Football is about to enter the ‘business end’ of the season, with several sides already punching their tickets to the playoffs and some even knowing that they will go straight to the divisional round. It hasn’t been an up and down season by any means, with the majority of predicted contenders in September essentially being the same clutch of teams that are ‘real’ contenders as we push towards Christmas.
There has, of course, been some evolution throughout the season. The Ravens, for example, have been taken more seriously as we moved from fall to winter. The Chargers, too, seem to have a lot more respect now. However, by and large, pundits and sportsbooks have stuck with a clutch of teams as the main Super Bowl LIII contenders throughout the season: the Patriots, Rams, Chiefs and Saints.
Of that quartet, the candidacy of the favorite has changed between them at different junctures. The Patriots were the preseason favorites, but were soon usurped by the Rams and, for a while, the Chiefs. However, as divisions have started to be clinched, it’s now clear that the sportsbooks have settled on a favorite that they are likely to stick with – New Orleans Saints.
This is being written just before Week 16, so you can follow the link for the latest updated NFL odds, but at the moment the Saints are coming in at around +275 with William Hill and others. At almost half the odds of the chasing pack, that’s the first time there has been clear daylight between a team at the top and the other contenders. Both the Rams and Chiefs can be found at odds of about +600, with the erratic Patriots further back at +800. The Chargers have also been recently put in around +800 with some bookmakers, with the Bears (+1200) the only other side less than +1600.
The pertinent question, however, is have the sportsbooks called it correctly? On one hand, it’s hard to argue with the idea that the Saints should be favorites to win their first Super Bowl since 2010. The haven’t missed a beat all season, matching scintillating offense with decent(ish) defense. Drew Brees looks once again like the sprightly 31-year-old who took the MVP trophy at Super Bowl XLIV. Crucially for a championship chasing team, the Saints look just as comfortable on the road as they do at home. Things just seem right with Brees, Sean Payton and co.
However, if this was a horse race, we would very much hold the rest of the field in respect. A run to the Super Bowl will likely entail a showdown with the Rams in the NFC Championship game. Home advantage is still up for grabs at the time of writing, but even if it was played at the Superdome, where they defeated the Rams earlier in the season, a win is by no means guaranteed. When you consider a date with the Chiefs, Patriots are some AFC team with a lot of momentum, +275 looks a little short at this point of the season.