We have reached the halfway point of the biggest NFL season ever and Paul Higham provides an NFL update on how the markets have been shaped by the action so far.
Nine weeks down and nine to go as the longest NFL season yet reaches the halfway point, and although we can rule out a host of sides already there’s still everything to play for with the road to the Super Bowl looking wide open.
Some teams have been surprisingly impressive, some have been huge disappointments and some have flipped-flopped between the two, but the big takeaway from the first half of the season is just how competitive the league is, as was summed up beautifully in week nine as the NFL took their “any given Sunday” mantra almost too far.
There were shocks galore, most notably the Jacksonville Jaguars beating the previously all-powerful Buffalo Bills, while the Dallas Cowboys were completely dominated by the Denver Broncos – who has just traded away their best defensive player.
28 games so far have been decided in the last minute of the match, with 21 of those being decided on the very last play of the game, so contests have never been tighter, and the battle for play-off places is really hotting up – especially in the AFC.
12 of the 16 AFC teams have at least four wins, while that number falls to just eight in the NFC and the seven play-off teams will most likely come from those eight sides. The AFC really does look like anyone’s game!
Let’s take a look how things stand on the road to the Super Bowl after the first half of the season, along with the main contenders for the coveted MVP award.
Where is your favorite team in the standings? pic.twitter.com/mVvrNMPpyN
— NFL (@NFL) November 9, 2021
NFC Dominating Super Bowl Betting
The NFC has the stronger teams with four of the top five in the Super Bowl betting led by defending champions Tampa Bay (6/1 joint-favourites) who got a whole lot better without playing last week as the likes of the Rams, Packers, Cowboys and Bills all lost.
That’s four genuine Super Bowl contenders taking a big ‘L’ that only serves to bolster Tom Brady’s chances of going back-to-back for the second time in his incredible career and winning an eighth ring. They’ll need to get healthy especially in defence though.
Arizona are probably the best team in football right now, having lost just once to the Packers, and winning last week without star QB Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins. You’d only say Dallas and the Rams were their remaining big games and they’ve won with shootouts and ugly defensive displays.
They’re a well-rounded team with quality everywhere and are only as big as 9/1 because of the inexperience of their quarterback and head coach. If they can both keep it together they’ll make a huge push for the title.
The Green Bay Packers (10/1) couldn’t win without Aaron Rodgers last week but their defensive display against the Chiefs was still a plus point. That could be crucial as only two poor defensive efforts in the last two NFC Championship games have prevented them from getting to the Super Bowl.
This remains a team good enough to win it all, and get Rodgers back without too many problems following coronavirus and they’ll walk their division. They have Rodgers, the best receiver in the league in Davante Adams and a strong-arm running back combination in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Continued defensive improvement could get them over the hill.
Speaking of defences, and the Los Angeles Rams (15/2) made theirs even better by trading for Von Miller, and there’s still a huge chance that for the second year running the team hosting the Super Bowl will also be playing in it come February.
Matthew Stafford will have to shake off a stinker from last week, but in receiver Cooper Kupp he has a surprising star who is the first player since Jerry Rice to eclipse 1,000 yards and scored 10 TDs in the first nine games. Stafford’s ability to cut out the mistakes when it comes to the play-offs is the big question mark here.
The Dallas Cowboys (12/1) remain legitimate contenders despite being humbled by Denver last week in Dak Prescott’s return from injury. If he stays fit he’ll be in the MVP conversation and the Cowboys will stay in the Super Bowl reckoning. The offence is loaded, the defence isn’t quite convincing yet though – they’ll likely come up short.
Wildcards And Dark Horses
New Orleans Saints (5-3), Atlanta Falcons (4-4), Carolina Panthers (4-5), Seattle Seahawks (3-5), Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
There’s always a chance in the NFL if a team gets on a run at play-off time they can sneak in and take everyone by surprise, but the top dogs here just look too strong all-round for that to happen in the NFC this season.
The top five contenders will definitely make it so we’re looking at two wildcard spots, with the Saints most likely to nab one thanks to their defense – but without a decent starting QB, it’ll be an uphill battle to win a play-off game.
Don’t be surprised if a three-win team such as Minnesota, Seattle or San Francisco nab that final spot, and they’ll give anyone a game on their day but it’s one from the top four in the betting who will win the NFC.
AFC A Wide Open Affair
There’s not been a more impressive run in the NFL this season than the Tennessee Titans (12/1) beating the Bills, Chiefs, Colts and Rams all in a row – especially with that last win in Los Angeles coming just after losing star running back Derrick Henry.
They’ve signed legendary veteran Adrian Peterson and wouldn’t that just be a story if he found himself in a Super Bowl. Whether they can cover Henry’s production and whether their defence can keep up their recent rampaging run are the big questions.
Josh Allen has at times played like an MVP candidate for the AFC favourite Buffalo Bills (6/1), but they’ve not been convincing at other times and although they’ve got a balanced and talented squad there’s a nagging doubt about whether they can see this through. They’re certainly not looking like joint-favourites to win the Super Bowl right now.
Thrilling divisional battles are the reason so many AFC teams are involved here and it promises to go right down to the wire in both the AFC West and AFC North – where the Baltimore Ravens (11/1) lead and could have the best player in football in Lamar Jackson.
Baltimore do face a brutal end to the season though, with five divisional games in their last seven – with the other two being against two NFC favourites the Packers and Rams. With that schedule, they could be a team to oppose in the betting.
The Cincinnati Bengals (60/1) battered the Ravens in Baltimore but then lost to the Jets and Browns. They have a talented QB-receiver partnership in Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase and can put the frighteners on anyone, but the lack of consistency is a worry.
The Cleveland Browns (30/1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (50/1) are big prices for teams with proven talent and experience. Cleveland can run the ball as good as anyone and have a lively defence, while Pittsburgh have a Super Bowl-winning coach and QB and even more talent on the defensive side.
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (12/1) have made the last two Super Bowls but you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who’d be certain of them making it three in a row this season. The defence has been a shambles and Mahomes has been turning the ball over like it’s going out of fashion.
If their offense finally clicks then it’s a different story, but right now there’s a serious chance they won’t make the play-offs at all as they’re embroiled in a dogfight of a division with the Raiders and Chargers both above them and the Broncos on the same record.
You’d have to rule Denver and Las Vegas out of any kind of serious Super Bowl consideration, but the Los Angeles Chargers (20/1) have the tools to challenge if they can just muscle-up on defence, especially against the run.
Wildcards And Dark Horses
Bill Belichick has mostly been the hunted and not the hunter, but he’s starting to get a tune out of his New England Patriots (40/1) team now with three straight wins behind an improving defense and strengthening run game.
He’s letting rookie QB Mac Jones find his feet, they’ve won four in a row on the road and they face divisional rivals Buffalo twice in December – don’t rule them out of causing a big upset and winning the AFC East at 7/2.
The Indianapolis Colts (60/1) have a losing record but a team built for winning. They have the league’s leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor and a QB in Carson Wentz who is capable of entering elite status when things fall into place.
They’re a prime dark horse candidate in an AFC that looks as open as we’ve seen for some time.
Tom Brady has more TD's in his 40s than in his 20s… he's 44. 🐐 pic.twitter.com/dp300E9jyB
— NFL Canada (@NFLCanada) November 5, 2021
The MVP Race Is Wild
Derrick Henry’s injury means you have to be looking at a QB to lift this award yet again with Josh Allen and Tom Brady joint-favorites at 7/2 to win the MVP. You’d have to back Brady here as he went into his bye week leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns and with the Bucs likely to win their division and battle it out for the top seed in the NFC.
Reputation certainly matters in anything being voted for, and Brady gets the column inches as well as a high volume of throws he’s being asked to make – ensuring his numbers will remain strong through the season.
Aaron Rodgers (12/1) has the Packers right up there and is still at a high level even if not as good as he was when winning the MVP last season. He missed last week after contracting Covid and although missing a game doesn’t rule him out of the running, the manner of him sitting out and the vaccine controversy around it mean he’s unlikely to be voted for this time around.
Again, we’ve got to remember the human aspect in any kind of sporting vote.
Matthew Stafford had a shocker against the Titans but he still leads the league in a lot of advanced passing metrics, and he’s on a strong LA Rams team with plenty of history behind him from his days slinging passes everywhere even on bad Detroit teams.
He’s 13/2 but also has the human factor of toiling away with the Lions for years before getting a big move to a contender. The NFL loves a storyline and those voting will all know what Stafford’s been through – if he gets back on track right away those odds will tumble.
Dak Prescott (9/1) also needs a response but as Dallas Cowboys QB all eyes are on him – even more so with at least five primetime or big-audience games left to play. He could well get the Comeback Player of the Year award though instead.
Kyler Murray (11/2) has been excellent with his arm and his legs, as has Lamar Jackson (10/1) and if they can both keep their teams winning and keep gaining yards on the ground then it could be a straight shootout between those two as the leading dual-threat QBs in the league.