2013 was a very similar season to this year's as six of the eight divisions around the NFL were won by the '13 champion. Here's a last look at the division winners and the NFL odds they began the season.
New England was the heavy -325 favorite at sportsbooks to win the AFC East again and the Patriots finished 12-4 to beat out Miami and Buffalo by four games each. It was New England's sixth straight AFC title and 11th in the past 12 years. The Patriots never were favorites to win the East, even after losing convincingly to the Dolphins in Week 1 or with a 2-2 start. Barring retirement by Tom Brady, the Patriots will be preseason AFC East favorites again next year as well. The Jets will have a new coach & GM, and the Bills don't know who their QB will be after Kyle Orton retired. Will they give E.J. Manuel another shot?
I liked the Cincinnati Bengals most of the season for the AFC North and they were the slight +160 favorites at sportsbooks back in May. However, I got off that bandwagon entering Week 17's game at Pittsburgh. The Steelers (11-5) took the winner-take-all game 27-17 to edge out Cincinnati (10-5-1) for Pittsburgh's first division title since 2010. As it turned out, that tie didn't hurt the Bengals because if they had beaten Carolina in Week 6, Cincinnati still was swept by the Steelers and thus would have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker for the North. Pittsburgh was +225 on NFL odds in May to win the North.
Indianapolis was the -125 favorite in NFL betting odds to repeat as South champion and the Colts finished two games ahead of second-place Houston, a team that Indy swept. The Texans could really challenge the Colts next season if they can get a quarterback to go with a very good defense and the incomparable J.J. Watt. Jay Cutler maybe? It should be noted that the AFC South winner has won in the wild-card round each of the past three years and then lost in the divisional round. The Colts are 4-point NFL betting favorites for Sunday's game against visiting Cincinnati.
The Broncos (12-4) were the biggest division favorites in football at -350 back in the spring and they won the West by three games over Kansas City and San Diego. It's the third straight season the West had three teams with at least nine wins. All three made the postseason last year but only Denver in 2014. The Broncos are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and won't know their opponent until after this weekend. If you go by the oddsmakers' favorites in AFC wild-card games it will be No. 3 seed Pittsburgh.
I'll admit I got this division totally wrong. I didn't expect Dallas to finish with a winning record this year and figured Jason Garrett would be one of the first coaches fired. Instead, Garrett likely will get a rich new extension from Jerry Jones in leading the Cowboys to their first NFC East title since 2009. The Cowboys were +225 second favorites in the East at sportsbooks back in May with the Eagles -- my NFL pick for the division -- the +160 favorites.
The Packers were -160 favorites to win the North a fourth straight season and they did so by knocking off the visiting Lions in a winner-take-all game on Sunday. Detroit still has never won the North. The Chicago Bears actually were briefly North favorites when Green Bay started 1-2, but that all changed when the Packers went to Chicago in Week 4 and roughed up the Bears. Chicago finished an incredibly disappointing 5-11 and last in the North, costing GM Phil Emery and Coach Marc Trestman their jobs Monday.
We had a first in NFC South history: a repeat champion. I projected the Carolina Panthers to take a huge step back from last year's 12-4 mark and division crown. And I was right as Carolina was just 7-8-1, but that was enough to win the sad South. The Panthers are playing great football right now, having won four straight games and beating Atlanta in Week 17 to clinch the division. That cost Falcons coach Mike Smith his job. Carolina was a +250 second-favorite back in the spring behind New Orleans (+125), which was my division choice all year long.
Seattle didn't look like a potential division winner after losing at home to Dallas in Week 6 and then at St. Louis in Week 7 to drop to 3-3. The Arizona Cardinals were division favorites then, but the Seahawks closed the season with just one more loss. They bring a dominant six-game winning streak and the NFC's top seed into the postseason. Seattle was the -110 favorite in the spring. Arizona was +1000 and controlled the division much of the season before losing four of their final six and their top two quarterbacks to injury. Ryan Lindley will be under center for Saturday's wild-card game at Carolina, which is a 4.5-point favorite at sportsbooks despite having that losing record.