The Christmas and New Year period is over, the NFL Regular Season has drawn to a close, and we now know the full picture for the playoffs schedule. For some teams, it is all over for another year, while for others, the real business in only now beginning.
The road to the Super Bowl
Super Bowl LII takes place on February 04 at US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis. It is the second time Minneapolis has hosted the NFL’s showcase event, the previous being Super Bowl XXVI, when the Redskins flew to a 24-0 lead over the Bills, before ultimately winning 37-24, in front of a crowd of 63,000 at the Metrodome, which stood on the same site and was demolished in 2013.
This year, an even larger crowd is expected, and with Justin Timberlake performing at half-time, the spectacle will, as usual, be one of the most-viewed TV sporting events on the planet. The question, however, is which teams will be taking to the field for the biggest prize of all?
The view from the bookmakers
As well as being one of the most widely viewed sporting events of the year, the Super Bowl also attracts millions of dollars in bets throughout the season from fans across the globe. European fans, in particular, love to bet on sports, and the NFL has achieved an international following that other US sports, such as baseball, hockey and basketball could only dream of. It is often said that for an objective view on who stands the biggest chance of success, the best person to ask is a bookmaker – so who do they see as being the favorites?
No team has dominated the NFL in quite the way the New England Patriots have over the past decade. They have featured in the AFC Championship match every year since 2011, winning three times, and are odds-on favorites to win the AFC, with most bookmakers offering odds of around 4/5. Tom Brady might be 40 now, but who would bet against him not just featuring, but winning a record 6th Super Bowl?
Steelers seeking vengeance
If any team can stop the Pats from reaching Minneapolis, Pittsburgh are the team to do it. Last year, they were outgunned in the AFC Championship Match at Foxborough, and they will be out for revenge. The defense is vastly improved over last year, so if all goes to form and the two teams meet up again to decide the AFC, expect a far more closely-fought encounter. The bookmakers’ view? Pittsburgh 5/2 to win the AFC and 6/1 to win the Super Bowl.
Home field advantage for the Vikings
No team has ever played in a Super Bowl on its home turf. Could the Vikings etch their place into NFL history by being the first to do so? Despite a marginally inferior regular season record to the Eagles, the bookmakers have Minnesota as warm favorites to win the NFC and make a little bit of Super Bowl history, with most offering odds around the 9/4 mark.
Eagles soaring again
Philadelphia have swept aside practically all opposition during the regular season, and until the Vikings’ remarkable run of form, were most punters’ top tip for squaring up against the Patriots in Minneapolis, in what would be a repeat of Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, one of the most memorable Super Bowls this century. The 4/1 odds on offer for the Eagles to make Super Bowl LII will look among the most tempting on offer, and are probably more of a draw than the 9/1 being offered on a win.
Best of the rest
In the AFC, it is very difficult to see past the Patriots and the Steelers. Those who are looking for an outside shot might be tempted to back Kansas City, but their recent history of perennially featuring in the playoffs but being unable to take it a step further counts against them. They are at 8/1 to make the Super Bowl and 16/1 to win it.
The view from the NFC, however, is far less clear-cut. While the Eagles and the Vikings are certainly favorites to meet for the right to play in the Super Bowl, both the Saints and the Rams will be confident that they can spoil the party. Intriguingly, many bookmakers have these teams at the same odds as Philadelphia, 4/1, to win the NFC title.
The eyes of the world
Last year, more than 111 million people across the globe tuned in to watch Super Bowl LI. This year, the number is likely to be higher still. The road to the Super Bowl starts right now, so get ready for a compelling month of playoff action.