The quest for Super-Bowl 51 begins in the early hours of Friday morning with a rematch of last February’s Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. Last February, Peyton Manning rode the coat tails of a dominant defensive performance from his team to claim another title in his last NFL game.
Much has changed in the intervening 6 months. Manning has sailed off into the sunset with another super bowl ring. Brock Osweiler who had filled in during Peytons injury absences last year was lured away by a massive contact from the Houston Texans. While not overpaying Osweiler was the right move, it does mean their starting QB is Trevor Siemian whose sole snap played in a regular season game was a knee for a three yard loss! However as much as some things change they stay the same. Their defence, despite losing Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson will still likely remain the leagues most dominant led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
The biggest move of Carolinas’ off-season was undoubtedly losing Josh Norman to the Washington Redskins. While you can’t replace a player of the talent of Norman their defensive group has enough depth and talent that they should still be more than okay on that side of the ball. MVP Quarterback Cam Newton also gets a big boost as WR Kelvin Benjamin returns after missing all of last year through injury. If he can perform anywhere close to the level of his rookie season then this Panthers offence has a major upgrade.
This Broncos team has proved that you don’t necessarily need strong QB play in order to be successful.(*Full disclosure – I learned this to my detriment when going against them in the Super Bowl.) Denver also have a great record in home openers and if Siemian can limit the mistakes he will give them a great chance. That said this is an extremely tough spot in which to make your competitive NFL debut as a starter. Ultimately going into to the season I feel there are fewer questions to answer about this Carolina team than there are of Denver and if you want to play the Handicap market then Carolina minus 3 points is the way to go.
With this in mind I’m going to give the same advice i did in the Super Bowl game last February which that night yielded us a fantastic 25/1 winner! Back the Carolina D/ST was first touchdown scorer at 16/1 and the Denver D/ST at 18/1 as this could easily turn into a low scoring defensive struggle. Given the torrid time Cam Newton had against the Denver D in that game and fact that a very good Panthers D will face an inexperienced quarterback I’m expecting turnovers. Lets gamble that one of those is returned for the opening 6 pointer. A safer option would be an anytime defensive or special teams touchdown which can be backed at 7/4.
I’ll be back here each Sunday morning throughout the regular season beginning this coming Sunday. For now though I’ll delve into a few of my favourite long-term bets for the season.
The return of star receiver Jordy Nelson this year should mean the Green Bay Packers (2/5) wrestle back the NFC North from Minnesota especially now that Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater has been lost for the year. Similarly in the NFC South it’s hard to see any of the other sticking the pace with the Carolina Panthers (4/9) who will be eager to go all the way after falling at the final hurdle last season. In the NFC east New England Patriots should overcome the suspension of Tom Brady for the first 4 games to clinch the division once more. These are all pretty much penalty kicks but then again the price reflects this.
Looking for a bit more value let’s look at the NFC East. Some might say it’s the worst division in football but it’s also usually one of the most competitive and hard to predict. It’s hard not to be impressed with what the Washington Redskins achieved last season and their squad has been improved in the off-season. The Dallas Cowboys has a potential new star in Ezekiel Elliott but Tony Romo has again succumbed to injury. For me though the value pick is the New York Giants (9/5). They’ve made some decent acquisitions over the off season and have the most stable QB situation in Eli Manning. With the receiving corps at his disposable he should tear it up against the questionable defences of their divisional rivals and that should be enough to clinch the East.
In the AFC North Pittsburgh Steelers (13/10) have not been without their problems on the offseason. Suspensions to big players Leveon Bell(3 games) and Martavis Bryant (Season) will hamper their start and there are a lot of questions about their secondary. This will be a straight shootout between the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. There’s a lot to like about the Bengals team also. They are good both sides of the ball, strong at the skill positions and let’s not forget they were 10-2 last year before Andy Dalton went down with the thumb injury. Dalton is a good QB but I’m still picking Ben Roethlisberger over him every time. DeAngelo Williams has proved before that he can fill in for Bell for the first few games and even without Bryant this is the most explosive offence in football. Take the 13/10 on what should be an odds on shot.
Meanwhile the AFC West is shaping up to be a great division. The Broncos won it last year on their way to Super Bowl glory while the up and coming Raiders have recruited well and look like the finally might be poised to challenge. However for me the team that will emerge on top is the Kansas City Chiefs (9/5). They may not be flashy but have a damn good team on both sides of the football. In Andy Reid they have an excellent coach who has had winning seasons in 12 of his 17 NFL seasons and I fully expect another successful season here.
These all make excellent singles bets but my recommendation is a treble on the Giants, Steelers and Chiefs all to win their divisions at a whopping 17/1!
Passing Yards Leader
For the past 5 years this award has been dominated by Drew Brees of the New Orleans and the only time he was pipped on that period was by Peyton Mannings mammoth 2013 season. Now 37 Brees numbers have started to decline although he’s still coming out on top and is in an offence that passes more than most. He is the justifiable 5-1 favorite and is actually good value at that price.
For a little more value a good pick is Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers. At 10/1 he is an excellent each way bet to take this title for the first time since 2010.Like Brees he is likely to be throwing a lot and let’s not forget that last season he only finished 78 yards behind the league leading Saints quarterback.
Rushing Yards Leader
Again the market is headed by last years leading rusher Adrian Peterson followed by Todd Gurley. However looking down the list the excellent each way value is a player who switched teams during the off-season. During his time with the Miami Dolphins, Lamar Miller (10/1) was often criminally underused leading to frequent crowd chants of “Free Lamar Miller!” Now with the Houston Texan he will not only be set free but will also be given an excellent offensive line to run behind. If he can remain healthy and play through all 16 games an above 1500yd season and a great shot at leading rusher is within his capability.
Regular Season Wins
One of my favourite season long prop bets is the over/under on regular season wins. Basically the Vegas odds makers set a number of the 16 games that each team is expected to win and you bet on whether the team will win over or under this total. This year my favourite bet from this market is the Green Bay Packers whose win total has been set at 11 games and i strongly favour the Over@ 5/6. (Paddy Power)Last season they looked badly disjointed in the absence of Jordy Nelson and ended up relinquishing their divisional title but still managed to post a 10-6 record. With Aaron Rodgers now having his favourite receiving target back and Eddie Lacy looking like he learned some portion control the Packers should be back on all cylinders this year. They are aided by the fact that the schedule has been particularly kind to them this season and they will most likely kick off as favourite in all 16 matches. 12 wins should be easily attainable.
some others that I like:
Arizona Cardinals Over 9.5 wins @ 1/2: Absolutely stacked at Wide Receiver and Running Back, a good defence plus the have the first shot at the Tom Brady-less Patriots!
Los Angeles Rams Under 7.5 wins @ 8/15: New city, same old 7-9 record that they seem to end up with for the last decade!
Philadelphia Eagles Under 7 wins @ 4/7: To me they already looked the weakest team in their Division before they punted the season by trading Sam Bradford and starting a rookie.
These 4 combined will add up to an 11/2 accumulator.
SUPERBOWL 51 CONTENDERS
There are seasons where you can argue a strong case for up to half of the 32 NFL teams being Super Bowl contenders. This for me is not one of those seasons and I think the field can be narrowed down to 6 who unsurprisingly are the 6 at the head of the market, The Packers, Seahawks, Patriots, Panthers, Steelers and Cardinals. I dearly love to see Arizona Cardinals win it for two of my favourite NFL players, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. They were my pick a year ago and again look perhaps the best balanced team in the league. If i had to choose right now though i would probably be between the Pittsburgh Steelers (11/1) as long as Big Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy to lead their dynamic offence or put my trust in the ice cool Aaron Rodgers to lead the Green Bay Packers (8/1) to glory.
I’ll be back Sunday with my take on the best bets from this weekend opening round of games.
Best of Luck,