The NFL playoffs are just around the corner, with all six AFC playoff teams already accounted for going into the final week of the 2016 NFL regular season. Just two NFC playoff spots have yet to be decided and some playoff seeding needs to be finalized, but we are otherwise extremely close to knowing the entire playoff picture that will lead to Super Bowl 51.

It could end up being a wild ride, or the oddsmakers could look like geniuses. As expected, the two teams with the best records in the league – the Patriots and Cowboys – lead the way with the best Super Bowl odds. However, with an increase in wild card teams making deep playoff runs and top seeds rarely battling it out in the big game, it’s fair to wonder which sleeper teams could be the best bets to run the table.

Super Bowl 51 Odds

  • Patriots +190
  • Cowboys +325
  • Steelers +800
  • Packers +900
  • Seahawks +1200
  • Chiefs +1200
  • Falcons +1200
  • Giants +1400
  • Raiders +3300
  • Lions +5000
  • Texans +5000
  • Dolphins +6600
  • Redskins +6600
  • Buccaneers +20000

The Pats and Cowboys make sense as the top two favorites. They’re locked into division titles and both should have the #1 seed in their conference with a path to the Super Bowl going through their respective stadiums. None of that guarantees a trip to Super Bowl 51, but it doesn’t hurt their chances. On top of that, they’re both fantastic football teams that possess balanced offenses and solid defenses.

This might be one of the most wide open NFL playoff pictures we’ve seen in some time, however. Just about every time in this list has an interesting case. Some can light defenses up through the air, others can pound the rock on the ground and a few sport strong to elite defenses.

Seven of the league’s top-10 scoring defenses are in this group, while this list also boasts six of the league’s top-10 scoring offenses. The only teams to grace both top-10 lists are the Patriots and Cowboys, which probably isn’t overly shocking.

Still, the right team catching fire at the right time can be very dangerous. The Packers have won five straight games going into a huge week 17 finale with the Lions. Detroit and Green Bay have both been very dangerous on their home field. Seattle, Oakland and New York (one loss) have also been dominant on their home field. New England, not surprisingly, could end the year as the only team to go 8-0 on their home field.

This is an eclectic group, but no matter the approach you take, these are your options.

If you want to play it safe, Dallas and New England look like logical, reliable bets to at least get to the Super Bowl. The Pats are the favorite and it’s quite likely they get there and win. It’s kind of what they do.

However, where’s the fun fun in that? It could be much more fun (and much more profitable) to feel out that sneaky sleeper that could shock everyone, kind of like the Broncos did last year and the Giants have done in the past.

No Chance

Before we dive into the teams we really need to keep an eye on, let’s kill it for some other franchises that still cling to hope before week 17 comes to an end. The Buccaneers are the first to miss the boat, as they need to win and also require a laundry list of things to go perfectly right for them. It isn’t going to happen, and even on the off chance their miracle arrives, getting into the playoffs doesn’t guarantee them anything. From there they’d have to face a collection of Falcons, Seahawks and/or Cowboys teams that they probably won’t get past when everything is on the line.

Ditto for the Redskins. Kirk Cousins and co. might not even make it past the Giants this week, but if they do, a Packers win keeps them out of the playoffs. Even if Washington wins and Green Bay loses, they can’t be long for the NFL postseason. Cousins and co. sport a potent offense, but their defense doesn’t have enough bite and they’ve been fairly erratic, overall.

Barring a miracle, we can probably mail it in for the Dolphins, Texans and Raiders, too. They’re all down to their backup quarterbacks due to injury (or benching) and they might not have had what it takes to go the distance even before that happened. The lone sleeper there is Oakland, as some experts seem to think Matt McGloin can make some magic happen. We doubt it.

The other team we don’t have much faith in is Detroit. Their offense has been solid through the air, but they’ve struggled to produce any semblance of a running game for years now. They don’t defend well and they also haven’t proven they can win outside of Michigan (just 3-5 on the road).

That’s one piece of data we need to keep in mind, as we’ve see just two Super Bowl winners ever to hoist the Lombardi Trophy despite having a losing record at home or on the road. Since you either need to dominate at home to earn home field advantage or go out on the road to make up for where you went wrong, that tends to prove itself to be fairly accurately.

The jury is still out for the Packers and Giants – both of which can move their road records to 4-4 if they win this week.

Top Super Bowl Sleepers

The Seattle Seahawks would normally be first in line here, but they have a ton of issues that are going to be difficult to overcome. For one, they can’t win on the road. They’ll finish with a losing record away from home this year, plus they don’t protect Russell Wilson very well and they haven’t been elite on the ground. Even their trademark defense has had serious issues ever since star safety Early Thomas broke his leg.

Instead of Seattle leading the pack, the sleeper teams we need to consider betting on to win the Super Bowl are the following:

  • Steelers
  • Falcons
  • Chiefs

No matter what happens this week, all three are in and if things break just right, all three could be division champions with at least one home game. Playing at home may not matter for any of them, of course, as they’ve all proven they can win on the road or at home. They all have their weak points, but Kansas City boasts and elite defense and both the Steelers and Falcons can produce some of the most explosive plays the league has to offer. All three teams tend to play games very tightly and can run the ball when they need to, as well.

Of that trio, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the storied Steelers look like the most appealing sleeper. Not only is Pittsburgh battle tested from a tough AFC North division (yes, even in a down year), but they’re also one of the hottest teams in the league right now. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Big Ben and co. will end 2016 with at least 5 wins both at home and on the road and could enter the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak. Should that streak hold, it could end up tying the Pats for the longest current winning streak in the league.

Unlike what figures to be a pretty competitive NFC, the AFC feels watered down, too. Oakland lost Derek Carr, Houston and Miami were powder puff teams to begin with and the defending champion Broncos aren’t even in the playoffs. That very possibly leaves it down to the Steelers and Patriots and we can’t say for sure the Steelers won’t win if we get that meeting in the playoffs.

In fact, the two teams faced off earlier this year with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined due to injury, and New England still only ended up winning a close game 27-16 by tacking on a late score. With the Steelers healthy and red hot, they could be the biggest sleeper to bet on ahead of the start of this year’s playoffs.

While that may be the case, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t toss a cursory bet or three at some other potential sleepers. After all, the Lions could be in the playoffs even if they lose this week and they’re sporting +5000 Super Bowl odds. Getting in is half the battle and should they magically run the table, they could return $5k for every $100 you bet.

Ultimately, we like the Patriots to pull down another title this year, but Super Bowl betting is always made better when a sleeper or two can break through the ranks. If someone is going to do it, we’d bet on it being Pittsburgh.

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