Super Bowl LVI: The post-draft, pre-season favorites

With a round of free agency, some notable trades. and a full NFL Draft behind us, and another season close enough to touch, minds are turning to the possible identity of the teams who will face off at LA’s SoFi Stadium on the 13th of February. Will Kansas City regain the crown they dramatically lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV? Will Tom Brady defy Father Time for another year and drag the Buccaneers to a repeat title? Will there, perhaps, be a new name on the roll of honor – such as Buffalo or Cleveland?

Before too long, we’ll have answers for the above questions, but for now our best guide is to see what the bookmakers think. We’ve been keeping track of what the big names in the betting industry think about the coming season, and what you might find as the likes of oddspedia.com start to lay out the betting odds for the runners and riders. Are we in for a season to remember?

NFL news Super Bowl LVI season preview

AFC contenders: Chiefs still top of the tree

Although an upset loss in the Super Bowl disrupted Andy Reid’s bid to install a dynasty in Kansas City, the ease with which the AFC West side progressed to a second consecutive appearance in the season finale means they’re hard to back against. To a team with few weaknesses, they’ve added Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown and rookie center Creed Humphrey. Patrick Mahomes will have time to select his receivers this coming season, and considering how good he is when rushed, that’s not great news for the competition.

Losing AFC Conference contenders, the Buffalo Bills (AFC East) are widely viewed as the closest competitor for the Chiefs. Josh Allen’s rate of improvement through his first three seasons in Orchard Park has been steeper than the north face of the Eiger, and even if he levels off a little this season, he’s still got Super Bowl talent. One area in which the Bills lacked last season was the pass rush, so the addition of DEs Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. in the first two rounds of the draft has gone some way to erasing their standout weakness. They’re third-favorites overall, and a good distance bet.

Ravens and Browns the best of the rest

Behind these two, the AFC pack thickens out very quickly, with the North division offering perhaps the most intriguing divisional battle. Either Baltimore or Cleveland could conceivably finish on top of the division, and a lot will come down to whether the attritional regular season battle between the two (and dark horses Pittsburgh) leaves them with enough in the tank to approach the playoffs with confidence.

The Ravens selected twice in the first round, and in DE Jayson Oweh and WR Rashod Bateman, they got a decent return for that. The Browns buttressed a decent defense with picks in both rounds, and already had a galaxy of stars on the other side of the ball. If the Steelers can get rookie RB Najee Harris firing, the biggest concern for the North contingent could be that, in taking games off one another, they weaken playoff seedings throughout the division.

The also-rans

What of the South, then? Is there a contender there? The most likely answer is “no”, with the second most likely being “well, maybe the Titans”. They’ve been playoff material for several seasons now, rejuvenating Ryan Tannehill from the sack magnet who left Miami under a very thick cloud. With Derrick Henry and AJ Brown rounding out a very potent attacking triumvirate, they’ll be there or thereabouts. Division rivals Indianapolis drafted well to boost their defense and traded for a quarterback. As that quarterback was Carson Wentz, the jury is still out on whether that was a good move. If he can rediscover his stellar 2017 form, it was an excellent move. If he doesn’t, the playoffs are likely beyond the Colts.

Behind the teams already named, there are some interesting runners who could, with a fair wind, make the postseason and see where they go from there. Miami spent most of last season wondering whether new QB Tua Tagovailoa was a bit mediocre, or just didn’t have the receiving corps to let him shine. Adding Jaylen Waddle in the draft and Will Fuller in free agency will give them an answer. New England splurged in free agency and then drafted Alabama triggerman Mac Jones, and should therefore be better than the post-Tom Brady wake that was their 2020 season.

NFC: Can Tampa win it all again?

In Super Bowl LV, the title was carried off by a team light on star power overall, but with Tom Brady flinging touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski. The fact that this happened in the red of the Buccaneers rather than Patriots blue was, at best, a minor consolation for the neutrals who have come to wonder exactly where in the quarterback’s attic that portrait can be found. The very real prospect of a 44-year-old Brady winning the Super Bowl may not thrill fans of the other 31 teams, but there isn’t an immediately obvious upstart contender in the NFC, so the smart money is on the Bucs at least reaching the big one.

The most likely usurpers include Green Bay, who took care of their most important business by inking a deal to keep Aaron Rodgers in green and yellow. Rodgers, whose 37 years would make him a grizzled veteran were it not for You-Know-Who, will be relieved that the Pack also extended his fellow Aaron, blue-chip RB Aaron Jones. They also invested in the offensive line, meaning that Rodgers and Brown should have time and space to make plays – and with the return of Randall Cobb for a second stint at Lambeau Field, Rodgers also has a further trusted target to play with.

California dreaming: 49ers and Rams look to bounce back

While Green Bay are contending thanks to the securing of a veteran QB, San Francisco are viewed by the bookies as an equal possibility due to the arrival of a rookie one. Trey Lance faces a pressure unique to the rookie passer class of 2021, in that he’s considered the final piece in a rebuild and not the first. Jimmy Garoppolo, who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2020, dropped off in a big way last year and has questions over his fitness. The club traded away a lot of draft capital to reach up to #3 and snag Lance, so if he’s not the answer, general manager John Lynch might not last the season.

Staying in California, the LA Rams also hope to ride the arm of a respected quarterback to the NFL Championship. Having traded away Jared Goff and their first-round draft picks for the foreseeable future, the Rams prised Matt Stafford away from Detroit. They are better-priced than their co-tenants, the Chargers, to appear in a home Super Bowl, particularly as they also traded for help on the other side of the ball, picking up Jalen Ramsey to add a cover cornerback to a defense already heaving with talent.

The also-rans

Beyond these four names, the NFC is incredibly open. If you’re looking for a dark horse, it may come in the shape of the Cowboys; they welcome back Dak Prescott and had a busy draft, pulling in 11 players (including five defensive picks in the first three rounds). They already have one significant ace in the hole – they play in the NFC East along with Washington, the Giants and Philadelphia, so they’re not exactly facing a tough schedule. Failing the Cowboys, you might fancy a look at Atlanta, who have kept Julio Jones and Matt Ryan around, and added perhaps the most exciting rookie in the draft – walking mismatch Kyle Pitts, who stands 6’6 and runs 40 yards in 4.44 seconds.

So who’s going to win it all?

In many ways, this is potentially one of the most open seasons in NFL history. If Tom Brady were to retire tomorrow, the Buccaneers would not be anything more than an outside prospect for the playoffs. The fact is that he will probably never retire, so you can’t rule them out. The Chiefs are still exceptional despite a poor showing in last February’s decider, and will want to show just how exceptional. Then there are a bunch of teams who could make the big step up this season and win the big one. For us, though, and for the bookies, the favorites are still Kansas City – a team with youth and an already long list of achievements to its name.

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