For the entire season, it looked like it was Green Bay’s to lose and when the first Playoff hurdle came along, they did lose, saving their worst performance of the season for the most important game of a season. The hot favourites are out and we’re left with a new hot favourite. It’s been a long season (a feeling not helped by the Sky Sports pundits having to fill in the ad breaks with largely generic chatter) but it’s been fascinating and here’s the story of how the remaining team got to this point via the medium of odds.
New England Patriots
Whilst the rest of the world were busy wondering if Aaron Rodgers was some sort of unstoppable machine sent from the future and if Tim Tebow did indeed have a direct line to the man upstairs, Tom Brady was quietly going about his business. Well, as quietly as it’s possible for one of the most loved and despised teams in the NFL to go about their business. The Patriots have looked vulnerable at points during the season, particularly if that point came in the first 9 weeks of the season, but their position as a leading contender behind the Packers has remained as constant as the suspicion the Patriots are always somehow cheating. A 9 game winning streak amassing an average of almost 34 points a game makes it easy to forget at one stage in the regular season, they had slumped to a record of 5-3 and looked to be in a genuine tussle with the Jets for the division. They’ve since handed out a few thumpings and their collective knowledge of navigating the Playoffs makes them easy to fancy.
San Francisco 49ers
The odds say the 49ers were the most hopeless team of the remaining quartet. Whether or not they were actually the most hopeless team of the 4 remaining is another matter, but back in September, they were an incredible 80/1 to win the Super Bowl. The ability to grind out results when not at your best is normally seen as a characteristic of winners, but in this case it looked like it was taken as a characteristic of a jammy team fluking their way to a respectable season. The fact that their schedule looked about as challenging as arm-wrestling a toddler didn’t help the perception that they lacked the qualities required of Super Bowl winners. They became serious contenders in November after a run of 8 wins in a row indicated that at the very least, they were likely to line-up for at least on Playoff game. They closed out the season strongly to give themselves the chance of home advantage for most of the journey to the big dance and that was crucial in helping defeat the Saints. Mind you, so too was Drew Brees passing to the opposition plenty of times.
New York Giants
‘No team has ever won the Super Bowl with a record of 9-7 or worse’ was the ominous fact attempting to piss on the parade of the Giants after their shock win in Wisconsin. There’s no denying that the Giants do have a record of winning just over half of their games, but scratch the surface and that record may not be as underwhelming as it appears. They slumped to odds of 40/1 after a four game losing streak in November and early December, but as two of the defeats were road games against the Saints and the 49ers respectively and the other two came at home to the Packers and their ferocious rivals from Philadelphia, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Although admittedly it did look bad. As good as beating the champs last weekend was, Green Bay saved their worst, most butter-fingered performance of the season for the Divisional Playoff and a note of caution is advised when assessing the Giants’ chances of going all the way. Occasionally brilliant and frequently average, it’s hard to be too confident of Eli going on to surpass his brother’s Super Bowl ring collection this year, but he’s already equalled it in his career and that’s more than a lot of people were expecting from him.
Although the Ravens in the Super Bowl would be about as popular as a drink that you have to pay for yourself amongst the marketing folk who’ll have to sell the extortionate advertising slots, the strength of their ‘skinny jeans on Vanessa Feltz’-tight defence makes them a serious contender. They began the season as the kind of popular dark horse people were prepared to tip up, safe in the knowledge that no-one would remember if things went tits up. Throughout the season, the odds showed they’ve occupied the position of leaders of the second tier of teams – not quite expected to go all the way, but if things go their way they’ll be the hard to beat cliché. Things have gone their way and another hefty dose of defensive frugality might be enough to stop Brady. Right now, they’re the outsiders of the four, but beat the Patriots and almost certainly they’d be catapulted into the favourites’ position for the Super Bowl. Lose and they’re pretty much another dark horse that’s being put out to pasture.