NFL Super Bowl Predictions: The Favorite Pick and a Couple of Longshots Bets to Take
As far as futures bets go, the Super Bowl is one of the best. There’s plenty of turnover every season, but there are also teams we have a good idea will be right there in January. But then, sometimes, something wild happens.
The past three winners have all entered the season at +1000 or better, but just before them, the Eagles in 2017 were +4000 long shots. Most of the other Super Bowls in the 2010s have been won by teams considered among the favorites in the preseason, but from 2007-2012, no Super Bowl winner had +1000 preseason odds or shorter, per Pro-Football-Reference. Three teams in that stretch had +2000 or longer odds.
And even in recent seasons, we’ve had several runners-up who were long-shots but came up one game short. The Panthers were +6000 in the 2015 preseason and ultimately lost in the final game to the Broncos. The Falcons were +8000 in 2016, and we all know they were up 28-3 in the Super Bowl. The 49ers were +4000 in 2019 and led the Chiefs 20-10 through three quarters in that year’s Super Bowl.
Perhaps with the exception of last year, there has seemed to be a David vs. Goliath vibe in many recent Super Bowls. The Patriots were, of course, the Goliath in a number of those, while teams quarterbacked by guys like Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes have been others.
But those long shots give us reason to dig deeper. At the very least, identifying an upstart team who makes a legitimate run can provide some nice hedging opportunities as we get into January. So here’s my pick for the winner of Super Bowl LVI, followed by a couple of long-shot bets I like here in August.
Kansas City Chiefs +500
The AFC is deep and talented. The Bills are a forward-thinking team on the rise. I don’t buy the narrative that the Ravens can’t win in the playoffs with Lamar Jackson after a couple of rough outcomes in an incredibly small sample. The West division, in particular, is improving, with the Chargers having found a franchise quarterback and the Broncos seemingly solid QB play away from being a contender thanks to a deep skill-position group and a stout defense.
But I’m still taking the favorites, Kansas City.
The Chiefs are somewhat thin at the skill positions and could be in trouble if either Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce were to miss time. Their offensive line has been completely revamped and may need time to gel. Their defense boasts some playmakers, most notably Chris Jones on the defensive line, but isn’t a top-flight unit.
But they have Patrick Mahomes. They also have most of the same things going for them. Buffalo does, which is an aggressive mentality and a willingness to throw on early downs and in other non-obvious passing situations. The offensive line may need time to gel, but the talent they acquired is high level, and by midseason and beyond, this could be one of the best units in the league. It was no secret they were exposed upfront in the Super Bowl. Yet, it’s maybe going a bit under the radar how effectively they executed a clear offseason plan to address that issue, perhaps because it was so obviously going to be their approach.
Kansas City lost in the final game last year, a game in which they were outplayed but also saw a lot of the little things that influence football games go against them. There were a few uncharacteristic drops, penalties to extend drives, and a shanked first-half punt that set up a short field for Tampa Bay.
I don’t believe they were exposed in any way that will carry over to 2021. And now they’ve gotten better and specifically addressed their most noticeably problematic area from last year’s Super Bowl. Their two biggest competitors by odds, Tampa Bay and Buffalo, have minor concerns about repeating the levels of their success. The Chiefs are still the team to beat.
Seattle Seahawks +2500
Among the recent long-shots I mentioned in the intro, the vast majority have come from the NFC, and I’m looking there again. The Chiefs took over from the Patriots after New England’s long reign atop the conference, but the other top teams in the AFC are tough, too. So it’s hard to see where upstarts could break through.
But I’m not sold on Tampa repeating their success, despite how talented and deep their roster is. They got strong performances from several players on the wrong side of the age curve last year, and I mean Tom Brady might have discovered the literal Fountain of Youth, or perhaps age will eventually catch up with the recently-turned 44-year-old.
The NFC West is the most interesting division in football this year. The Rams have Matthew Stafford, the 49ers will likely play Trey Lance at some point, and Kyler Murray could continue to progress in Arizona. Meanwhile, there’s no way to characterize the past half-decade of Seahawks football as anything other than an abject failure — having a top-five quarterback in his prime is almost on its own enough to earn an annual playoff berth, so zero Conference Championship appearances and only two playoff wins over the past five years should I think to be judged more harshly than it has been.
But you can’t get the 49ers or the Rams at better than +1500 to win the Super Bowl, while Seattle’s +2500 (Risk $100 ton win $2500) number feels like an overreaction to those recent playoff failures. For him, Russell Wilson played poorly down the stretch in 2020 and wound up with a career-high 13 interceptions. But with a new offensive coordinator and perhaps a new approach on that side of the ball, it feels like the Seahawks are an excellent value bet this year, much in the way Green Bay was last year before Aaron Rodgers’ rebound 2020 season.
Washington Football Team +5500
If you’ve read my other preseason columns, you probably figured this was coming. Do I think Washington can actually win the Super Bowl? I don’t know. But they do look like other long-shots who have made runs, most specifically because of a potentially dominant defensive line.
Tampa Bay just reminded us a few months ago what an impressive front four can mean for a defense. That is a massive advantage in the modern (read: pass-heavy) NFL because it allows defenses to keep seven players in coverage. Both Giants championships in 2007 and 2011 came at longer than 20/1 preseason odds, and both were built on the strength of their front four. The Broncos in 2015 were among the preseason favorites, thanks largely to the presence of Peyton Manning. Still, after he hit a wall during the regular season, they ultimately won the title on the strength of their defensive line, with Von Miller winning Super Bowl MVP.
Washington plays in one of the weaker divisions in football. I’m on them to outperform modest expectations because I believe Ryan Fitzpatrick — despite the interceptions — has become a better quarterback later in his career than he gets credit for. Washington has added playmaking talent, and while their offensive line is a concern with two new tackles, there are scenarios where their offense is an above-average group.
Those scenarios don’t seem to be baked into this price at all because their defense might be fantastic. However, I expect this +5500 (Risk $100 to win $5500) number to at least halve at some point this season, so in that regard, I’m happy to get in at this price. The question of whether they can play well enough to contend for the all-important top seed in the NFC is a trickier one. Still, even if they are playing on Wild Card weekend, teams like the Giants and Bucs have shown us over the past 15 years that to make a run from there to a Super Bowl title, a fearsome front four is a great start.