The long and winding road to Houston and Super Bowl LI starts this week and our Neil Monnery brings us his thoughts ahead of the new NFL season...
"The Packers are 8/1 joint favourites to win the Super Bowl on the Sportsbook and that is a joke. They are currently the outright favourites on the Exchange at the same price. For me they should be around 6th-7th favourites. The fact they are so short is to be frank bewildering. I just don't get it."
In the AFC, the more things change, the more they stay the same...
The Peyton Manning era is over. #18 walked out a winner having lifted his second Lombardi Trophy to ensure that he leaves the game behind as one of the greatest to have ever crouched behind a Center. Over in New England another legend could join his greatest rival watching games on the sofa for the first four weeks of the season having been royally screwed by Roger Goddell and the NFL over his role in deflating footballs. Over in Pittsburgh, Martavis Bryant won't play a single snap this season due to suspension and Le'Veon Bell won't play for three weeks for the same reason.
Yet having written all this who are the three best teams in the AFC according to the Betfair Sportsbook? Brady's Patriots, the Steelers and Manning's former team the Broncos. If you told me I had to pick the three best teams in the AFC would I disagree with the Sportsbook? Oh hell no and I'll tell you why.
Firstly the defending champs. They have no Quarterback but do you know what? They only had a shell of a great one last year who won using smoke and mirrors and by not losing games on offense in the playoffs. They won by having a suffocating defense and that unit - while having lost a couple of starters - is still going to be great this year. All they need their young QB to do is not lose games and they'll be right in the mix yet again. We've seen two legitimate all-time defenses in recent NFL history and both have walked away Super Bowl champs (Denver in 2016, Seattle in 2014).
Over in New England, Brady may be out for four games but I have to ask myself, 'do I trust Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to go 9-3 or 10-2 in the 12 games they should be together?' and the answer is a resounding yes. All New England have to do in their opening four weeks is not implode. If they go 2-2 then they'll be in prime position to win the AFC East yet again and even if they go 0-4, I would still not rule them out. My trust in the Brady/Belichick combination is that rock solid. Oh and they have some guy called Rob Gronkowski. Rumour has it he's half decent...
In Pittsburgh, they've been so close to becoming an offensive juggernaut for a couple of years and if Ben Roethlisberger stays fit then you know this could be the year when they steamroll through the AFC North. When you have a player with the talent level of Antonio Brown then you are always in the game. When we talk great wide receivers currently earning money playing the position in the NFL, how many players would you take ahead of the Pittsburgh man? Correct, you wouldn't take a single player ahead of him. I have some questions over that defense, which is in flux since the Dick LeBeau era ended but those questions aren't shying me away from thinking the Steelers are every bit as good as the Pats and Broncos.
Here is the thing, in my opinion these are the three best teams in the AFC and it's not even close. Plenty of pundits say the Raiders and Chiefs are getting better and are ready to dethrone the Broncos in the AFC West, I'm nowhere near thinking that. Plenty of talking heads (including my colleague Romilly Evans) like Andrew Luck and the Colts to finally get over the hump. At 20/1 on the Sportsbook (28.027/1 on the Exchange) I will concede they provide value in a back-to-lay way but if your winner if the AFC doesn't come from one of the big three I will be genuinely stunned.
One last point on this. In the past 13 years only once has the AFC Champion not been won by a Quarterback not named Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger. There is a reason these three have been the best for a long time. They are not only great but consistently great. With Peyton gone it does narrow down the opportunities but this Denver D is all-time great and all time great defenses tend to do quite well in the NFL.
In the NFC, I just don't get the Packers love or short price...
Speaking of my colleague Rom, in the piece linked to above he picked the Green Bay Packers to emerge victorious from the NFC for the fourth straight year. I'm not with him - and not by a long chalk. For years Manning took stick for not being good enough when it really mattered but Aaron Rodgers has taken a relatively similar career path so far. One SB win and two NFC Title game defeats is not great and he's not had any slam dunk Hall of Fame Quarterbacks in his path (Manning had Brady and Roethlisberger who are both going in without a shadow of a doubt).
Kurt Warner and Eli Manning both beat him and whilst I think Warner gets in and Eli has a shot, who are the only two quarterbacks Rodgers has beaten in the playoffs since winning his only Super Bowl? Tony Romo (in a game the Cowboys really got hosed by a TV booth review on a fourth down catch by Dez Bryant) and Kirk Cousins. If Kirk Cousins is the only QB you've beaten in non controversial circumstances since 2010 in the playoffs then you know what, you might not be as great as everyone says...
The Packers are 8/1 joint favourites to win the Super Bowl on the Sportsbook and that is a joke. They are currently the outright favourites on the Exchange at the same price. For me they should be around 6th-7th favourites. The fact they are so short is bewildering. I just don't get it. Ok, I think I've got my point across on the Packers so on to teams I do think are worthy.
The Carolina Panthers lost just two times last season. One an inexplicable defeat to a pretty poor Atlanta Falcons team and then of course the Super Bowl where they were quite simply out-coached and were arrogant, believing their own hype. They shouldn't make that mistake again and expect them to win 13+ games. Having Kelvin Benjamin back will really help give Cam Newton a legit WR1 threat.
Seattle and Arizona will both be extremely good again. I have my doubts that Carson Palmer will ever be a QB I trust in January, I fully expect him to help get them there. They have the best depth in terms of a wide receiving corps in the NFL. The Honey Badger is back from an injury which ended his season early last year and that's huge, as he is the most dynamic defensive player in the game. Von Miller may have something to say about that but he is in that company. As for Seattle, I think last year was just one of those funky years but I still think if they have their heads screwed on straight, they are right up there and can be truly elite. I predict 12+ win seasons for the pair.
In my NFL ante-post piece in May I said I liked both Dallas and Jacksonville in a back-to-lay scenario and even though Tony Romo is out for half of the season, I'm still not running away from the Cowboys. I think that o-line is the best in modern NFL history and they still have weapons on offense. I'm not sold on their D at all but I think the NFC East is stinky and they can still be very competitive. I'm still on board with the Jags winning 9-10 games, their offense was never in question but that D has seen an overhaul. They are the team to back at long odds.
Denver are 28.027/1 to repeat as Champions on the Exchange at the time of writing. I know people have question marks over their young QB but remember how they won it all last season? They can do that again and Wade Phillips is still a defensive genius. I'm not saying Denver are the best team out there going into the season but they are incredible value at that price. They are the same price at the Colts. Come on! Just no.
I think the winner of the AFC comes from that big three. The Steelers look great and I'll never actively bet against Brady and Belichick. I'll never believe in the Bengals and Andy Dalton for as long as I have hair on my head (and my barber always comments on my thick hair) and while I don't expect deep runs from either the Colts or the Jags, they provide some value in a back-to-lay capacity.
Over in the NFC I'd say Seattle on paper are my favourites based on their defense and my lack of trust in Palmer when the heat is on (I do think he'll have a tremendous regular season). The Cowboys like the Jags and Colts are slightly overpriced and I think I've made it perfectly clear what I think about the Green Bay Packers. They aren't a bad team, Rodgers isn't a bad Quarterback but outright favourites? They are at a third of the odds of the defending Champions. It just doesn't compute.
2pt Back the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl at 28.027/1 on the Betfair Exchange
2pt Back the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl at 9.617/2 on the Betfair Exchange
1pt Back-to-lay the Indianapolis Colts to win the Super Bowl at 28.027/1 on the Betfair Exchange
1pt Back-to-lay the Dallas Cowboys to win the Super Bowl at 40.039/1 on the Betfair Exchange
1pt Back-to-lay the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the Super Bowl at 70.069/1 on the Betfair Exchange
Neil Monnery NFL P/L 2015 Season
Staked - 226pts
Returned - 311.15pts
P&L - +85.15pts