Let’s imagine a mock 2015 NFL Playoffs scenario based on a possible New England Patriots-Green Bay Packers Super Bowl 50 in February with specific paths through the NFL postseason.
Only 6 teams get into the postseason—the 4 Divisional winners and 2 Wild Card spots—from each conference and this season we could see many of the same teams ending up in the same spots of the playoff bracket in January. Let’s come up with the 12 teams who could.
All Eight NFL Divisional Winners Could Possibly Be the Same as Last Season
Last year, the eight divisional winners in the NFL were the New England Patriots (12-4) in the AFC East, the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) in the AFC South, the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) in the AFC North, the Denver Broncos (12-4) in the AFC West, the Dallas Cowboys (12-4) in the NFC East, the Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) in the NFC South, the Green Bay Packers (12-4) in the NFC North and the Seattle Seahawks (12-4) in the NFC West. The four teams who made the Playoffs through Wild Card berths were the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1, 5th seed) and the Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 6th seed) in the AFC—both residents of the rough-and-tumble AFC North which had three teams in the postseason and will shoot for three again this season—and the Arizona Cardinals (11-5, 5th seed) and the Detroit Lions (11-5, 6th seed) in the NFC. Seven of the 8 Divisional Winners last season were in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs with the Steelers being the only team bounced in the Wild Card Round, ironically by division-mates Baltimore, while the four teams with the best overall records—Green Bay and Seattle in the NFC and new England and Denver in the AFC—earned first round byes and Homefield advantage for their opening games, with top-seeds Seattle and New England earning Homefield advantage throughout their potential 2-game conference postseason. And the Seahawks and Patriots both used it and needed it to advance to Super Bowl XLIX last season. New England defeated Seattle, 28-24 in the big game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona which went down to the final seconds of the game to provide a dramatic win for the AFC representatives.
And we can expect this coming season to potentially look very similar, with the Patriots (5-9 to win AFC East, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) and Colts (1/5) extremely heavy chalks to win their AFC divisions and the Seahawks (1/4) and Packers (1/4) having equally shorter-than-short odds to do the same over in the NFC. So, like last season, maybe the AFC North and NFC South provide the best races and most entertainment, with three teams realistically having a shot at those two respective divisional titles. And the AFC North and NFC South were very quirky last season, having a stretch where all four teams in the AFC North had winning records while all four teams in the NFC South had sub-.500 records almost all season long and to finish the year.
AFC Wild Card Round
Buffalo Bills (Wild Card, #6 seed) at Denver Broncos (AFC West winner, #3 seed)
Baltimore Ravens (Wild Card, #5 seed) at Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North winner, #4 seed)
NFC Wild Card Round
Dallas Cowboys (Wild Card, #5 seed) at Carolina Panthers (NFC South winner, #4 seed)
AFC Divisional Round
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts (AFC South winner, #2 seed)
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (AFC East winner, #1 seed)
NFC Divisional Round
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (NFC West winner, #2 seed)
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (NFC North winner, #1 seed)
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl 50
Green Bay Packers 33 New England Patriots 24
The More Things Change in the NFL...
Before you blow your ever-loving lid, remember this is a writer writing this about a mock NFL Playoffs scenario for sports betting purposes from six months out. Context is everything, and fans of the Cowboys or Cincinnati Bengals or Lions or the Houston Texans or any other team are losing their gourd over this, then good, my work is done here. Do not throw your smartphone or whatever other modern, newfangled device you might be using to read these words. (But if you are reading these words with Google Glass, please feel free to quickly crush the bastards under your right boot and free yourself from that mind-ruining technological umbilical cord.) Feel free to bet a Futures Bets on your own team with your own personal visions. That’s what this exercise was all about in the first place, right? My team is the Chicago Bears, so I already have the White Flag flying Bubba and it’s not even August yet. We all have our crosses to bear, and some have QBs like Jay Cutler who throw the football to wide open spaces, somehow imagining miraculous catches from invisible ballet-like WRs. The Bears will not be in the Super Bowl this year. The Bears will not win the NFC this year. The Bears will not win the NFC North this year. The Bears will not finish above .500 this NFL season.
Anyway, as you can see, the forecast here is for another NFL season dominated by the Elite 5 (now), the teams with the great Quarterbacks, solid-enough Defense and expecting fan bases. And for one of the Elite 5—the Indianapolis Colts (+950 to win Super Bowl, 5Dimes) and Andrew Luck—this is new territory, and getting the Horseshoes Defense to improve to the point where it matters and Indy is a legitimate threat is the goal in Naptown. It seems Indianapolis will leapfrog/replace the Broncos (+1500) and former Colts legend Peyton Manning in the Elite Pecking Order, a Pecking Order that seems to have three super-elite teams at the top in the Seahawks (+465) and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (+565) and the Patriots (+1000) in the AFC. In the AFC, the edge has to go to New England, with the Colts and the Broncos having players and fan bases still unsure they can get to, and actually win the NFL Championship. For Denver, the storyline will be trying to get Uncle Peyton a Super Bowl ring before his presumed retirement, while for the Colts, it will be all about winning that first one under Luck, staking their claim in the league and theoretically getting as good (or better) as New England and QB Tom Brady in the AFC. And with the never-ending Deflategate fiasco looking like it may roll on in the courts for some time, maybe that’s the small gap Indianapolis (6-0 SU and ATS vs AFC South in 2014) needs to squeeze through to the Super Bowl. With additions like rookie WR Phillip Dorsett (Miami-Florida), WR Andre Johnson (Texans) and RB Frank Gore (49ers), Luck will certainly have enough toys to try to get the ball to with WR T.Y. Hilton possibly being one of the most dangerous and underrated skill position players in the NFL. Yards forward matter and Hilton gets them like a waterbug scooting across the surface of a pond.
The four teams to get Wild Card berths here, the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC, all get bounced in the first round of the Postseason in this scenario, save for Vikings who are predicted to upset the Eagles in the Wild Card round, only to find their NFC North rivals, the Packers waiting on the other end to eliminate them at Lambeau Field, because in part they will have Aaron Rodgers at QB against 2nd-year man Teddy Bridgewater for the Vikings. So, the final eight teams will likely be not much of a surprise, except possibly for the Vikings and RB Adrian Peterson should they fulfill that violet destiny in 2015. And this scenario creates some wonderful storylines: Peyton Manning and the Broncos having to head to Indianapolis for one more crack at making it to an AFC Championship Game; and, yet another rematch in the NFC between the defending conference champion Seahawks and QB Russell Wilson and those pesky Carolina Panthers, who somehow, someway, always keep ending up facing Seattle at some point. And losing gallantly.
So that leaves us with a theoretical Colts-Patriots AFC Championship and a theoretical Seahawks-Packers rematch in the NFC. Oddsmakers have adjusted downward the odds of the Patriots (+215 to reach AFC Championship Game, 5Dimes) to win the AFC East, AFC and Super Bowl so now is probably the best time to get maximum value for your Patriots buck with all this off-the-field crap still swirling around in our faces like those omnipresent “$5 Footlong” ads from Subway. Whatever happens with the suspension will probably have little effect on where the Patriots ultimately end up in the overall AFC standings, and it (the potential 4-game Brady suspension) might only be the difference between them finishing 12-4 instead of 13-3 or something. We sure do love overkill these days. And lawsuits.
Super Bowl 50 Futures Book Pick: Green Bay Packers +650 (William Hill)
Super Bowl 50 Matchup Pick: New England Patriots—Green Bay Packers +1800 (5Dimes)
AFC Proposition Bet Pick: New England Patriots +215 to Reach AFC Championship Game (5Dimes)
NFC Proposition Bet Pick: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year +400 (5Dimes)