As the 2014 NFL season props begin to roll out hot and heavy, an interesting one at sportsbooks is which of the eight divisions will house the Super Bowl winner. The NFC West is predictably the +200 favorite on NFL odds. Is that a good bet?
West Is Best
Isn't it amazing what an influx of good coaching and talent evaluators can do to a franchise? For example, consider the 2010 NFL season. The NFC West was a joke, with Seattle and St. Louis finishing tied for first at 7-9 -- the Seahawks won the division on a tiebreaker, becoming the first below .500 team to win a division. Little did we know that season would span the best current rivalry and division in the league.
The Seahawks then were led by first-year coach Pete Carroll, who had incredible success at USC (by breaking some rules), but had largely flopped in previous NFL coaching stints with the Jets (1994) and Patriots (1997-99). The San Francisco 49ers were 6-10 that year, their eighth straight non-winning season. That team was coached by Mike Singletary, who was canned late in the season, and then by Jim Tomsula for one game. The Niners made a brilliant hire that offseason in Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. He and Carroll didn't like each other in the Pac-12, and it started a major arms race in the NFC West.
So fast forward to now. There can be no argument the NFC West is the best division. Seattle and San Francisco have the two most talented overall rosters in the league. Carroll and Harbaugh are on the short list of the best coaches in the NFL along with the likes of New England's Bill Belichick, New Orleans' Sean Payton and Green Bay's Mike McCarthy. The Seahawks won a NFC-high 13 games last year on the way to the Super Bowl. The 49ers won 12 and nearly pulled an upset in Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. Arizona was the only 10-win team to miss the playoffs in the NFL and handed Seattle its only home loss ever under QB Russell Wilson. St. Louis was a solid 7-9 despite losing QB Sam Bradford to a season-ending injury just seven games in.
So to no shock the NFC West is the +200 favorite to be where the Super Bowl winner comes from. There's also an NFC West (+275) against the field (-450) prop. That's some serious respect. My one concern with the NFC West is the teams will beat up on each six times apiece in the regular season and then perhaps at least once in the playoffs.
The AFC West is the +350 second-favorite at sportsbooks and that's obviously all about the Denver Broncos, who have surpassed Seattle as the Super Bowl favorites on NFL odds at most sportsbooks. Does anyone really believe that Kansas City or San Diego can win a Super Bowl?
Next is the AFC East at +500, which is also just for one team: the New England Patriots. Miami and the New York Jets might sneak into the playoffs, but win the AFC? Perhaps only if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are injured.
The NFC North is interesting value at +650. Green Bay is the favorite there, but Chicago has been getting a lot of love this offseason. The Bears have an electric offense and should have an improved defense with all the additions on that side of the ball. Detroit has Super Bowl quality on offense, but defense is another question.
The NFC South is +800. Also solid value because New Orleans looks Super Bowl worthy, Carolina won 12 games last year and nearly everyone thinks Atlanta will return to 2012 form after flopping last season.
The AFC North is +850. Could Cincinnati, Baltimore or Pittsburgh win a Super Bowl? Sure. If Cleveland does, go ahead and call Johnny Manziel the messiah.
The AFC South is +1200 and in my mind that should be the long-shot division. This is all about Indianapolis. Houston has way more overall talent than the Colts and if the Texans had Andrew Luck instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick they would be major Super Bowl threats.
Finally, I find it curious that the NFC East is the longest shot at +1500. Philadelphia is a good team. The New York Giants seem to surprise their way to a title every few years. Washington should be much improved with a healthy RGIII and new receiver DeSean Jackson. Dallas? Meh.
NFL Free Picks
NFC South is the best value at +800 on NFL odds. If the Saints get home-field advantage they will be tough to beat in the NFC. Perhaps Atlanta gets some "Hard Knocks" karma. Carolina looks worse than last year but still has one of the NFL's best defenses and Cam Newton under center.