After profits of more than 66 points last season, NFL expert David John reveals his picks for Super Bowl LII in Minnesota.
I am not quite sure what Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will do for an encore after February’s dramatic Super Bowl victory over Atlanta but they start the new campaign as clear favourites to defend their title.
You have to go back to 2004 and 2005 for the last team to repeat the trick – you guessed it, New England – as Brady and head coach Bill Belichick attempt to put a seal on creating the greatest football dynasty of the modern era with a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The time will come when Brady’s powers do start to dwindle so the trick for punters is trying to pre-empt that fateful day – and will it be this time around?
He turned 40 at the start of August but some fresh faces added over the summer should keep opposing defences on their toes, while a healthy Rob Gronkowski and blossoming relationship with wide receiver Chris Hogan can help negate the untimely loss through injury of Julian Edelman.
The defense relies more on efficient coaching than a rash of expensive free agents being paid big money but a couple of times last season they were seriously victimised through the air.
There is no evidence yet to suggest Brady does not retain the ability to keep on top of a situation and their long-term prospects rest very much on his shoulders – although holding on to classy back-up Jimmy Garropolo was a smart move just in case.
Miami improved enough to make it to the post-season but New England’s route to the play-offs has perennially been assisted by a weary AFC East and only twice since 2001 have they failed to come out on top in the division.
Buffalo and the New York Jets don’t seemingly pose much of a threat so the path looks relatively clear once more, hence a prohibitive quote of 1/10 - once New England hit January, they know the way to the Super Bowl from that point.
The journey remains long and arduous and though something like a 3-0 opening would see their odds collapse further, a general 4/1 quote is a pretty limited starting point even for a team with their pedigree.
Atlanta are four times the price to go one better after last season’s heartbreak and for three quarters of the Super Bowl they had the Patriots on toast.
In the immediate aftermath, I had the feeling that sort of implosion would be extremely tough to recover from but seven months is a long time to lick your wounds and more importantly, prepare as a team to go again.
The Falcons have retained the vast majority of their star names and a vibrant, hungry collection of players look well capable of another strong push for glory.
However, the recent record for Super Bowl runners-up is pretty dismal, while a consistently turbulent NFC South will be no pushover with a stronger challenge expected from Carolina and Tampa Bay.
The latter are one of my fancies to make a return to the post-season – more on that later – but the duo I like at the prices for outright glory are Seattle and the New York Giants.
It is fair to assume the Seahawks were not at their best in 2016 but a 10-5-1 record was good enough for top place in the NFC West and a berth in the play-offs.
They comfortably negotiated the first hurdle against Detroit but were then no match for Atlanta on the road and readily brushed aside 36-20 in Georgia.
That night in January saw all Seattle’s shortcomings ruthlessly exposed with quarterback Russell Wilson unable to give anymore having battled knee and ankle injuries all season, while the absence of Earl Thomas saw their secondary constantly sliced and diced by Matt Ryan.
Wilson is fully healthy once more so expect to see further death-defying acts of escapology in the pocket while Thomas is enjoying a new lease of life back on the football field having even considered quitting the game during his lengthy rehab from a broken leg.
His welcome return means a rebirth for the ‘Legion of Boom’ as one facet of a suffocating defense - which now has former New York Jet Sheldon Richardson in the ranks - on which they can lay the foundations for another title assault.
There remain question marks over the line in front of Wilson but head coach Pete Carroll has been happy enough with progress in pre-season.
That is not exactly a ringing endorsement but they are growing as a group and Wilson’s increased mobility to dodge the pass rush should see sack numbers drop from an unacceptable total of 42 last season.
Rather like New England, Seattle’s division is very winnable with them priced up at a best of 4/9 with Arizona still their closest rivals as the LA Rams and San Francisco go through a rebuilding phase.
The hostility of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field home towards visiting opposition arguably remains worth a touchdown at least so I like them to gut out a tough-looking regular season schedule in traditional Seahawks fashion and be alive and very much kicking moving into the new year.
I am putting my faith in the defensive side of the ball as well when it comes to the Giants.
The franchise spent big in the summer of 2016 to bring in a handful of high-quality free agents and the unit really started to come together in the final month of the campaign.
It all went a bit pear-shaped against Green Bay in the play-offs but this looks a tremendously dynamic group of players containing the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins to name just three.
"We have been ready to go since week one of pre-season," said Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins as he and his colleagues fired a warning shot by generating 16 points in the week three warm-up against the Jets.
Offensively, quarterback Eli Manning might still have a few years on Brady but won’t have too many more chances to add a third Super Bowl ring to his collection, while Brandon Marshall is a strong addition to the passing game opposite the unique talents of Odell Beckham Jr.
Manning still mixes big plays with howling errors and will need to seriously cut down on the latter but hopefully an improvement in the running game will help with a youthful Paul Perkins capable of a breakout season.
Betting on the Super Bowl at this stage never gets any easier with all the twists and turns ahead and plenty of scenarios eventually playing out in a totally unexpected manner.
So having referenced the Buccaneers earlier in the preview, I can see both them and Tennessee definitely moving in a positive direction and suggest backing them to make the play-offs rather than swell the outright Super Bowl staking plan.
Tampa Bay should certainly benefit from being in the second year of head coach Dirk Koetter’s system and have enough playmakers on the team headed by Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Lavonte David to make serious strides in the NFC South.
The Titans are in a similar situation with decent claims of shaking up their division following back-to-back wins for Houston.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is approaching his peak and has shown no signs of any lingering issue from a broken leg suffered late last season so his game should move to the next level with some extra quality in Nashville added to the passing game.
That has been the case too for the pass defense after a summer overhaul with Logan Ryan a fascinating recruit from New England to hopefully help set a stronger tone in an area that struggled in 2016.
Those more daring among you might want to roll the dice on the duo at bigger prices for the Super Bowl itself but that lack of recent post-season experience might ultimately see them gobbled up at some point in January.
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Posted at 0702 BST on 04/09/17.