Patriots the Prohibitive Preseason Favorite to Win Super Bowl 52
I'm often asked in Las Vegas who is going to win the college and pro football titles. While I covered the college football favorite Alabama in a recent article, many believe the New England Patriots have an even better chance to win consecutive Super Bowls heading into the 2017 season. Since the offshore sportsbooks and those in Las Vegas post odds to win the championships, it's usually a subject that gets covered by the media, and fans like to know their favorite team's chances of winning a championship.
I rarely wager on championship futures before the season, unless it's golf where more competitive long shots have a better chance to win. I will consider competitive long shots I feel have a realistic shot in football, basketball or baseball, and futures during the season when I see a value opportunity, injury impacts or the likelihood of a team winning a division that will definitely be positioned for the postseason.
But wagering on futures and teams to win a championship is something many fans bet on, as having even a few bucks on a team provides some entertainment during the season. However, betting on the biggest favorites to win a championship just prior to the season offers no value. The risk of key injuries or an unexpected defeat can prove costly, as a one game difference of 10-6 vs. 9-7 can be the difference in making the playoffs.
The Patriots continue to set the pace, and it will take a significant push by other teams to knock them off their perch after dominating their division again and winning their second Super Bowl in the last three years and fourth since 2004. But in the NFL, a +300 favorite like New England this season can hardly be justified, as even if New England runs away with their division as projected again, and secures a No. 1 or 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, they will still have to play the best remaining teams in the league to win a championship. And the odds to win will still be not much better than 3-1, knowing that the Patriots were +165 to win the Super Bowl prior to the start of last year's playoffs. That was when the Patriots were 14-2 during the regular season and the No. 1 seed with home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. You witnessed how incredibly lucky and fortunate New England was to force overtime and steal the Super Bowl over Atlanta.
The New England Patriots faced the worst-group of QB's during an entire season last year, but that won't be the case for its defense this year with the addition of AFC West and NFC South teams added to New England's schedule. Quarterback Tom Brady still looks strong, and starts the season at age 40 with more WR weapons including speedy Brandin Cooks, who was added to the versatile mix via the Saints. The defense looks stout again up front and against the run, and they've added a few key players including cornerback Stephon Gilmore from division rival Buffalo.
So the pieces are clearly in place for another Super Bowl run, and you can bet New England to win the Super Bowl at odds of 3-1, which is about the same odds you'll get if they go 13-3 and secure the No. 1 seed. Stay healthy, no QB Brady injury, nearly no upsets. But I see some struggle spots on the schedule, and certainly from a weekly betting perspective the Patriots will be a prohibitive favorite. In week 1 of the NFL season, New England has already been bumped and bet up to -9 vs. Kansas City after opening -7. Like the Patriot's themselves, the bookmaker already has the teaser in mind. But a No. 2 seed by the Patriots in the AFC would result in slightly higher odds than 3-1 pending opponent's improvement and regular season results. Of course, if an NFC team dominates or another AFC team goes 12-4, then the 3-1 odds on New England will certainly look like a bad bet before the season.
New England Patriots – (+300) or 3-1 to win Super Bowl (opened 6-1 in June)
New England Patriots – (+165) to win the AFC
New England Patriots – (-2500) to win the AFC East division
New England Patriots – (12.5) season over/under win total -130 'over'
New England pulled off the most miraculous Super Bowl comeback win in history this past season, falling behind 21-0 early and trailing Atlanta 28-9 with 10 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. A pair of late touchdowns and 2-point conversions forced the first-ever overtime in Super Bowl history. The Patriots took the OT kickoff and scored a touchdown to not only win 34-28, but cover the point spread as a 3-point favorite and push the game over the total. A bad result for the sports books, but one for the ages for certain.
Now New England returns as everyone's favorite team, and especially bettors as the Patriots went a remarkable 16-3 against the spread (ATS) last season. All that adds up to inflation in the betting market. It's starting early with the Patriots Super Bowl, Conference and division odds to win. The AFC East looks weak again, as the Jets look like last year's Browns and 4 wins might be a stretch. The Dolphins lost their QB Ryan Tannehill to season-ending ACL surgery before they played a single game. Jay Cutler has come out of retirement, and while he could prove to be a valuable addition, the bookmakers still see Miami as below average and a season win total of 7.5 shaded to the under. The Bills have missed in nearly every possible method to obtain a quality QB since Jim Kelly retired in 1997. And Buffalo has now missed the playoffs for 17-straight seasons; the longest drought in the NFL, and the longest that has taken place entirely after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Can you say EJ Manuel and now Tyrod Taylor at quarterback? Ugh. Thaddeus Lewis and Jeff Tuel have also started at QB for the Bills in the last five years. Neither is in the league any longer. Google the Bills starting QB's the past 20 years and you'll see a major reason why the playoffs have been out of site.
The point of those mentions is that the Patriots have had a much easier road to the division title than nearly every other division over the past 10-15 years. Having a Hall of Fame QB in Brady and the best NFL coach and Hall of Famer Bill Belichick leading the organization gives everyone confidence prior to and throughout every season. Now consider that Las Vegas posted the Patriots at -2500 to make the playoffs this season ($2500 to win $100), and +1100 to not make the playoffs. The Patriots season over/under win total is 12.5 shaded to the over. You rarely see numbers that high.
So again, the preseason prognosticators will tail the sports books projections and make New England the 'can't miss' pick to the playoffs, and a huge favorite to win the AFC and the biggest favorite to capture another Super Bowl. And the bookmaker will make them a big favorite nearly every week despite facing more quality teams and QB's this season – Kansas City, New Orleans, Houston, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, San Diego, Denver, Oakland, Pittsburgh. Notice no mention of their weak division opponents which the New England faces a total of six times.
The Patriots run a multifaceted system that has chameleon-like adaptability with a variety of personnel packages, option routes and sight adjustments that are made to counter whatever defensive look they are aiming to defeat. It's complicated and requires some players -- particularly receivers -- to learn multiple positions. With a strong offensive line and QB Brady pulling the trigger for a coach that finds an opponent's weaknesses and exploits them with varied game plans, you have the blue print for success and what has been more than a decade of dominance in the AFC and NFL.
It looks like the Patriots will be playing many high-scoring games this season, and totals posted above 48-50 points at the sports books will be more common. Last year, New England went just 6-10 over/under despite scoring nearly 28 points per game with just six regular season games lined 48 points or higher. That's what can happen when a top-tier defense (No. 1 scoring) faces a poor collection of QB's throughout the season.
But as good as the Patriots have been, they have been the recipient of some tremendous gifts in the league's biggest game. Just ask Atlanta and Seattle fans and bettors.
The Patriots schedule appears favorable again due to their very weak division opponents, and at least one prominent national publication has even forecasted a perfect 16-0 season. Good luck. That won't happen. Buying at the peak of the market is not the way to make money, or cash in on a futures favorite. Over the past decade, year-after-year the preseason favorite has failed to win the Super Bowl. That includes the Patriots, who failed to win the Super Bowl during both the 2007 and 2008 regular seasons after opening as the preseason Super Bowl favorite near 4-1 odds. New England did win it all following the 2014 regular season, but the Patriots were the third betting choice (8-1) at the start of the season, and five teams tied for the best record during the regular season at 12-4. Of course, that was another last second result that the Patriots pulled out of the hat when Seattle didn't run the ball from the 1-yard line and threw an interception in the closing seconds in a 28-24 New England victory. Another Super Bowl for the ages.
It takes talent, togetherness, good health and good fortune to win an NFL championship. A proven, top QB and a top-tier defense often sets a championship team apart. But betting a team to win a championship at low odds takes nothing more than common sense. And like most futures wagers to win a championship before the season, it's a poor play.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay