Future betting odds for potential Super Bowl winners are always set way in advance, and the talk of NFL quarterbacks adding to or creating their legacy is widely scattered and plentiful. Until now, I’ve never done this, and probably won’t again until next year’s post-season because sooner is pointless and mostly for entertainment purposes (including Las Vegas entertaining its bottom line). Pointless because of constant change. Just a month ago, this article would likely have been half as lengthy and positioned much different.
Speaking of different, Las Vegas and I have differed most of the season in opinion as to who will be crowned NFL Champions. Now that it matters, and with quarterbacks receiving most of the credit, here’s my opinion on which QBs currently have the best chance to advance to and win Super Bowl 50 to add to the wealth of information already at your fingertips:
With the above graphic I feel like the kindergarten teacher about to ask, “which one doesn’t belong?” However, that would be too easy an answer because not only does one quarterback not belong in a picture representing the last four NFL teams left standing in the race to claim the 2015/16 crown and accompanying hardware, but this very same quarterback doesn’t even reside in the top 20 in yards thrown (this season), in the top 30 in TDs thrown and total fantasy points, or in the top 50 in games active. Hell, if you’re reading this while waking up in a mental stupor that rivals the everyday-at-noon state of…oh, let’s say, Adam “Pacman” Jones and haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll break this down a bit further and add; this particular quarterback’s QBR is more than 10 points below NFL misfit Johnny Manziel’s, who himself is below others like Nick Foles, TJ Yates, Mark Sanchez, and Geno Smith, to name a few. In fact, (being one interception shy of throwing twice as many INTs as TDs) this man who does not belong is facing a QB this weekend that has thrown more TDs in [this man’s home stadium] than the man himself has ALL SEASON LONG…and sure, Pacman, he’s probably been faking it all this time because here he is showing up to play in Sunday’s Championship game anyway.
PEYTON MANNING versus New England Patriots
Yes, yes, it’s true, this is the guy whose 2015 stats say he doesn’t belong, but before you go running out to pawn a favorite diamond ring to bet the ‘sure thing,’ Mr. Betting Mann, please read on.
First, and the most simplistic thing to consider is the ol’ expression, ‘defense wins championships.’ Personally, I’ve always thought that quote is incomplete and I would rephrase it more accurately though less catchy, ‘great defenses with at least a mediocre offense wins championships,’ or in the case of the 2000 Champion Baltimore Ravens, ‘superior defenses win championships, period.’ This year’s Denver Broncos defense is the top-rated unit in the NFL. It is not superior, but it is great and the Broncos have capable talent on offense. The defense finished the season tied at the top with Carolina in average yards per pass, and among the remaining teams they lead in passing TDs given up. The unit also lead in average yards per run. Tom Brady threw 42 passes against the Chiefs last week by design. He also threw 42 passes in that week 12 defeat that knocked his team from the ranks of the undefeated (30-24 against Denver), and you can probably expect close to the same this week with Edelman back. Food for thought: Brady threw 3 touchdown passes in that first season match-up, but only one came after halftime adjustments.
Second, Peyton did not throw an INT last week. And third, Peyton did not throw an INT last week. There were a few dropped balls, and Peyton missed a few targets (like one particular pass to Demaryius Thomas that would likely have been a score), but considering that was his first extended play in quite some time, I give the man a pass. Manning didn’t quarterback the week 12 win, but I expect Denver’s brain trust to insert him into a similar game plan, giving him less ‘say’ than before, now that head coach Kubiak had success without him and with a somewhat mid-level replacement at best, and especially after out-coaching the great Bill Belichick in that contest. A good thing because the running game is now as important as who is quarterbacking. CJ Anderson ran for 113 yards on just 15 carries (a 7.2 avg) and 2 TDs, while Ronnie Hillman added another ground score (and a 4.2 avg). The Patriots aren’t built to stop the run, and now hurt at the linebacker position. If Peyton can be content to fit into Kubiak’s mold, he has as good a chance (or better) to face life without NFL football on top as Brady has of winning back-to-back championships. The man may not belong, but isn’t this just like the football gods? Would it not make a better storyline? And do you really want a legend we were all blessed to have witnessed go out any other way?
Odds of Peyton Manning advancing to and winning the 2015/16 Super Bowl: 7/2
TOM BRADY versus Denver Broncos
“Blasphemy!” I can hear it being shouted in the Greater Boston area, extending to all of Massachusetts and outwards towards anyone a fan of fashion magazines. But remember, I said ‘odds to reach and win the Super Bowl,’ not to lose it, so here is my unbiased two-cents input on Tom Terrific.
Belichick’s game plan last week was that the Patriots pass early and often. I doubt that changes because it’s the only chance the Patriots have to advance, let’s be frank. LeGarrette Blount had 27 yards on 9 carries (a 3.0 avg) in that first match-up and led all N.E. rushing. Now Steven Jackson (LeGarrette’s equal at this point of his career) takes his role, so no sense going there. Tom Brady has Julian Edelman back and this is key. Rob Gronkowski probably doesn’t score two touchdowns against the Chiefs without Edelman. In fact, the Patriots are undefeated this season when he is healthy.
With that said, the Patriots can and probably will win this weekend’s championship round if just two things happen: #1 Belichick leaves his balls on the field, so to speak. This means dare to be more creative with the game plan, especially in the second half. Running back Brandon Bolden was the second-leading receiver in that last game with only 4 receptions. His targets should be increased because he can do what Edelman likely won’t, which is break off the big gain on any given play (a 21-yard avg by air vs Denver week 12). Receiver Keshawn Martin’s presence has increased a bit since week 12’s 1 target/1 catch asking, and may prove more reliable than Brandon LaFell. #2 Belichick must turn the tables on Kubiak. Bill was noticeably out-coached last game, and especially with time management. In addition, Kubiak has better overall talent on his team in nearly every category except quarterback. Denver outplayed New England (433 to 301 total yards), out managed New England (36.31 to 25.57 time of possession), Out-1st downed New England (23 to 16), out-rushed New England (179 to 39), while passing for only 8 fewer yards on 16 more total plays (77 to 61)…and still only lost by one score in OT. This is how important the position of quarterback is, and why Tom Brady is the best QB to grace a football field in well over two decades. If the Patriots lose, look elsewhere. It won’t be Tom’s fault.
Odds of Tom Brady advancing to and winning the 2015/16 Super Bowl: 7/2
Carson Palmer versus Carolina Panthers
A month ago this section would be worded differently, but Tyrann Mathieu tore an ACL and suddenly the Cardinals are more vulnerable than at any point of the 2015 season. The 3rd-year free safety and dynamic star defensive playmaker was on his way to the Pro Bowl and was heavily discussed for Defensive Player of the Year recognition. It’s hard to find a more important non-quarterback player to his team in the NFL this season. The way in which he was utilized makes him a near-impossible player to replace, as indicated by this: In the 4 previous games in which he started, the Cardinals allowed a total of 53 points for a near-average of 14 points a game, with none over 20 points. In the 3 games since his injury, they’ve allowed 64 points for a average of over 21 points a game, and two were in the 30s.
This is about quarterbacks’ odds, but my point is, Arizona’s defense was ‘great’ (see Peyton’s section on defenses), now it’s a mere ‘very good’ at its best. This hurts Palmer and the Cardinals because the remaining teams are [arguably] better than Seattle has been overall — two of the three others are definitely better at scoring points — and the Panthers, as Seattle discovered, are considerably better than most of the league at creating havoc.
And still, Carson Palmer’s chances to win his first Super Bowl ring increase if he can avoid the sacks and hits, having enough time to pick’n choose from his many weapons. This most certainly includes running back David Johnson, who is now the second most important component after Larry Fitzgerald. And speaking of Fitzgerald, who up to this season did not care to play the slot, the Cardinals do not win last week or this week without his experience and smarts, and the slot allows him to use every ounce of knowledge. You barely heard from the ‘speedsters’ of the team because speed is not a talent without smarts. Fitzgerald had his best game as a pro, in my opinion, and will need another great game…but the ‘Red Sea’ has enough sharks to overcome should that Norman fella become a pain in Larry’s backside.
One major flaw I must point out is the other side of head coach Bruce Arians. In last week’s game, the one in which the Cardinals starring coach Arians tried to hand to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on a silver platter, Bruce Arians made me have flashbacks of that first Brady/Belichick-era Super Bowl victory versus the Greatest Show on Turf. A game the Rams were heavily favored to win, a game they should have won, and a game the Rams would have won if ex-coach Dick Vermeil had still been in charge. Offensive coordinator-turned-head coach Mike Martz was so blatantly arrogant with his game plan due to having weapons galore that I doubt he even considered in-game adjustments. Belichick did, and in the second half the Patriots physically abused any and all offensive weapons with or without the ball until the speed and crispness subsided. Coach Arians nearly blew the game last week with the same exact arrogance choosing not to use the clock to his advantage. As great as he’s been, it is now time for him to become a full-time head coach…or become a spectator like us, watching the Super Bowl on TV.
Odds of Carson Palmer advancing to and winning the 2015/16 Super Bowl: 4/1
Cam Newton versus Arizona Cardinals
An offense with no healthy receivers considered to be WR1s or even WR2s, and only a second-tier level tight end, running back and quarterback at the start of the season is not supposed to be in the hunt for an NFL championship, and yet, here we are discussing such a team in the Carolina Panthers. Why is that? Two words: Cam and Newton.
Of all the chatter here and everywhere about quarterbacks and reasons why this and reasons why that, Cam appears to defy all NFL logic. Let’s face it, if he’d chose to dedicate his physical gift to the NBA, LeBron would not be king — Imagine Kobe Bryant in his prime with 30 additional pounds and still Kobe. I, as well as many, have had to either alter or amend our opinions of this once-considered-overrated 1st-overall pick during the 2015, his 5th season. Suddenly, the light bulb all quarterbacks need to turn on to become great has turned into a Broadway stage spotlight. And yes, he is now in the biggest spotlight of his life on sport’s biggest stage. But can he succeed?
Hell yeah! The Panthers are the league’s highest-scoring team, and not because of any other reason more than the emergence of Cam. They have the same starting running back and fewer weapons. Tight end Greg Olsen has not morphed into Tony Gonzalez either. The defense has stepped up but is not a superpower in itself as yet. No, the main reason Carolina is the NFC favorite to win the Super Bowl is glaring but simple, and in ex-Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s recent words regarding Cam, “He was a great athlete playing quarterback. Now he is a great quarterback who also happens to be a great athlete.”
Perfectly said, and many experts have now openly praised Newton’s new-found pocket awareness/willingness to ‘stand and deliver’, improved accuracy and ability to read coverages. However, I’m throwing this possible dimension out there and let the chips fall where they may, Cam Newton became a better quarterback because of Steve Smith’s absence. Do hear me out…
Before the 2015 NFL free agency period (or one year ago), Carolina Panthers GM Dave Gettleman referred to his previous year’s off-season maneuvers (or lack of) as ‘shopping in the dollar store,’ and despite his vaguely expressed intentions to do a bit more, the Panthers did nothing more than cross the street to shop at Kmart. They were poorly graded in this area, and the best perceived acquisition was the good-but-often-injured mid-30s cornerback Charles Tillman. Depending on the 2014 Rookie of the Year candidate Kelvin Benjamin to fill the void of losing a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver like Smith, they added 2nd-round draft pick Devin Funchess and the fast but disappointing Ted Ginn to their receiving corp. Cam Newton seeing the writing on the wall after previously pleading with Steve Smith to not retire has led to his putting the Panther world squarely on his own shoulders, excepting the responsibility and to his credit, responding tremendously to that pressure. He’s made the Panthers his team, and although many players have stepped up and the GM’s posturing has mostly worked out due to excellent teaching, coaching and young talent, Cam is the main reason the Panthers are poised for top billing in 2015.
Odds of Cam Newton advancing to and winning the 2015/16 Super Bowl: 3/1
NFL SUPER BOWL 50 FUTURE ODDS (posted at vegasinsider.com):
Patriots @ 2/1 – Panthers @ 11/5 – Cardinals @ 7/2 – Denver Broncos @ 4/1