The NFL has definitely achieved parity, especially in the NFC. No team has repeated as Super Bowl champion since the Patriots beat Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston and Philadelphia the next season in Jacksonville. No team has repeated as the AFC champion since then, while the last repeat champion in the NFC was all the way back in 1996 and ’97, with Green Bay.
This season, four teams that finished 2011 with a losing record reached the playoffs: the Colts, Redskins, Seahawks and Vikings. It helped that those first three had a stellar rookie quarterback in 2012, while Minnesota rode NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. So which teams may come from nowhere to contend for a Super Bowl next season? The game will be held at MetLife Stadium outside of New York City in the first outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl game.
Bovada oddsmakers list one team far apart from the rest as the least likely to make a Super Bowl XLVIII run: the Jaguars at 150-1. Jacksonville finished 2-14 last season, earning them the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft. Owner Shad Khan decided to clean house, firing general manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey after just one year. Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley replaces Mularkey.
Jacksonville has major holes all over the roster. The team needs to decide if former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert is the future under center or whether it will move forward with mediocre Chad Henne at quarterback. New GM David Caldwell says he won’t be trading for Jacksonville native Tim Tebow, but he may for 49ers backup Alex Smith. Franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew barely played last season due to injury and wants out. If Jacksonville is lousy next season and earns another top pick, the 2014 quarterback draft class should be much stronger than this year’s, with the likes of Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Georgia’s Andy Murray and potentially even Heisman winner Johnny Manziel available.
New England was the immediate Super Bowl XLVII favorite after last year’s close loss to the Giants. This time, the Pats are 15-2 third-favorites behind Denver and San Francisco (both 7-1). Despite finishing with the AFC’s best record this past regular season, the Broncos have the easiest schedule in 2013 as rated by opponents’ 2012 winning percentage, although they do play at New England again (it’s the Patriots’ only home game against a team that finished above .500). Denver also competes in the weakest division in football, the AFC West.
The Patriots should run roughshod over the AFC East again unless Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez suddenly morphs into Joe Namath. New York is 40-1 to win the Super Bowl in its own stadium, and that’s with Darrelle Revis still on the roster — the Pro Bowl cornerback may not be part of the team much longer, as the Jets are considering trading him. Miami is at 50-1 and Buffalo at 100-1 on the Super Bowl futures. The Bills have the longest current postseason drought in the NFL, while the Dolphins have reached the playoffs once in the past 10 seasons.
The Ravens are 14-1 to repeat but must replace defensive heart-and-soul Ray Lewis, and possibly future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. If quarterback Joe Flacco continues playing like he did in these playoffs, Baltimore will be in the hunt again.
The 2012 playoff team with the longest Super Bowl XLVIII odds is Minnesota at 40-1. The non-playoff team with the shortest odds is New Orleans at 16-1, as the Saints welcome back head coach Sean Payton.