With the divisional playoffs set to get underway this weekend, there is no clear favorite to win the 2016 Super Bowl. Eight teams are still vying for a championship, and most of them have a realistic chance to win the title.
Four teams have Super Bowl odds ranging from +425 to +550, via Bovada.lv, giving this year’s playoffs more parody than there has been in recent postseasons. The path to the Super Bowl seemed much more clear-cut at this time last year when the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks had +210 odds to win a second straight Super Bowl, and the New England Patriots’ title odds stood at +333.
The NFC is almost considered to be a tossup among three of the four playoff teams. The Arizona Cardinals (+425) have the best Super Bowl odds, and they are giving the visiting Green Bay Packers (+1000) seven points on Saturday in a rematch of a contest that saw Arizona win by 30 points. But the Cardinals would face a tough matchup in the NFC Championship, having to visit the No.1 seed Carolina Panthers or host the red-hot Seahawks (+550).
The outlook in the AFC is somewhat clearer. The Patriots (+425) have the best Super Bowl odds, and they are the best team in the conference. But they’ll have to deal with a Kansas City Chiefs team on Saturday that has won 11 games in a row, and they might have to play the AFC Championship on the road. The No.1 seed Denver Broncos are 7.5-point favorites over the Pittsburgh Steelers (+1200), who will be without superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown.
While it appears that almost every team has a legitimate chance to reach Super Bowl 50, the Panthers and Patriots have the edge in the NFC and AFC. When healthy, they’ve proven to be the best teams in their respective conferences.
New England failed to get the No.1 seed in the AFC because of four losses in their final six games, but the Steelers might upset Peyton Manning and the Broncos, putting the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots' defeats came when the team wasn’t at full strength. Hampered by injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chandler Jones, among others, it’s not hard to see why New England ended the regular season on a losing streak. All of those players are back for the playoffs, and the Patriots easily have the conference’s best quarterback and head coach in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Carolina has been the NFL’s best team all season long, and there’s little reason to believe that won’t continue in the playoffs. Experts and the betting public have doubted the Panthers because of their lack of big-name playmakers, but that hasn’t slowed down the NFC’s No.1 seed one bit. Home-field advantage against the Cardinals, Seahawks or Packers is only a small reason they should outlast the field. Carolina cruised to a division title, but should get more serious in the playoffs.
Top to bottom, the Panthers are the most balanced team in the league. Carolina’s defense ranks sixth in football, and linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman are probably the best players at their respective positions. Brady has certainly had the better career than Cam Newton, but the MVP frontrunner has been the NFL’s top quarterback this season, helping the Panthers score more points than any other team.
Prediction: Expect Newton and Co. to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara on Feb. 7.