Note: Mike Wilkening covered the oddsmaking beat for CHFF Insiders all season long. Here's his look back at 2013 and first peek ahead at 2014.
By Mike Wilkening
Cold, Hard Football Facts Insider Oddsmaking Analyst (@mikewilkening)
For those so inclined, Super Bowl XLIX odds are already posted at various Nevada sports books. Even more interestingly, there are a few early point spreads for a game that won’t be played for another 360 days.
Oddsmaker William Hill U.S. has made the NFC winner a 3.5-point favorite over the AFC winner next February in Glendale, Arizona. The South Point Hotel in Las Vegas came in lower on the NFC, making the conference a 2.5-point favorite vs. the AFC in early Super Bowl betting, according to RJ Bell of Pregame.com.
At first glance, the NFC looks like it could be a real value at either price.
Quite simply, the NFC is stronger and deeper than the AFC, and the NFC’s teams seem poised to be formidable next season. While it’s possible the AFC can chip away via the draft and free agency, it’s likely the NFC will have the Super Bowl betting favorite entering 2014.
The favorite could very well be defending-champion Seattle, but there probably will be quite a bit of support for San Francisco, too. It is notable that William Hill opened with the Seahawks and 49ers co-favored to win Super Bowl 49 at 5-1, with AFC powers Denver (11-2) and New England (10-1) the next two betting choices.
The next four teams on the board are NFC clubs: the Packers (15-1), Saints (15-1), Eagles (22-1) and Panthers (22-1).
Indeed, of the top eight teams with the lowest odds, six are NFC squads. And that doesn’t even include the Cardinals, who won 10 games last season. Nor does it include the Falcons, who hosted the NFC title game a little more than a year ago.
Frankly, it may not matter. If the Seahawks and 49ers remain in top form, they could again square off in the NFC title game next season. Perhaps Seattle and San Francisco are good enough to make this an annual engagement, a la Cowboys-49ers, which was the NFC Championship matchup from 1992-1994. (Of course, Dallas and San Francisco were in different divisions, which gave each a chance to play at home before meeting in the title game. The Seahawks and the 49ers don’t have that luxury.)
There have been some comparisons between the early-1990s Cowboys and the 2013 Seahawks. And there are some similarities. Both are young, talented teams who quickly developed into contenders, then champions. The Seahawks, like those Cowboys, seem poised to be very good for several more seasons.
And like those Cowboys, the Seahawks have the 49ers as their closest contemporaries.
So let’s consider those 1990s Cowboys for a moment. Their title run started in 1992, when they rolled to a 52-17 victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII. The following season, they lost their first two games as Emmitt Smith held out, rallied when he returned and retook their spot at the top of the NFC, earning the No. 1 seed in the postseason. After taking out Philadelphia in the divisional round, they knocked off a very good San Francisco team to advance to Super Bowl XXVIII. Once again, the Cowboys faced the Bills, and once again, they romped, winning 30-13 as 10.5-point favorites.
Now, let’s consider the AFC in 1993.
The Bills were the No. 1 seed in the conference, with the Oilers seeded second and the Chiefs third. The Bills were still strong, but not quite the force they were a few years earlier, when they were favorites in Super Bowl XXV. The Oilers, meanwhile, were all-in to win 1993, with a veteran-laden roster and a 37-year-old quarterback (Warren Moon) with a The Chiefs also had a small window to win; after all, they had traded a No. 1 pick for 37-year-old Joe Montana.
In some ways, the top of the AFC in 1993 is akin to the conference entering 2014. The conference’s presumed top clubs (Denver, New England) have aging quarterbacks. The Broncos’ Peyton Manning turns 38 in March, while the Patriots’ Tom Brady will be 37 in August. Both Denver and New England would be wise to understand the unique urgency of their situations. The Broncos, for their part, operated last offseason like a team that knew the clock was ticking, spending freely — but smartly — in free agency.
In the end, though, the 2013 Broncos were 35 points worse than Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII. Now, it would be difficult to argue that the AFC’s best team is that much worse than the NFC’s best team. But it would also be a stretch to believe the AFC’s best wouldn’t be an underdog in the next Super Bowl if the NFC’s top teams continue on their current paths. Moreover, the AFC could find itself as a fairly sizable underdog, especially if New England and/or Denver falters.
Here is the humbling thing for AFC fans: New England and Denver didn’t really have any challengers in the postseason. Indianapolis was overmatched against New England. San Diego really didn’t push Denver. And for all the potential Kansas City and Cincinnati showed in the regular season, neither even got out of Round One.
There are some who will suggest the Seahawks can repeat as Super Bowl champions, and the Seahawks’ roster would suggest a strong run is within the club’s capabilities. The safer bet, however, is that some NFC team is holding the Super Bowl XLIV trophy next February. If it’s not Seattle, then maybe it’s San Francisco. And if it is not San Francisco . . . well, what monster has emerged from the NFC to beat those teams?
Imposing, this NFC is.