In July, we laid out a list of what the betting odds were looking like for the top quarter of the NFL: the eight teams that were getting the friendliest lines from the gambling heads in Las Vegas. There’s a big difference, though, between the middle of the summer — when training camp has yet to start, the draft has just ended, and every team is on equal footing — and the first few weeks of the season, when the wheat and the chaff start to separate.
Take for example the Chicago Bears. Two months ago they had the seventh safest line, given 16-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, meaning that if you bet $10 on them in July, a successful prediction would have nabbed you $160. Now they’re getting significantly less love from the sports books: At 50-1, that same $10 from July would net you $500 if the Bears won.
Remember, the odds are designed to get you to bet. Vegas isn’t putting these lines out as a way for you to win money — they’re trying to get you to give them cash that you won’t get back. Perversely, this makes the safe bets considerably more honest than a lot of the other analysis out there. All odds are courtesy of Bovada.
5. New Orleans Saints, 12-1
While their odds may be artificially dampened until the line setters can determine if the Louisiana squad will have to play outside of a dome on their way to a Super Bowl victory (too soon?), the Saints still have a safer chance of making the big game than the Falcons, who are 40-1 right now despite the fact that Atlanta took the first game over the Saints. This is probably because most people think the Saints are better than the Falcons, and they’re probably not wrong.
4. New England Patriots, 11-1
Likewise, the Pats have a much safer line than the Miami Dolphins — like the Falcons, the Dolphins are also 40-1 — despite coming up short against the Florida team on Sunday. In a related note, the Pats have the longest-tenured and most respected (behind the ESPN Insider wall) head coach in the league, and the fact that Belichick has been able to put together a viable offense and defense with little more than glue and paper sticks has got to be weighing on these odds.
3. San Francisco 49ers, 8-1
That photograph above was taken at the Super Bowl earlier this year, which means that this Niners fan wound up in New Jersey to support her team’s non-return to football’s biggest stage. The 49ers have to be considered likely contenders, though, since they made it to the final game in 2013 and were denied a repeat trip this year by the eventual champion Seahawks — all the while getting appreciably better.
2. Denver Broncos, 9-2
The best offense in the NFL last season came roaring out of the gates in its opening game against the Colts, winning 31-24. As Peyton Manning closes in on the all-time record for passing touchdowns — he needs just 14 more — the Broncos will remain a safe line until and unless they completely collapse. They were one of the two teams to make it all the way last year, after all.
1. Seattle Seahawks: 7-2
Which is exactly why the Seahawks are at the top of this list: Despite the relative rarity of a repeating Super Bowl champion, they opened the 2014 season by reminding everyone just how dominant they are. You’re not going to see odds that treat the ‘Hawks as anything other than one of the most dominant teams in the league until they start losing.