passed for an NFL record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns on his way to winning his fifth MVP (Most Valuable Player) award.
However, the season was bittersweet for Peyton, ending as it did in Denver’s rout at the hands of Seattle. This result only added fuel to the fire for his critics, who point to Manning’s apparent inability to perform in the playoffs when it counts the most (he has now won only once in three Superbowl appearances).
Punters can confidently back Manning and the Denver offence to carry the Broncos to another AFC West title in 2014, but must keep in mind that regular season success does not always lead to victory at the end of post-season.
New England Patriots (8/1)
Another side blessed with a quarterback destined for the Hall of Fame (Tom Brady), the Patriots have to be included in any conversation about potential Superbowl-winners. This team has won three NFL championships, and appeared in a further two Superbowls, during the Brady era alone.
In 2013, they fell just one game short of a sixth Superbowl appearance, losing to the Broncos in the AFC championship game. It helps that New England play in one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, the AFC East.
With serious question marks lying over the NY Jets and Buffalo Bills at the all-important QB position in 2014, punters should expect the Patriots to once again reach the playoffs with relative ease.
Can they go deep in the playoffs? Certainly, with Brady under center and wily coach Bill Belichick calling the shots from the touchline. The former will hope for more consistent support from his receiving corps, which was decimated by injury last year.
Patriots fans will be hoping star tight end Rob Gronkowski (coming back from a serious knee injury) can stay fit throughout the season, especially since his late season injury in 2011/12 proved so costly to New England the last time they reached the Superbowl .
San Francisco 49ers (8/1)
San Francisco have been the nearly-men of the NFL for the last few years. Reaching the last three NFC Championship games, the 49ers missed out on a Superbowl appearance last year after defeat to Seattle. They were on the losing side of Superbowl XLVII the previous year against Baltimore Ravens.
Punters might think that this kind of form makes the 49ers prime candidates to finally win a Superbowl this season, however you should be wary. Pre-season has been something of a disaster for the 49ers, with abject performances on the field and troubles off of it
A nine-game suspension for defensive star Aldon Smith is a massive blow (the NFL has a 16-game regular season, so he shall miss more than half of it). The defensive secondary has been almost entirely rebuilt, with only one returning starter (Eric Reid), and star linebacker NaVorro Bowman has been lost to a gruesome knee injury he sustained in last season’s playoffs.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will have his work cut out if he is to deliver a Lombardi for San Francisco, particularly as his offense comes up against rivals Seattle twice due to both those teams being in the same division (NFC West). Currently priced at 8/1, the 49ers will have plenty of takers but nevertheless do not appear to offer great value for those backing them in the outright market.
Green Bay Packers (10/1)
After a stuttering 2013 campaign, the Packers look ready to roll again in 2014. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been in cracking form during pre-season, carving up defenses through the air, while on the ground second-year running back Eddie Lacy will bring much-needed balance to the Green Bay offence.
The defense also looks to be much improved this time around. So what could go wrong? Put simply, the Packers must keep Rodgers upright. When the former NFL MVP went down injured with a fractured collarbone last season, Green Bay very nearly fell apart.
How the Packers still won the division probably says more about the failings of their closest rivals, than it does about Green Bay. Worryingly, their offensive line – key to protecting their quarterback – has already suffered two key losses with injuries to center JC Tretter and tackle Don Barclay. How the Packers adapt and plug the gaps in their line could well be the deciding factor in how they fare this season.
New Orleans Saints (12/1)
The Saints are another team who have made a splash in free agency to recruit big-name talent, with the addition of safety Jairus Byrd, in particular, bringing welcome depth to the defense. New Orleans’ greatest strength, however, is the offense, led by elite quarterback Drew Brees.
He held the NFL passing-yards record until it was broken by Manning in 2013. Brees is ably supported by one of the scariest receiving corps in the league, with star names including tight end Jimmy Graham and rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who has looked menacing in pre-season.
A criticism often aimed at the Saints is that they sometimes struggle when playing on the road. However, this is true for many NFL teams and, if the Saints can gain home-field advantage in the playoffs by finishing among the NFC’s top seeds, they will not have to worry much about road form during the post-season.
On paper, there are few reasons why they cannot do just that. The Saints were denied first place in the NFC South division by the Carolina Panthers last season, however they look well-placed to regain that title and go further in the playoffs this time around.
Our picks: cases could be made for any of these sides to win Superbowl XLIX in Arizona, but the New Orleans Saints at 12/1 appear to offer the best value, a price that looks long compared to that of NFC rivals the 49ers in particular.
The New Orleans’ defense needs to improve and, combined with a high-powered Saints’ offense, should be enough to carry them to the second Superbowl victory in their history.
Punters may also wish to check out Coral’s Superbowl XLIX Doubles market, which is offering odds for the Superbowl winners and MVP. The Superbowl MVP is more often than not awarded to a quarterback.
With Drew Brees having already won one award in Superbowl XLIV, he could now be set to add to his tally this season. The double of Saints and Brees is attractively priced at 20/1.