Thursday is the final night of preseason football and it's not likely that any key players will play. It's the most meaningless of the four preseason games. So now's a good time to take a look at updated NFL odds to win Super Bowl LI.
Three Keys To Preseason
In my mind, there are three things a head coach wants to do in the preseason.
The first is to get a look in game action in a team's new offensive and/or defensive scheme. This obviously only applies to new head coaches or if a returning head coach has changed a coordinator on either side of the ball. The second is to see how the rookie class performs in game action as well as finding guys to fill out the spots at the back end of the 53-man roster and potential practice squad.
And finally and probably most important: the head coach wants to keep his key guys healthy. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, there is much, much less hitting/full pad practicing allowed in training camp (or OTAs) than there used to be. And you can't have double practices in a day any longer. It's much more player-friendly. For the most part, it seems to have worked. There are still season-ending injuries suffered in preseason games or practices but you generally don't hear the key guys getting hurt. This is why I think the NFL will eventually reduce the preseason to two games because coaches are playing the starters fewer and fewer.
But we weren't able to make it through this preseason without a Super Bowl odds-altering injury to a starting quarterback like a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton or Tony Romo, to name a few. Romo suffered a compression fracture to his back early in the Cowboys' third preseason game. Frankly, I'm not even sure that many Cowboys fans are all that upset right now that Romo will miss 6-10 weeks with how impressive fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott has been under center. He has been the breakout star of the preseason. But that's a story for another day. Dallas is now +2000 at BetOnline to win the Super Bowl.
I think preseason records are meaningless, but it should be noted that no eventual Super Bowl winner finished the preseason with a losing record since the 2007 New York Giants were 1-3. Last year's Broncos were 3-1. But don't think preseason success ultimately translates to the regular season, either. There were no unbeaten teams in the 2015 preseason. In the 10 years prior to that, 18 teams were unbeaten and untied in preseason play. Those teams went on to post a combined regular-season record of 130-158.
Super Bowl Favorite Curse
Being the Super Bowl favorite entering the regular season hasn't worked out all that well lately. Last year, the favorites were the Seattle Seahawks at +450 on NFL odds. No shock as they nearly won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 2013-14 seasons and probably should have if not for some questionable play calling at the end of Super Bowl XLIX vs. New England. Seattle finished 10-6 last year and was a wild-card team. It absolutely should have lost at Minnesota in that round of the playoffs but Vikings kicker Blair Walsh somehow missed a 27-yard field goal to win it. The next week, the Seahawks lost in Carolina. Of course, Denver won Super Bowl 50 and it entered the season as a +900 sixth-favorite.
Seattle also was the favorite on NFL picks to win the Super Bowl entering the 2014 season, with champion New England the +650 third-favorite. You have to go back all the way to 2006 to find the last preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl and that was Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts, who were +600.
So that could be bad news for the Patriots, who are +700 favorites to win Super Bowl LI in Houston. I am still surprised that the Pats are on top and taking good action even with Brady's four-game regular-season suspension. Plus they will be without excellent pass-catching running back Dion Lewis for the first few months following knee surgery, although the Pats have always mix-and-matched with running backs and it hasn't mattered.
Green Bay is +750, followed by Seattle and Pittsburgh (both +850). The Packers' hopes likely rest on the knees of Jordy Nelson as they weren't the same without their No. 1 receiver last year. The Seahawks have injury concerns with No. 1 running back Thomas Rawls and tight end Jimmy Graham as well as major offensive line questions. The Steelers won't have No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant all season or star running back Le'Veon Bell for the first three games, both due to suspension.
You can also wager on the division of the Super Bowl champion. You might think the AFC East is the favorite on NFL odds because the Patriots are. But nope. Since the Jets, Bills and Dolphins have realistically no chance at winning the Super Bowl, the AFC East is a +475 third-favorite. The NFC West is favored at +400 because it has Seattle and Arizona (+1000 to win Super Bowl). The AFC North is next at +450 with the Steelers and Bengals (+1800). The long shot is the AFC South at +1200.
Free NLF Picks: I would take the NFC West on that wager as I do believe either Seattle or Arizona brings home the Lombardi Trophy. The Cardinals are the best value on the board right now but I like Seattle if it's fully healthy.