Soon after Super Bowl 48 ended and the Seahawks hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy, Vegas was already taking bets on the teams most likely to win Super Bowl 49. While the list tends to vary slightly across the web, most agree the teams listed here all have a chance to win the big game. These franchises have stable front offices, impressive coaching staffs and talent across their rosters. Their quarterback situation is more secure than other teams and they have a core of young talent they can build around. These teams also have a lot of cap space to use or have shown a keen ability to manage the cap.
More than anything, the offseason will determine how likely these odds are to be fulfilled. As we saw last year, injuries can wreck a team’s chance to be competitive or make a strong playoff run (e.g., the Falcons and Packers). For others with depth and stability, the same hardship can be a rallying call (e.g., the Patriots). That is the beauty of the NFL. Anything is possible on any given Sunday, or in the case off the offseason, the start of free agency, draft and pre-season.
So, let’s take a look at the teams most likely to win Super Bowl 49 according to SportsBook.ag. While some of these teams will surprise you, others will not. What do you think of their odds?
10 Philadelphia Eagles, 30/1 Odds
In 2013, Chip Kelly and General Manager Howie Roseman did wonders with an Eagles team that looked lost during Andy Reid’s final year as head coach. They finished the season 10-6 and played competitively in their 26-24 loss in the wild-card round to the New Orleans Saints. With the offseason in full swing for the Eagles and the NFL Combine a mere three weeks away, it’s now time for them to add to their roster.
Like all teams, the Eagles have one big decision to make: How do they want to build their team? If they hope to remain consistent on offense and value the budding chemistry between quarterback Nick Foles and Riley Cooper, then they’ll try to resign Cooper. In the eight games he played with Foles, the 26-year-old receiver caught 45 receptions for over 800 yards and eight touchdowns. Cooper may even come at a bargain price, somewhere in the $3 to $5 million range, if other teams show him little interest because of his off-the-field transgressions. Last summer, cameras caught Cooper using racial slurs at a summer concert and his actions sparked outrage across the United States.
The Eagles have roughly $20 million or more available to resign players and court free agents. This puts them in excellent shape to improve problem areas, particularly along their defensive line and the back end of their secondary; however, don’t expect them to go on a free agent spending spree like they did in 2012. GM Roseman is frugal with the cap and Kelly is a disciplinarian on and off the field. Instead, the Eagles will cut dead weight like safety Patrick Chung and restructure players like tight end Brent Celek, whose underwhelming 32 receptions and 505 yards in 2013 failed to live up to his $4 million contract.
9 T7. Atlanta Falcons, 25/1 Odds
For a team that went 4-12 in 2013, Atlanta may seem like a surprise number nine on the list; however, with loads of offensive talent, a franchise quarterback and a stable font office, there is reason to believe they could make a push for the NFC South title.
While injuries played a big role in their dismal season, the Falcons will still need to upgrade at crucial positions in free agency and resign key players to stay competitive. With the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Atlanta could draft a starting offensive lineman. In recent interviews, Falcons’ GM Thomas Dimitroff spoke highly of this year’s crop of lineman. Whether through the draft or free agency, an improved line may also help aging running back Steven Jackson, assuming the Falcons keep him.
Atlanta will have at least $16 million in cap space and some reports suggest even $20 million depending on how they manage their roster. Already, they released cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Stephen Nicolas, which saves them roughly $7 million. The 33-year-old Samuel lost his starting job to rookie cornerback Robert Alford late last season and Nicolas had falling out of favor with the coaching staff.
Other key players that will affect their cap space include tight end Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Gonzalez plans to retire and White and Jones will both expect contract extensions. When Gonzalez hangs up the cleats officially, the Falcons will save close to $7 million, which they can place nicely into the pockets of White and Jones.
Based on the development of young players like Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, the amount of cap space they own and the team’s tremendous leadership, the Falcons could be primed to compete for a division title in 2014.
8 T7. Carolina Panthers, 25/1 Odds
Since Cam Newton’s arrival in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Panthers have steadily improved. While a few doubted his ability to bring the team out of the doldrums of the NFL, he proved himself more than capable last season when he led them to a 12-4 overall record and a 5-1 division record. After a 1-3 start, the Panthers rolled to eight straight wins and a playoff berth before they lost to the 49ers in the divisional round.
While Newton improved in almost every facet of his game, the team’s overall strength was their defense, led by linebacker and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. He signed a four-year, $12.58 million deal in May of 2012 and has already outplayed his contract’s value. Other notable defenders included former 6th rounder Greg Hardy and free agent pickups Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell. Hardy, who led the team with 15 sacks, earned the praises of Coach Ron Rivera who said he wanted to keep the lineman in Charlotte.
While the Panthers have close to $20 million in available cap space, they have 21 unrestricted free agents to either sign or let test the market. One of the Panthers main priorities is to resign Hardy and Mikell, but this is also the first year they can negotiate with Newton to extend his current deal. And to do that, they’ll want to keep enough money in the coffer.
7 T7. Cincinnati Bengals, 25/1 Odds
The Bengals are an up-and-coming team, but they have one looming question. And in order for them to win their first playoff game since 1991, they’ll have to answer it.
Their biggest question mark surrounds third-year quarterback Andy Dalton. Can Dalton bring the Bengals fortune? Next season, he’ll likely have one more chance to prove that he can. With his rookie contract set to expire in 2015, Dalton needs to impress the coaching staff to receive a long-term deal. Since entering the league in 2011, Dalton owns a 0-3 record and a putrid 56.2 passer rating in the playoffs. Further, in those three losses he has thrown only one touchdown and six interceptions.
6 T5. New Orleans Saints, 20/1
To win a championship, a team must surround their franchise quarterback with enough talent. In the Saints case, it starts with resigning tight end Jimmy Graham. A pending free agent, Graham was a huge part of their offense last season; per game, the Saints ranked tenth in the league in scoring and second in passing yards.
To make room for Graham, as well as other free agents and draft picks, expect the Saints to release players and reconstruct other contracts. The team is roughly $12.5 million over the cap. One cap causality will likely be defensive end Will Smith. His $11 million cap hit is too high for an aging star and he doesn’t seem to fit into Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s schemes. Smith is also coming off ACL surgery, which hurts his chance to earn big money.
The Saints always seem to be tight to the cap, but still find a way to sign core players and be competitive. This year will be more of the same.
5 T5. Green Bay Packers, 20/1 Odds
It would be an understatement to say the Packers defense struggled for the second year in a row. By season’s end, their defense ranked per game 24th in points, 25th in total yards, 24th in passing yards and 25th in rushing yards. To improve, they must upgrade their secondary and fill in the defensive holes created by possible free agent departures like B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Sam Shields.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers' eight-week absence to injury also hurt the team’s chance to win games. After Rodgers went down, the Packers lost eight out of their last nine contests. And much like the Patriots in recent seasons, the Packers success is often defined by their quarterback’s play. Neither team relies on their defense to hold down the fort for long stretches of time.
This offseason, the Packers must improve their defense. They reportedly have offered B.J. Raji a contract offer around $8 million a year, which is $4 million more than he earned last season, but he turned it down. With upwards of $20 million or more in cap space, retaining former undrafted free agent Sam Shields and upgrading the back end of the secondary could help the Packers bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy back home.
4 New England Patriots, 15/1 Odds
For the past 13 years, the Patriots have managed to contend for Super Bowls and few other franchises can say that. They have a perennial Pro Bowler in Tom Brady and an exceptional front office and coaching staff. So, will this be the year the Patriots finally get back over the hump and win the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the fourth time in the Brady and Belichick era?
While the Patriots are slightly strapped for cap space, they can create more after they restructure contracts or outright release players. Veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, guard Dan Connolly, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski are in line to have their contracts restructured. Next year, Wilfork is scheduled to earn around $10 million, Connolly $4 million and Gostkowski $3 million.
Somewhere in between maneuvering contracts, the Patriots will have to resign top cornerback Aqib Talib and Brady’s new favorite toy, receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman and Talib expressed interest in returning and owner Robert Kraft has expressed an interest in keeping both players. Although New England tends to shy away from making big free agent splashes, keep an eye out for free agent receivers Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders. Decker may command too much money on the open market, but the Patriots coveted Sanders last offseason.
3 San Francisco 49ers, 8/1 Odds
49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggles at CenturyLink Field. There is no other way to put it. In his only three games at Seattle, including the postseason, he holds a quarterback rating under 50. In his loss to the Seahawks during this season’s divisional match up, his rating and QBR stood at a paltry 56.4 and 65. 1 respectively. Because the Seahawks will continue to be legitimate contenders, the 49ers have to find a way to help Kaepernick.
San Francisco’s defense will remain stout next season and keep them in games. Per contest, they ranked third in points allowed and fifth in total yards allowed. On the flip side, Kaepernick’s passing attack ranked as one of the league’s worst. Week 10 might have been their offense’s lowest point when Carolina sacked Kaepernick six times and held him to only 46 total passing yards. Yikes!
It does not help that top receiver Anquan Boldin will be a free agent. He had a monster year with 85 catches, 1179 yards receiving yards and seven touchdowns and his veteran presence provided Kaepernick with a trusted target in an uncertain offense. If the 49ers hope to retain him, they will likely have to match his 2013 salary of $6 million or hope his price drops after he tests the market.
As the 49ers try to retain free agents, they must also peak into next season. Kaepernick and receiver Michael Crabtree are both in the final year of their rookie deals. If I had to choose between signing Crabtree and Kaepernick to a long term deals and finding a receiver to complement Crabtree or resigning the aging Boldin, I’d choose the former.
Odds to win Super Bowl 49: 8/1
2 Denver Broncos, 7/1 Odds
What is the quickest way for the Broncos and their fans to overcome their devastating Super Bowl loss? Answer: Have an outstanding offseason. Denver can begin their recovery process, if they retain at least a few of their star free agents. In total, 16 players are eligible for free agency and nine were key starters during the Broncos’ historic season.
Denver will try to retain pending free agent wideout Eric Decker, but he will command number one receiver money. After an impressive season where he amassed 86 catches, 1176 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, he’ll be in line for a massive pay raise; he earned a base salary of $1.5 million last season. As it stands, the Broncos reportedly plan to let Decker test free agency and hope he’ll return to them with a contract they can match. They must also consider that receivers Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas will become free agents in 2015. You can’t keep them all.
I expect Decker to play elsewhere in 2015 and for Denver to use that money to improve their porous defense. I mean, that’s what they should do anyways. In 2013, the unit surrendered 24.9 points per game and allowed seven teams to score more than 25 points in a game. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, safety Mike Adams, defensive end Shaun Phillips and linebacker Paris Lenon were starters last season. All will become free agents this offseason.
1 Seattle Seahawks, 5/1 Odds
If the Seahawks can keep their core defense intact, they will give the 49ers, the NFC and the rest of the league fits for years to come. The problem when a team wins a Super Bowl is that each of their scheduled free agents has a chance to ride the wave of victory straight to the bank. During the next two years, Seattle will have to address a number of very important pending free agents.
Already, reports indicate the team wants to extend the contracts of cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas before they reach free agency next year. Sherman matched his best season from a year ago with eight interceptions and 18 passes defensed, while Thomas had 95 tackles, five interceptions and 8 passes defensed. Last season, Sherman was on the books for only $1.4 million and Thomas racked in a manageable $5.4 million. Every team in the league would love to have that kind of duo roaming their secondary for that bargain of a price.
This offseason, only three out of Seattle’s 15 starting defensive players will hit free agency, but Coach Carroll has an eye on the future. Soon after his team’s Super Bowl victory, he began to talk about next year. The Seahawks must keep their defense strong, but continue to surround rising quarterback Russell Wilson with top-tier talent. Free agent receiver Doug Baldwin remains unsigned and so too does Golden Tate who said he’d take a pay cut to stay with the “12th man.” On the other hand, pending free agent and injury prone receiver, Sidney Rice is due $8.5 million and will likely search for a new home in 2014.
As it stands, it’s easy to recognize why Seattle holds the golden opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions. They have outstanding depth and a knack to draft and develop players. Their ability to continue this trend will determine not if they win another championship, but when.
Odds to win Super Bowl 49: 5/1
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