Motivated Packers the pick
David John reckons Green Bay can make amends for last season's play-off exit by winning Super Bowl XLVII.
- Related Content
4pts Green Bay to win the Super Bowl at 13/2 (Coral, William Hill, BetVictor).
2pts Houston to win the Super Bowl at 12/1 (Bodog).
It is reasonable to argue that perhaps the best team in the National Football League does not always win the Super Bowl.
2011 was an extremely good case in point as a 15/1 Green Bay looked head and shoulders above any other organisation during the regular season only to crash out to eventual winners the New York Giants in the divisional round of the play-offs.
But at 13/2, the Packers look a backable price at the head of the betting to make amends and secure a second Vince Lombardi trophy in the space of three years.
Having marched to that 15-1 tally, smashing records along the way, there was ultimately a feeling of disappointment in Titletown. But now the dust has settled and the statistics are consigned to the history books, that failure to get the job done will surely become extra motivation.
Green Bay will not necessarily have to produce such eye-popping numbers on offence or win as many games in the grand scheme of things but as long as the lessons from last season have been taken on board, it is difficult not seeing them having a major say in proceedings come New Orleans next February.
The whole system starts with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and last year's NFL MVP is now entering his prime years at the age of 28 - which means there could be even more to come.
That could be hard to believe from a player who threw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions in 2011 while there was every chance he would have joined the rash of players to break 5,000 passing yards for the campaign had he not been rested in the week 17 clash with Detroit.
"I still think I can play even better than last year," he said in a recent interview and he currently sets the standard in a league chock-full of high-class quarterbacks.
His figures are matched only by his tremendous leadership in the huddle while a supporting cast of receivers which include Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley all return to give the unerringly accurate Rodgers an array of options downfield.
There are areas though that the Packers must improve on. The stellar play of Rodgers masked a weak running game that ranked just 27th in the league but the addition of free agent Cedric Benson and more productivity from James Starks would be a major boost in this department.
In addition, coaches are predicting big things from 2011 third-round draft pick Alex Green, who missed all of his rookie season with a torn ACL, so there looks like being an upgrade on the ground at the very least.
The Packers were little short of awful defensively, again somewhat lost in the haze of Rodgers putting up so many points on the other side of the ball.
Team officials have gone a fair way to addressing this issue with their first four picks in April's draft all being spent on defensive players so Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels and Casey Hayward will be expected to contribute from a very early stage.
Co-ordinator Dom Capers must aim to get the unit back in the upper echelons of the league again with stalwarts Clay Mathews and BJ Raji required to find their best form once more.
So to the bottom line, it is in Rodgers we trust to take his side to the promised land again.
Having tipped Houston 12 months as possible dark horses for a run at the Super Bowl, the Texans claims looks more obvious this time around but remain worth a second glance at 12/1.
Their prospects had looked promising at 7-3 but quarterback Matt Schaub went down for the remainder of the campaign with a foot problem and then immediately lost back-up Matt Leinart at Jacksonville to a shoulder injury.
They did enough to win the AFC South behind TJ Yates and also secured a first play-off victory before some elementary errors led to their downfall at Baltimore rather than being outplayed.
Schaub has recovered from surgery to look sharp in pre-season and the young, hungry Texans could be on the verge of an even stronger showing.
Unlike the Packers, Houston run a balanced offense with a running game to compliment the deep passing threat.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate are a dynamic combination with the former rewarded for two strong seasons of play at an elite level with a contract worth over $40 million.
Schaub's main target remains Andre Johnson but he has suffered his own injury issues over the past couple of years and is not getting any younger at 31.
That said, he remains a handful for defenses to deal with while the Texans have drafted a DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin to help take some of the pressure away.
It is defensively though where Houston made great strides last year with the arrival of veteran co-ordinator Wade Phillips as he turned a unit from a virtual laughing stock into one of the most effective in the league.
Such was the progress, the organisation felt able to trade defensive end Mario Williams to Buffalo as a youthful group headed by Connor Barwin, JJ Watt and Brooks Reed flourished.
In a similar way to Green Bay, there are areas to be tightened up on after last season's experiences but I have no doubt this is a team moving in the right direction and are capable shaking up some of the familiar names in the AFC.