Every year, the same question gets asked: which NFL teams are favored this season? Not just who will win the Super Bowl, but who will the top five or six teams be and, more importantly, why will they be at the top of the heap and not other team? Most importantly: what are that betting expectations for these favored teams? For the answer to at least that part of the question, you can turn to the great NFL lines from Sportbet.com. But let’s focus on the “why” factor.
According to USA Today, the top five teams during the 2014 season are expected to be (in order) the Denver Broncos, the Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Green Bay Packers. In looking at these teams, the one thing that jumps out at me are that they all have strong quarterbacks, with the Packers getting Aaron Rodgers back after being injured most of the 2013 season. We also see a combination of the “old guard” traditional NFL pocket passer quarterbacks (Tom Brady for the Patriots and Peyton Manning for the Broncos) against the new, “young guns” the running quarterbacks that seem to be dominating the league the past couple of seasons (Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers.) In between is Rodgers, a guy who was kind of a mix of the two, but after last season’s injury may be running a lot less this season.
There in lies the problem with predicting favorite NFL teams each season: not only is quarterback play more important than ever, it’s also much more dangerous. The Washington Redskins would have been a much better team in 2013 if quarterback Robert Griffin III had been 100% healthy after tearing an ACL in 2012. Same for the Tennessee Titans, who lost Jake Locker after only 7 games, and the Chicago Bears who lost Jake Cutler after only 5. In almost every instance, these young quarterbacks are getting hurt when they run with the ball, something they appear to be getting drafted to do, but also something that appears to be shortening their careers. Does that make sense to anyone else?
And yet, in a pass-happy league that saw a 2014 NFL draft that featured a record 12 wide receivers in the first two rounds, teams seem to be willing to sacrifice young quarterbacks to gain a few extra yards rushing. The argument may be that a quarterback who can run makes opposing defenses not focus exclusively on the passing game, but this could be the season that NFL teams finally catch up to the explosion in the air that has hatched over the past few years.
I do expect all five of these favorites to have great years. But don’t be surprised if one or more of them falter should their mobile quarterback suddenly become im-mobile.