It’s easy to see why the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens have been locked atop the NFL Super Bowl futures odds board for weeks before these playoffs even began.
The 49ers are the darlings of the analytics world as well as the world of people with working eyes, leading the NFL in both offensive and defensive DVOA, not to mention “wow,” moments. Their offence has looked unstoppable nearly all year and the defence takes away the middle of the field while guys like Nick Bosa and Chase Young disrupt or, in some cases, dismantle quarterbacks.
The Ravens just went on the road and beat those guys when both squads were trying, then came back and beat another contender, the Miami Dolphins. They’re seemingly built for the playoffs with a stingy defence, great coaching, and the magic of Lamar Jackson.
49ers to beat Ravens in Super Bowl LVIII
But with 12 other teams in the playoffs, you’re not getting a ton of value with odds of +225 and +320, respectively, on San Francisco and Baltimore. The next four favourites, the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, and Philadelphia Eagles all have serious questions hovering around them and odds that might be too short with that in mind.
So, let’s take a chance on landing a ticket with some decent value and break down three live longshots at bet365 that could upset the apple cart this month and make a shocking run to Las Vegas on Feb. 11.
Cleveland Browns +3000
The other 11-win teams have way, way shorter odds than the Browns, with Buffalo getting just +650 and the defending champ Chiefs locked in at +900. So, what gives? Apparently, the bookmakers have a bias against a playoff team with a 38-year-old quarterback who was sitting on his New Jersey couch seven weeks ago.
Joe Flacco, 38, signed on to the practice squad on Nov. 20, then joined the active roster a few weeks after that. But guess what? The Browns seem to have finally landed on an answer after cycling through four quarterbacks to try to replace Deshaun Watson after a shoulder injury knocked him out for the season.
Flacco is playing an awful lot like the last time he led a team to a Super Bowl victory 11 years ago with the Ravens. Will it last? Well, who knows. He’ll eventually face tougher defences than the ones he has seen so far, but not in the wild-card round when he’ll face a Houston Texans unit he just torched for 368 yards and three touchdowns with the Browns scoring 36 points back on Christmas Eve.
The Browns’ great defence has slipped in recent weeks, but it still has one of the best players in the league in Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett. The scheme keeps opposing quarterbacks confused and its line makes life miserable on offensive lines. It’s not overstating things to say this might be the most dominant defence in the league.
Flacco needs to avoid mistakes. His eight interceptions and four fumbles in just five starts raise troubling questions about how he’ll handle things this month. But he’s already shown he knows the way to win in January and February and this is an enticing price to nab and hold, hoping the pixie dust doesn’t wear off over the next four weeks.
|To win Super Bowl
|To win conference
|San Francisco 49ers
|Kansas City Chiefs
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|Green Bay Packers
Los Angeles Rams +4000
If you think these odds are long, consider that the Rams went into the preseason as one of the longest shots on the board, with odds in the +7000 range many places. Only six teams had longer odds then and none of them qualified for the playoffs.
The Rams have gone 7-1 since their bye to get to this point, rolling behind an offence that ranks second only to the 49ers since the start of the second half. It was just two years ago that Matthew Stafford clutched the Lombardi Trophy and he’s starting to help develop an array of weapons similar to what he had then with the emergence of Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua to go with Cooper Kupp. He also has Sean McVay, one of the most creative play callers in the league.
Nacua just set NFL records for catches and receiving yards by a rookie. Kupp’s dip in production mostly has been the result of Nacua’s emergence, but he’s healthy now and Stafford still loves to look for him when it counts. His 19 red-zone targets in 12 games ranks top 10 in the league. Don’t forget: he was the Super Bowl MVP two seasons ago.
The defence isn’t great, but it’s fine, with a coordinator in Raheem Morris who has done enough with limited talent to garner plenty of interest from other teams searching for a head coach. Aaron Donald can still wreak havoc on an opponents’ front.
The Rams will have to win three straight road games, but none of them figure to be in bad weather and they have played the 49ers tough, including beating them in Week 18 (although San Francisco had little to play for).
LA Rams to win Super Bowl
Green Bay Packers +6600
With one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, awful special teams, and a No. 17 ranking in total defence, this one might seem like a 75-yard Hail Mary with time expiring, but consider the value. At 66-1, you get a young quarterback in Jordan Love who isn’t just showing signs of improvement, he’s been downright elite for two months now.
There’s no saying whether he will continue to play this well, of course. And perhaps the pressure of his first shot at the playoffs will cause his talents to suddenly shrivel up. But at this price, isn’t it worth riding the hot hand at the most important position on the field? Since Week 9, he has been the second-best quarterback in the league according to Pro Football Focus rankings.
You also get good play calling, as Matt LaFleur has helped bring out Love’s strengths, which include a massive arm and tremendous escapability. On top of that, Aaron Jones is finally healthy, giving Love the ability to fall back on a running game when things sputter through the air or the opponent sells out to stop the pass.
Compared to the other longshots on the board, this is a team that can score with the teams at the top of the board. And they’ve done it before or at least guys in the same uniforms did it before. Aaron Rodgers won his only Super Bowl in 2010 with a sixth-seed Packers team, leading the club to three straight road playoff wins. Is it likely these guys can beat Dallas and San Francisco on the road? Well, of course not, but this price is long enough that, if it happens, you’ll still have plenty of slack to hedge in the big game.