The NFL has received plenty of credit for its parity in the last two decades, aided in part by phrases like, “Any given Sunday.” The odds, however, tell a different story.
The gap between football haves and have-nots seems to be growing, and the pool of legitimate Super Bowl contenders seems to be shrinking.
Consider this: Seven of the last eight Super Bowl winners began the season as 10-1 favorites or better to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The outlier in that group was Philadelphia, which shocked New England in Super Bowl LII after beginning the season at 40-1.
Dating back the last 13 seasons, eventual Super Bowl champions began the season with average odds of about 14-1 to win it all.
But if you’re in the sportsbook or logged onto your app with money to burn, you’re probably going to be looking for something a little longer than, say, the Chiefs at 5-1.
With that in mind, here are some of our favorite preseason Super Bowl bets ahead of the 2021 NFL season.
(All odds via DraftKings Sportsbook)
Ben Watanabe: Miami Dolphins +3500
Since it?s fake money, I like the idea of Tua Tagovailoa staying healthy and living up to the otherworldly potential he showed coming out of college. The addition of Jaylen Waddle gives him a new weapon to exploit, and if Brian Flores? defense can continue to keep opponents off the scoreboard (Miami?s scoring defense was sixth-best in the NFL last season), maybe the Fins can keep the Lombardi Trophy in Florida.
Mike Cole: Los Angeles Chargers +3000
It’s about as chalky as a 30-1 pick can get, but the Chargers showed plenty of promise in 2020. They finished 7-9 (on the strength of a four-game winning streak to end the season) against a pretty tough schedule. LA went 0-4 against Kansas City, Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Buffalo, but lost those games by 23 combined points. Maybe with some better coaching, they would have been in the playoff hunt. That’s a feeling shared in the building, apparently, as LA fired Anthony Lynn and replaced him with the unproven Brandon Staley, so that is something to monitor. But they’re getting Derwin James back after he missed all of 2020 to injury, and a sophomore slump seems unlikely for AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert, who has an improved offensive line looking out for him.
Adam London: Indianapolis Colts (+3500)
There?s admittedly not much appeal to this bet right now. New starting quarterback Carson Wentz had a tough August, which was bookended by foot surgery and a COVID-19 diagnosis. But we?re expecting a healthy and motivated Wentz to return at some point, and there?s reason to believe he?s bound for a bounce-back campaign in Indianapolis. Wentz was an MVP frontrunner the last time he worked with Frank Reich, who?s led the Colts to the playoffs in two of three seasons at the helm thus far. Indy has a sneaky strong offense, but the defense is why I?m high on the Colts this season. They have a great front seven and a solid secondary. Not to mention, Indianapolis has one of the weaker regular-season schedules in 2021, which could result in the Colts entering the AFC playoffs with a high seed.
Sam Panayotovich: San Francisco 49ers (+1400)
No team was decimated by injuries last season more than San Francisco. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel, Richard Sherman and Solomon Thomas all spent way too much time on injured reserve and the Niners finished with a 6-10 record. I?m banking on injury regression the right way in 2021.
The Niners still led the league in passing defense last season and were the second-best unit in yards allowed per game. On the flip side, I trust Kyle Shanahan?s schematics and play calling and believe the offense can be special if half the starting skill players aren?t on the shelf by October. I?m also curious when we?ll see rookie Trey Lance for the first time. Some reports from Niners camp say that Lance should the guy down the stretch. We shall see.
Either way, San Franciso is talented enough to win its division and conference, as proven two seasons ago when it was a deflection or two away from winning the Super Bowl. I love that 14-1 price, too. If the Niners go as far as I think they can, you?ll be in a great position to ride it out or hedge to guarantee a profit.
Logan Mullen: Buffalo Bills (+1000)
Aaron Rodgers gets the Packers to the Super Bowl in what proves to be his NFL swan song, but falls short to a Josh Allen-led Bills team that, for once, doesn’t choke in the postseason. Buffalo’s defense is legit, and the offense has plenty of firepower. The Bills are the real deal.
Jenna Ciccotelli: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+600)
There’s no reason the Buccaneers aren’t going to do the same thing they did in 2021. After all, they certainly put themselves in a position to do so. Every player who started in last year’s Super Bowl is back — and with a season of reps with everyone already under his belt, Tom Brady will only be more dangerous in 2022.
Lauren Campbell: Baltimore Ravens (+1400)
The Ravens finished 11-5 last year before getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Buffalo Bills. But the wide receivers corps never has been elite for Lamar Jackson to truly shine. This year is different with addition of Sammy Watkins. It will be difficult without running back J.K. Dobbins after he tore his ACL and with Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin missing the first three weeks of the season, but the WR’s will return early enough to have a significant impact on the field.
Sean McGuire: Dallas Cowboys (+3500)
It seems like almost every season Jerry Jones and the Cowboys enter with Super Bowl aspirations, let them marinate for the first three weeks and then turn into a dumpster fire that, by the end of the season, is just fighting to emerge out of the NFC East. It certainly could prove the case again this season, but with quarterback Dak Prescott itching to get back on the field, a healthy complement of offensive linemen, a top-10 running back in Ezekiel Elliot, one of the league?s best wide receiver rooms and what should be a much-improved defensive unit led by Dan Quinn, there?s once again some potential at The Star. The Cowboys benefit, again, from playing in a division where the defending champion Washington Football Team didn?t even need to finish .500 to make the postseason. If Prescott & Co. get rolling on offense and Quinn?s group takes a step forward on defense, Dallas at 35-1 presents great value. And if the Cowboys are 4-1 entering a contest against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium during Week 6, that price likely will be long gone.
Ricky Doyle: Minnesota Vikings (+5000)
Wanted to look beyond the obvious contenders, and while the Packers still are positioned to sit atop the NFC North in 2021, the Vikings are a prime bounce-back candidate. Minnesota had the third-worst injury luck in 2020, per Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric, with the biggest blow being All-Pro defensive end Danielle Hunter?s absence. His return plus the arrivals of a couple of veteran cornerbacks (Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland) should improve a defense that still boasts one of the NFL?s best linebacking corps. And offensively, the Vikings have no shortage of playmakers (Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, etc.) as quarterback Kirk Cousins enters make-or-break territory with rookie Kellen Mond waiting in the wings.
The Vikings are the second-best team in the NFC North, with the potential to push the Packers for the divisional crown. We?re talking about a perennial playoff contender that lost its way a bit in 2020 thanks to some misfortune yet still finished 7-9 despite the adversity. There?s value here.