Betting: The NFL’s top four seeds are resting and ready to make a Super Bowl push

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the NFL’s likely MVP.
Photo: John Bazemore/AP

Four years ago, the Baltimore Ravens prevailed in four consecutive NFL Playoff games to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. No team to reach the Super Bowl since has needed to play in more than three games. This weekend’s four wild-card games are a great way to include more teams in the postseason and usher in excitement, but they usually don’t matter in the bigger picture.

In the 26 years since the NFL expanded to 12 playoff teams, only seven teams that played on wild-card weekend have won the championship.

So while gamblers should enjoy this weekend as an extra opportunity to bet on games, for a long-term investment it’s probably wiser to begin considering the four teams resting before starting their playoff journeys in next week’s divisional round.

Here’s a closer look at how each of the top four seeds in the playoffs could win the Super Bowl along with their current odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

New England Patriots (plus-130) For Tom Brady to surpass Joe Montana and win a fifth Super Bowl ring, the Patriots don’t need to do anything differently than they’ve done during the regular season, when New England was the one truly outstanding team in the league.

The seemingly ageless Brady, 39, threw for the lowest touchdown-to-interception ratio and the second-highest passer rating of his career (though, in fairness, he was suspended four games to start the season). The Patriots outscored opponents by an average of 12 points per game, and from a betting perspective, joined last year’s Minnesota Vikings as the only team over the past 13 years to post a 13-3 against the spread record.

Dallas Cowboys (plus-400) The easy thing to say America’s Team needs to do to win its first Super Bowl in 21 years is avoid the Giants. New York was the only team to beat the full-strength Cowboys this year, and the Giants did it twice, and if New York can upset Green Bay on Sunday, it will force a third matchup with Dallas.

Still, a total of four points decided the previous two games between the Cowboys and Giants, so it’s not as if New York would have some monumental advantage. Dallas should be more worried about its defense, which was mediocre most of the year and specifically struggled against the pass. The Cowboys appeared to improve on defense over the final month of the season—giving up only 4.6 yards per play to rank among the NFL’s top five— and will need to keep moving in that direction to win the title.

Kansas City Chiefs (plus-1,000) The consensus on the Chiefs is that they’re solid in every area but spectacular in none. That’s a major misconception. While it’s true that Kansas City was only slightly above average on both offense and defense, it had far and away the league’s best special teams.

Rookie Tyreek Hill—who graduated from West Alabama, the same Division II college as Super Bowl 49 hero Malcolm Butler of the Patriots—led the league with 15 yards per punt return and two touchdowns. And Cairo Santos was one of the most reliable kickers in the league, ranking fifth with 88.6 percent of field-goal attempts made. There’s hidden value in special teams, and the Chiefs need to keep uncovering it to give themselves a real chance at the Super Bowl.

Atlanta Falcons (plus-1,200) Outscore everyone. That’s a fail-safe plan to win the Super Bowl, and one the Falcons might be uniquely capable of employing. Atlanta hasn’t gotten enough praise for the effectiveness of its offense. The Falcons averaged 6.7 yards per play on the season, the highest mark of any team in the past five years, and they scored 540 points, tied for the seventh-most of all-time.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Steelers’ “big three”—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell—but Atlanta’s trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman might be even better. Ryan is the favorite to win the MVP award after leading the league at 9.26 yards per attempt, more than a full yard better than Brady.

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