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2012/13 NFL betting preview

September 2nd, 2012

The 2012/13 NFL season kicks off on Wednesday when Super Bowl XLVI champions New York Giants host Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium and will end on Sunday, February 3rd 2013 at the Superdome in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.

European fans will get their chance to see the action at the now regular International Series game which this year will feature the St. Louis Rams against the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium on October 28th.

And bookmakers make the Patriots 13/2 joint-favourites to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy this season, along with the 2010 Super Bowl winners, the Green Bay Packers. Both sides can be backed at best odds of 13/2 with William Hill (6/1 with most other bookmakers), while the Giants are as big as 22/1 (Bet365) to retain their title.

For reference, eight teams have managed to win back-to-back Super Bowl’s, the last being the Patriots in 2004 and 2005, although it’s interesting to note that (discounting the first) 24% of Super Bowls have featured the previous year’s winner.

From a betting perspective, a more relevant stat is that 5 of the last 7 Super Bowls have been won by a wild-card qualifier to the post-season. In other words, teams who have found form at the right time have generally prevailed over those who have had the best regular season.

This season is notable for a referee labor dispute, which has led to the regular NFL game officials being locked out and the season will start with low-level college and high school officials as replacement referees. This is highly likely to mean some poor rulings by under qualified and inexperienced replacements and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this were the cause of an upset or two until such time as the dispute is resolved. 

We take a brief look at all 32 contenders from eight divisions in both the NFC and AFC, including our recommended bets for the season.

NFC EAST

Philadelphia Eagles – Last Season: 8-8

9/5 (Paddy Power) to win division, 14/1 (BetVictor & Coral) to win Super Bowl

One of the most hyped teams last season, the Eagles began the year 4-8, before winning their final 4 games thanks to a strong finish by Michael Vick, their controversial but immensely talented quarterback. Vick needs to stay injury-free, but he has made it through 16 games just once in a nine-year career and missed 3 games for the last two seasons. Running back LeSean McCoy ran in a remarkable 17 touchdowns last season, whilst receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin give Vick enviable options. Add into the mix defensive stars DeMeco Ryans and Nnamdi Asomugha and you have a team who really should make the post season at least. But you would have thought that last season.

New York Giants – Last Season: 9-7

9/4 (BetVictor) to win division, 22/1 (Bet365) to win Super Bowl

Last season the Giants overcame pre-season odds of 40/1 to be crowned Super Bowl champions - indeed they had drifted to 66/1 in mid-December when 7-7 with two regular season games remaining. They have traded Mario Manningham to the 49ers, breaking up one of the best trio of receivers in the league, but Eli Manning still has Hakeen Nicks and Victor Cruz to throw to, with Domenik Hixon expected to fill the gap. Running back Brandon Jacobs has also headed to San-Francisco, but they have plenty of strength here in Ahmad Bradshaw, plus rookies David Wilson and Andre Brown. Despite last year’s triumph, the G-Men are not even favourites to win their division, but it would be foolish to rule out a team orchestrated by Manning, who already belongs in the elite echelon of NFL quarterbacks, whilst their relentless pass rush game will trouble many opposing quarterbacks.

Dallas Cowboys – Last Season: 8-8

11/4 (Coral) to win division, 33/1 (Ladbrokes) to win Super Bowl

Failed to make the post season after their loss to the Giants for the division title in the final game of last season - one of 4 defeats in their final 5 games. Tony Romo is perhaps more crucial to the Cowboys than most quarterbacks (he contributed to 82% of the team's total touchdowns for 2011, a higher percentage than any other player in the regular season) and whilst prone to occasional mistakes, he has the potential to keep improving. Miles Austin (if he can stay injury free) and Dez Bryant give him excellent wide options, whilst in DeMarcus Ware they have one of the meanest linebackers in the league. The have also spent heavily to trade-up in this year’s draft to capture Morris Claiborne in sixth overall spot to strengthen their much maligned secondary. Would surely be better than third-favourites in many other divisions.

Washington Redskins – Last Season: 5-11

13/2 (Bet365 & Stan James) to win division, 80/1 (BetVictor) to win Super Bowl

Managed to beat last year’s Super Bowl champions twice in the regular season but those were rare highlights in a tough season which started brightly with 3 wins in 4, but descended rapidly with 10 losses in their last 12 games. Another team to trade-up in the draft, they captured Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III as the No. 2 pick, but RG3 is likely to find things tough in his rookie campaign behind a weak offensive line and it would be a big surprise if they did not finish the year propping up this division for a fifth successive season (they haven’t finished top since 1999).

RECOMMENDED BET
MARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
New York Giants NFC East 9/4 BetVictor

NFC NORTH

Green Bay Packers – Last Season: 15-1

1/2 (Coral) to win division, 13/2 (William Hill & Sky Bet) to win Super Bowl

Having won Super Bowl XLV two seasons ago, the Pack marched to a 15-1 tally last year, smashing records along the way (one of only three teams in NFL history to score 35 points or more 9 times in a single season), yet fell short in their first play-off game against the eventual champions. Whilst last year's NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions, the quarterback’s ability somewhat masked a weak running game and poor defence. Indeed, they conceded more points than divisional rivals Chicago Bears who finished third with just an 8-8 seasonal record. Unsurprisingly their first four picks in the draft were all defensive players and it remains to be seen if they will plug the gaps, although with Rodgers feeding receivers such as Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, it would be a surprise if the Cheeseheads fail to reach the post-season for a fourth successive season.

Chicago Bears – Last Season: 8-8

5/1 (888sport) to win division, 28/1 (888sport) to win Super Bowl

The Bears were undone last season by quarterback Jay Cutler suffering a broken thumb when 7-3 and on the verge of a playoff berth - their scoring average dropped from 26.8 points per game to 13.8 and they lost 5 straight to end their hopes. A weak offensive line leaves Cutler vulnerable to further injury, having taken 105 sacks over the last two seasons, although he will at least be pleased to have a first rate receiver to aim at, with former teammate Brandon Marshall arriving from Miami. Running back Matt Forte was another major loss at the end of last season - missing the last four games with a knee injury having been the only player in NFL history to have at least 900 yards rushing and 400 yard receiving in a season. If he and Cutler can stay injury free this season they should be competitive and at 5/1 look a big price to top the division.

Detroit Lions – Last Season: 10-6

11/2 (Ladbrokes) to win division, 28/1 (888sport) to win Super Bowl

Last season the Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 on the back of a 10-6 regular season, although they haven’t won a post-season game since 1991. In Calvin Johnson (nicknamed Megatron) they boast one of the best receivers in the game for Matt Stafford to find, whilst defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a fearsome obstacle for any offense (selected second overall in the 2010 draft he has been labelled "the dirtiest player" in the NFL). The Lions passing game is as good as any, but they still struggled offensively last season and it’s hard to see them improving much in this area, whilst defensively they need to learn to maintain their discipline.

Minnesota Vikings – Last Season: 3-13

33/1 (generally) to win division, 150/1 (Bet365, BetVictor & Ladbrokes) to win Super Bowl

The Vikings have lost their last 11 contests against NFC North rivals, so it’s no wonder bookmakers are writing off their chances in this tough division. The return from injury of star running back Adrian Peterson should ensure they improve upon last season’s dismal 3-13 record, however rookie quarterback Christian Ponder is yet to impress and the Vikes will do well not to prop up the division for a third successive season.

RECOMMENDED BET
MARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
Chicago Bears NFC North 5/1 888sport

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints – Last Season: 13-3

11/8 (Coral) to win division, 18/1 (generally) to win Super Bowl

Last season the Saints were the no. 2 seed in the NFC for the playoffs, behind Green Bay, but lost their Divisional Playoff game with the 49ers to a last-minute touchdown. It was nonetheless a remarkable season in which they broke the NFL record for offensive yards from scrimmage (7,474) and quarterback Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s single-season NFL passing record with 5,746 yards, as they won their last 8 games of the regular season. All of which would point to the Black and Gold being amongst the Super Bowl favourites, were it not for the off-season controversy around alleged "bounty" payments made to defensive players for intentionally injuring opponents, which has led to coach Sean Payton being suspended for a year. This will surely have a heavy impact on morale if nothing else, and despite the bookies making them favourites for the division, they cannot be considered seriously as a betting proposition whilst under this cloud.

Atlanta Falcons – Last Season: 10-6

6/4 (Ladbrokes & William Hill) to win division, 28/1 (Bet365 & BetVictor) to win Super Bowl

The Falcons have been to the playoffs for the last two seasons (both times falling at the first hurdle to the eventual Super Bowl winners) and they look the obvious beneficiaries to events in New Orleans. Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 30 of his last 31 games and has explosive receivers Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, plus exciting rookie Julio Jones (sixth overall pick of the draft) to aim at. Michael Turner is one of the best running backs in the league despite his size (5ft 10in) - averaging 84 rushing yards per game last season as well as contributing 11 touchdowns - and the Falcons also have the speedy Jacquizz Rodgers to lessen the load for Turner. Atlanta’s biggest weakness is their offensive line and they’ve used their first two draft picks to shore up this area with the arrival of centre Peter Konz and offensive tackle Lamar Holmes, while in defense the arrival of experienced cornerback Asante Samuel from Philadelphia is a big boost. Samuel has been there and done it having previously won two Super Bowl rings with New England and having reached the postseason in eight of his first nine seasons in the NFL. Atlanta fans will be expectant of another strong run this season and they look value at 6/4 to win the division, whilst they are our outsiders to win the NFC Championship at odds of 14/1 and the Super Bowl at 28/1.

Carolina Panthers – Last Season: 6-10

11/2 (generally) to win division, 50/1 (BetVictor & Ladbrokes) to win Super Bowl

Quarterback Cam Newton, first overall pick in the 2011 draft, had a stellar rookie season with 35 touchdowns (21 pass, 14 rush) - the most by a rookie player in NFL history. In DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart he has a great 1-2 running back combo and last season Carolina became the first team in NFL history to have 3 players with 700+ yards rushing in a season. Those 3 also now have fullback Mike Tolbert blocking for them, who is also able to receive and carry (54 receptions for the San Diego Chargers in 2011 despite starting just one game). In addition to this excellent rushing attack, veteran wide receiver Steve “Mighty Mouse” Smith became just the 35th player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard receiving mark last season. However, defense is a big area of concern - last year they allowed the fifth-most total yards in the league and sixth-most points. Linebacker Jon Beason’s return from injury should improve them in this area, that but they will do well to live up to centre Ryan Kalil’s bold pre-season proclamation (via an ad in the Charlotte Observer) that they would be Super Bowl Champions in 2012.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Last Season: 4-12

17/1 (Paddy Power) to win division, 125/1 (Coral) to win Super Bowl

Winners of Super Bowl XXXVII ten years ago, the Bucs ended last season with ten consecutive defeats and their first job is to end that streak. Quarterback Josh Freeman will benefit from the arrival of the excellent guard Carl Nicks from New Orleans and now also has top class wide receiver Vincent Jackson to aim at after his arrival from San Diego. Like the Panthers, the big problem is in defence - they conceded an average of 41 points per game for the last 5 games of 2011 and finished the season having allowed the most points (494), the most rushing yards (2,497), the most rushing touchdowns (26) and the third most total yards (6,311) in the league. With a rookie and second-season player likely to start as line-backers, it is going to be a tough season for new head coach Greg Schiano and the play-offs are unrealistic.

RECOMMENDED BETS
MARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
Atlanta Falcons NFC South 6/4 Ladbrokes & William Hill
Atlanta Falcons NFC Championship 14/1 BetVictor & Paddy Power

NFC WEST

San Francisco 49ers – Last Season: 13-3

8/15 (Coral) to win division, 14/1 (Ladbrokes & Paddy Power) to win Super Bowl 

The 49ers cruised in one of the weaker divisions in the league last season and thus it’s no surprise that bookmakers make them such a short-price to win the NFC West again this year. San Francisco’s 10 turnovers during the 2011 regular season were the fewest in the league and they were one step away from the Super Bowl but agonisingly lost the NFC Championship game to the Giants in overtime. Their success last season was built from a strong running game (indeed their passing offense ranked just 29th in the league) and a defense who conceded just two rushing touchdowns. Wide receiver Mario Manningham and running back Brandon Jacobs arrive from New York and they know how to win a Super Bowl, while quarterback Alex Smith also now has Randy Moss to aim at, after the legendary receiver elected to come out of retirement. ‘Coach of the Year’ Jim Harbaugh also acquired offensive players with his first three draft selections - including the promising A.J. Jenkins (wide receiver) and LaMichael James (running back), and with a markedly improved offense to add to an elite defense, the Niners have a reasonable chance to win their first Super Bowl since 1994.

Seattle Seahawks – Last Season: 7-9

15/4 (888sport) to win division, 50/1 (BetVictor & Paddy Power) to win Super Bowl

Despite bringing in quarterback Matt Flynn from Green Bay, the Seahawks are set to make rookie Russell Wilson, a third round draft pick, their starter in this position, ahead of both Flynn and last years starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. With a much maligned offensive line that hasn’t been improved in the draft, it looks likely to be a tough season for a 5ft, 10in rookie and Seattle are likely to rely on a strong defense again this season. Last year they did win five of their last eight games, including victories over the Giants and the Eagles, with each of the losses by 6 points or less, but it would be a surprise if their offense leads them into the play-off this season.

Arizona Cardinals – Last Season: 8-8

9/1 (Stan James) to win division, 80/1 (generally) to win Super Bowl

The Cards won 7 of their last 9 games last year, having started the season 1-6 and notably this included 4 overtime wins (an NFL record) and 6 wins from fourth quarter deficits (one short of an NFL record). This resilience bodes well, but they have yet to settle on a preferred quarterback, with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton vying for the role. Despite handing Kolb a massive contract last year, Skelton is set to start ahead of him this season - although whoever lines up has a porous offensive line to protect them. On the plus side, they not only have the formidable Larry Fitzgerald to take aim at, but also Michael Floyd - a first round draft pick from Notre Dame - giving them a formidable 1-2 punch at wide receiver. And with Ryan Williams, who missed his rookie season with injury, set to join Beanie Wells at running back, there is potential for Arizona to surprise a few people this season and possibly even squeak into the post-season at best odds of 9/2 with Coral.

St. Louis Rams – Last Season: 2-14

12/1 (Bet365, BetVictor & Ladbrokes) to win division, 125/1 (BetVictor) to win Super Bowl

Bookmakers expectations are low for a Rams side that managed just 193 points in 2011, losing their first six and last seven games of an injury-hit season, but quarterback and former no. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford should improve on those numbers with the return of his no. 1 wide receiver Danny Amendola. In defense, linebacker James Laurinaitis has a relentless engine in both the passing and running game and new coach Jeff Fisher has lured cornerback Cortland Finnigan (one of the most aggressive players in the league) from Tennessee, plus excellent defensive tackle prospect Michael Brockers in the draft, so UK fans should at least see an improved Rams when they face the Patriots at Wembley.

RECOMMENDED BET
MARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship 7/1
BetVictor & Coral

AFC EAST

New England Patriots – Last Season: 13-3

2/7 (William Hill) to win division, 13/2 (William Hill) to win Super Bowl 

The Pats represented the AFC in last season’s Super Bowl despite having one of the worst defenses in the NFL and Bill Belichick has attempted to address this in the draft, with New England taking defenders with their first six picks. Offensively they will always be a threat with 12-year quarterback Tom Brady still calling the shots - last season Belichick and Brady became the first quarterback-head coach combination to reach the Super Bowl five times, with Brady passing a career high 5,246 yards (which would have been a new NFL record if Drew Brees hadn’t exceeded it for New Orleans). Wide receiver Wes Walker led the NFL with 122 receptions (22 receptions ahead of second place) and they have two of the best tight ends around in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski - the latter of whom shattered the record for touchdown catches for the position with a remarkable 17 (only four wide receivers in history have beaten that number in a single season). There is also veteran receiver Deion Branch for Brady to aim at and thus it’s no surprise to see bookmakers offer best odds of just 2/7 on them winning this division and making them joint-favourites to win another Super Bowl. Odds of 13/2 aren’t generous but given they’ve reached 5 of the last 11 Super Bowl’s it’s easy to see why the bookies are wary.

New York Jets – Last Season: 8-8

15/2 (Stan James) to win division, 50/1 (BetVictor & Stan James) to win Super Bowl 

The Jets boast a strong defense, including one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Darrelle Revis, but quarterback Mark Sanchez convinces very few - last season throwing just 26 touchdowns, against 18 interceptions. They have bought in the evangelical quarterback Tim Tebow from Denver as backup, but he’ll need to pray very hard to get the Jets to Super Bowl XLVII with their offensive limitations. Their best receiver is Santonio Holmes who, despite managing 8 touchdown receptions, finished last season with just 51 catches and a career low 654 receiving yards (just 12.8 yards per reception average).

Buffalo Bills – Last Season: 6-10

8/1 (BetVictor & Coral) to win division, 66/1 (generally) to win Super Bowl

The Bills have not made the playoffs since 1999 and they have spent heavily in the off-season to improve on their defense. Mario Williams arrives from Houston with the most lucrative contract for a defensive player in NFL history (worth up to $100m) and the defensive tackle is joined by defensive end Mark Anderson, who recorded 12.5 sacks for the Patriots last season, in an attempt to add some teeth to their pass rushing. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was selected with the 10th pick overall in the summer draft and they also have the highly rated defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus (third overall pick in the 2011 draft), so should now start to make life more difficult for opposing offenses. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson recorded his second consecutive 1000-yard season last year, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick finished with a league-high 23 interceptions and his inconsistency offers little hope to backers that they’ll be able to break their twelve year play-off drought.

Miami Dolphins – Last Season: 6-10

16/1 (generally) to win division, 100/1 (Bet365 & BetVictor) to win Super Bowl

Considering the Dolphins started last season 0-7, they did remarkably well to finish 6-10, but this year they will rely on a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, selected with the eighth overall pick in the draft. He has pacey running back Reggie Bush to support him but wide receiver Brandon Marshall has left for Chicago and the offense looks pretty toothless, so new coach (and former Green Bay offensive coordinator) Joe Philbin has his work cut out. The defense has excellent pass rusher Cameron Wake, but cornerback Vontae Davis heads to Indianapolis and having lost all four preseason games the Dolphins look to have lost the momentum gained at the end of last season.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers – Last Season: 12-4 

11/8 (Ladbrokes) to win division, 20/1 (Bet365 & Ladbrokes) to win Super Bowl

The AFC North was the best division in the NFL last year, sending three teams to the postseason - only two other divisions sent two teams (the other five sending just one). Pittsburgh fell at the first playoff hurdle and it’s somewhat of a surprise to see them as favourites for the division this season, given that the Ravens reached the AFC Championship game (they are both 20/1 to win Super Bowl XLVII). Their defense kept Pittsburgh dominant last season (allowing the fewest points, passing yards and total yards in the NFL), but they will surely miss defensive linesmen Chris Hoke and Aaron Smith, run stoppers who allowed them to control the line of scrimmage for years. Of course, they still have two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger - one of the most efficient passers in NFL history - whilst wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace both excelled last season, but their offensive line is suspect and Roethlisberger gets hit regularly (he’s been sacked at least 40 times in five of the past six seasons), leaving him vulnerable to injury.

Baltimore Ravens – Last Season: 12-4

13/8 (Coral) to win division, 20/1 (Sky Bet & William Hill) to win Super Bowl

The Ravens were a dropped pass away from Super Bowl XLVI last season and look highly likely to be back in contention this season, despite the loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs (2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year) to injury. Crucially he could be back for the postseason and they still have the legendary Ray Lewis to reply upon, plus they shrewdly added linebacker Courtney Upshaw with their first pick in the draft as cover. Quarterback Joe Flacco has had his critics but appears to be growing in confidence - his tremendous arm strength can be a game changer and with speedy wide receivers such as Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith to aim at, plus star running back Ray Rice to feed, the Ravens look good value at 13/8 (Coral) to win this division again, 9/1 (Sky Bet) to win the AFC Championship, plus 20/1 (Sky Bet & William Hill) to win the big prize.

Cincinnati Bengals – Last Season: 9-7 

9/2 (William Hill) to win division, 45/1 (Bet365) to win Super Bowl

Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton led Cincinnati to the final playoff spot last season, despite going 0-7 against teams with a winning record. He and another rookie, wide receiver A.J. Green, gave the Bengals a potent pass-catch combination although this didn’t mask other offensive frailties. They have looked to beef up the offensive line by picking up guards Kevin Zeitler (in the first round of the draft) and Travelle Wharton (free agency) to help protect Dalton, but Wharton has been injured pre-season. At least the defense looks strong and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, another first round draft pick, will strengthen them here, but with so much inexperience and a tougher schedule this year, they’ll exceed expectations if they make another postseason.

Cleveland Browns – Last Season: 4-12 

35/1 (Bet365 & Paddy Power) to win division, 250/1 (BetVictor) to win Super Bowl

If inexperience is an issue for the Bengals, it’s nothing compared to that of the Browns roster - almost half of which has no more than a year’s experience. Whilst they lost nine of their final ten games last season (including the last six), few were by big margins, but it will be a difficult trend to reverse with a rookie quarterback. Brandon Weeden was a first round draft pick and will fire at wide-receivers who led the league in dropped passes last season, which is no doubt why Josh Green arrives as a supplemental draft pick. Just four of Cleveland’s meagre total of 20 touchdowns last year were contributed by running backs, and they have also acquired the very highly rated Trent Richardson as the third overall pick of the draft to address this, but this trio of college stars face a baptism of fire and with significant injuries to their defense, the Browns will inevitably finish bottom of this division once again. If we were bookmakers we’d gladly offer 1000/1 on the Browns even reaching Super Bowl XLVII, so don’t back them to win it at the best odds of 250/1 (Paddy Power’s 150/1 is frankly insulting).

RECOMMENDED BETS
MARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
Baltimore Ravens AFC North 13/8 Coral
Baltimore Ravens AFC Championship 9/1 Sky Bet

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans – Last Season: 10-6

2/7 (Coral) to win division, 9/1 (Sky Bet & Coral) to win Super Bowl

The Texans look the only winner of one of the weakest divisions in the league. Last season they made the postseason for the first time in franchise history (where they made the second round) despite losing quarterback Matt Schaub to injury after 10 games (when 7-3) and then back-up Matt Leinart, so having to rely on then third-string TJ Yates for the last 4 regular games of the season and the playoffs. Schaub has recovered from surgery and if he can stay healthy the Texans look to be on the verge of an even stronger showing this season. Indeed, Schaub was just one of various high profile Houston players to get injured last year - star linebacker Mario Williams’ season ended in just week 5, but their defense, headed by the likes of Connor Barwin, Antonio Smith, JJ Watt and Brooks Reed still allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league in 2011, the second-fewest yards allowed and the third-fewest yards per play (4.8). They’ve also strengthened here with the arrival of linebackers Bradie James from Dallas and Whitney Mercilus in the first round of the draft - indeed such is their defensive depth, they’ve even felt able to trade Mario Williams to Buffalo in the off-season. Offensively, Schaub’s main target remains Andre Johnson (who himself missed 6 games to injury last season) and they’ve also added a couple of more wide receivers in the draft, whilst running-back Arian Foster and his back-up Ben Tate remain a potent combination. Almost a certainty for the post-season, the Texans are rightly considered by bookmakers to be one of the Super Bowl favourites at best odds of 9/1 and the AFC Championship looks between them, the Ravens and the Patriots.

Tennessee Titans – Last Season: 9-7 

5/1 (Bet365 & BetVictor) to win division, 66/1 (Bet365 & BetVictor) to win Super Bowl 

The Titans haven't reached the playoffs since 2008 and are 3/1 with Bet365 to reach the post season this season. Whether they do so may well depend upon whether they opt for veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck or his young pretender Jake Locker and the latter would likely offer a greater offensive threat. Whoever gets the nod will look to receivers Nate Washington and Kenny Britt (once he returns from suspension), plus the rookie Kendall Wright, who was a first round draft pick. Star running back Chris Johnson will need to return to form if the Titans are to progress on last season’s 9-7 record and he will be assisted by the arrival of guard Steve Hutchinson from Minnesota. However, 5 of Tennessee’s 9 wins last year were by six points or less and with a tough looking schedule, the suspicion is that they are more likely to move backwards than forwards this season.

Indianapolis Colts – Last Season: 2-14 

28/1 (Stan James) to win division, 150/1 (Bet365 & Stan James) to win Super Bowl

The Colts started the 2011 season looking to set an NFL record for the most consecutive playoff appearances (10), but suffered heavily due to the loss of star quarterback Peyton Manning to injury (he sat out the entire season due to neck surgery) as they won just two games all year. This at least earned them the no.1 pick in the 2012 draft, which they have used to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, as Manning moves onto Denver. Luck has big shoes to fill, but arrives with arguably the highest expectations of any rookie in NFL history and it will be fascinating to see how he copes behind an inexperienced offensive line. His main target will be veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, plus tight ends Coby Fleener (a Stanford teammate) and Dwayne Allen, who both also arrived in the 2012 draft. Indeed, it is hard to gauge how the Colts will perform with a completely different roster and new coaches from last season, but if Luck lives up to the hype they might surprise a few people and the 9/1 offered by Bet365 on them reaching the play-offs looks slightly over generous.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Last Season: 5-11 

25/1 (Stan James) to win division, 300/1 (Stan James) to win Super Bowl 

The Jags are the only side you can back at 300/1 for the Super Bowl and you’d be wasting your money if you did. Although defensively sound (they finished with the 6th ranked defense in the NFL last season) they only scored more than 20 points once and new head coach Mike Mularkey has first to deal with running-back Maurice Jones-Drew’s refusal to participate in pre-season training. Jones-Drew led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards last season (and contributed 8 touchdowns), but the standoff over a new contract will have done little for team morale or cohesion. Young quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s first season was tough, getting sacked 40 times (12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) and he will at least be pleased with the arrival of receivers Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson. Blackmon was considered the best wide receiver in the 2012 draft and picked fifth overall by the Jags, whilst Robinson had a great season at Dallas with 54 receptions, 858 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. However, the offensive line needs to enable Gabbert to find his new teammates and the Jaguars did not draft any offensive linesman to give him some more protection. Last season they finished last in the NFL in passing yards and total offensive yards gained and more of the same is anticipated.

RECOMMENDED BET
MARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
Houston Texans AFC Championship
9/2
Stan James & Coral
Indianapolis Colts To Reach Playoffs 9/1
Bet365

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos – Last Season: 8-8

15/8 (William Hill) to win division, 20/1 (Ladbrokes & William Hill) to win Super Bowl

Inevitably, the Bronco’s season is all about the arrival of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, who arrives from Indianapolis after 14 seasons where he won eight divisional titles, two AFC Championships, one Super Bowl and a record four league MVP awards. The question is whether he can return from a year out following neck surgery and ignite his new team at the age of 36 - but clearly he has the confidence of his new employers who signed him on a five-year, $96 million contract. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will be delighted at Manning’s arrival and he’ll also have some familiar faces to aim at, as the Broncos have signed veteran receiver Brandon Stokley and another ex-Colt in tight end Jacob Tamme. Last season the Bronco’s snuck into the playoffs for the first time since 2005, but were crushed 45-10 by the Patriots and they have moved to improve their defense in the offseason by signing linebacker Keith Brooking and safety Jim Leonhard, but this still looks an area of weakness. However, if Manning has fully recovered and stays fit, that alone should be enough to see Denver in the post-season again.

San Diego Chargers – Last Season: 8-8 

9/4 (Stan James & Coral) to win division, 33/1 (Stan James) to win Super Bowl 

The Chargers had an unusual season last year, starting well with a 4-1 record; they then hit a six game slump to drop to 4-7, before recovering to win four of their remaining five games. It wasn’t enough however and they missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Quarterback Philip Rivers had a poor season by his standards, throwing a career high 20 interceptions and he has lost receivers Vincent Jackson who heads to Tampa Bay and Mike Tolbert to Carolina, while Vincent Brown has broken his ankle. However Rivers still has Malcolm Floyd to aim at and Robert Meachem arrives from New Orleans and Eddie Royal from Denver to help fill the gaps. Another injury concern is running back Ryan Matthews who broke his collarbone pre-season, but he shouldn’t be out for too long and, crucially, their exceptionally talented tight-end Antonio Gates is reported to have finally recovered from the foot-related injuries he has been dogged with for the past four seasons. Last year, Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller, the 2011 no. 2 overall draft pick, won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award after recording 11.5 sacks and San Diego will be hoping for a similar impact from rookie pass-rusher Melvin Ingram who arrived in the first round and 18th overall in the 2012 draft. This promise, allied to the quality of Rivers, Matthews and Gates, offers enough reason for optimism and if Manning fails to deliver in Denver, the Bolts are the team most likely to benefit.

Kansas City Chiefs – Last Season: 7-9 

7/2 (William Hill) to win division, 50/1 (Bet365 & William Hill) to win Super Bowl 

Kansas were the only team to beat the Packers in the regular season last year, but that was a highlight of a mediocre season in which they only scored over 20 points on four occasions. To be fair to the Chiefs, their 7-9 tally was probably a decent return considering the injuries suffered, with tight-end Tony Moeaki missing the entire season, safety Eric Berry lasting only one game and running back Jamaal Charles just two. Their return, along with the arrival of running back Peyton Hillis from Cleveland, offers hope - but there doesn’t look to be much depth on the offensive line and quarterback Matt Cassel looks vulnerable, so it would be a surprise to see them in postseason action.  

Oakland Raiders – Last Season: 8-8

13/2 (Bet365 & Stan James) to win division, 100/1 (Coral) to win Super Bowl 

The Raiders last won a Super Bowl in 1984 and haven’t reached the postseason in the 10 years since their their 21-48 mauling by Tampa Bay at Super Bowl XXXVII. Their current offense is one of the speediest in the league, with wide receivers Jacoby Ford, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, plus explosive running back Darren McFadden. But crucial to Oakland’s season will be keeping them fit, most notably McFadden, who missed 7 games last year and and has never played more than 13 games in any of his four NFL seasons. Quarterback Carson Palmer also has a decent offensive line which only allowed 25 sacks last season, the third-lowest amount in the league - not that surprising given that it includes the mammoth Jared Veldheer, a 6ft 8in, 320lb left tackle - but Palmer still threw 16 interceptions in his 10 games before also getting injured last year. Defensively, the Raiders need to improve dramatically against the pass and run - last season they ranked 29th in the league in run defense and so the wait looks likely to go on for the Men in Black

RECOMMENDED BET
MARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
Denver Broncos AFC West 15/8 William Hill
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San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl Winner 14/1 Ladbrokes & Paddy Power
Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl Winner 28/1
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Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl Winner 20/1
Sky Bet & William Hill
Houston Texans Super Bowl Winner 9/1
Sky Bet & Coral

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