All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees said it feels normal around the New Orleans Saints now that coach Sean Payton is back from a one-year National Football League suspension. Winning the division would prove it.
The Saints tied for last place in 2012 in the National Football Conference South after finishing first two of the previous three years. A return to the top in 2013 would continue the record NFL 10-year streak of at least one team winning its division the season after finishing last.
Brees’s Saints, with Payton back from a ban for his role in what the NFL said was a bounty program that paid players for injuring opponents, have the best chance for the worst-to-first turnaround, according to oddsmakers.
“It’s all about football,” said Brees, who’s passed for more than 5,000 yards each of the past two seasons with a combined 89 touchdown passes. “There is nothing else swirling around, or at least nothing else we are going to allow to distract us.”
The Washington Redskins were last season’s turnaround team, winning their final seven regular-season games to capture the NFC East with a 10-6 record following a 3-6 start. The Redskins went 5-11 in 2011.
Of the 40 teams in NFL history to go from worst-to-first within their division, 19 have come since 2001.
The NFL’s division champions not only get to host a playoff game, they reap the financial boost of that extra home date, with an estimated economic impact of up to $20 million per game depending on the city, according to Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, who has written 12 books on the business of sports.
“It certainly benefits a team from an economic standpoint,” former Oakland Raiders Chief Executive Officer Amy Trask, now a CBS NFL analyst, said by phone. “It helps with your suite sales, merchandise sales, and of course you don’t have all the travel-related costs.”
The Saints missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record last season without Payton and tied the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers behind the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. Among teams that finished last, or tied for last, a year ago, the Saints have the best odds of winning a division title, at 9-5, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, second only to the Falcons (6-5) in the NFC South.
The Buccaneers are next, with 11-2 odds of winning the division after an offseason in which they acquired Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets and gave him a six-year contract worth $96 million, making him one of the league’s highest-paid non-quarterbacks.
Three teams that finished at the bottom of their division have worse odds of winning a division title this year than Revis’s former team.
The Jets, after going 6-10 in 2012, have 14-1 odds this season to take the title in the American Football Conference’s East division, where the New England Patriots are 1-3 favorites.
The Jets’ biggest issue is at quarterback, with Mark Sanchez nursing a shoulder injury after totaling an NFL-high 52 turnovers the past two seasons, and rookie Geno Smith coming off a three-interception performance in the team’s preseason finale. Coach Rex Ryan said Smith will start in the opener against the Buccaneers.
“He looked like he was lost,” said former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason, now a CBS analyst. “The real question remains as to whether or not he is legitimately ready.”
Like the Jets, the Eagles have the longest odds in their division to win a title, yet there’s more optimism for a turnaround in Philadelphia as Chip Kelly makes his NFL coaching debut. While the Eagles’ chances trail the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Redskins at 17-4, they’re tied for the third-best among teams that finished in last place a year ago.
The Eagles will have quarterback Michael Vick run the fast-paced offense Kelly used at the University of Oregon to post a 46-7 record and make four straight Bowl Championship Series bowl games. Vick said Kelly’s arrival has helped him regain his confidence after a season in which the four-time Pro Bowl selection had a 3-7 record as a starter, was benched in favor of rookie Nick Foles and suffered a concussion.
“When things don’t go well and when everybody is pointing the finger at you, it can hurt your confidence,” Vick said. “When I first sat down with Coach Kelly, his main concern was to help me get back in tip-top shape, and get me to the point where I am comfortable and can believe in myself again.”
The Denver Broncos are the favorite to win the Super Bowl, with 5-1 odds, according to the LVH Super Book. They beat the defending Super Bowl champions Baltimore Ravens 49-27 last night in the season’s opening game. The Broncos are followed by the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers at 6-1, the Green Bay Packers (9-1), the Patriots (10-1), the Houston Texans (12-1) and the Atlanta Falcons (16-1).
The Saints, winners of the Super Bowl following the 2009 season, are just behind the Falcons with 18-1 Super Bowl odds.
“It’s just back to normal,” Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said. “We have 2012 in our rearview mirror and we are just looking ahead. It’s probably a little fresher excitement than it would be ordinarily because of what happened a year ago. I think we are all a little bit more focused than we would have been otherwise.”
SUPER BOWL ODDS ============================ TEAM ODDS ============================ Denver Broncos 5-1 San Francisco 49ers 6-1 Seattle Seahawks 6-1 Green Bay Packers 9-1 New England Patriots 10-1 Houston Texans 12-1 Atlanta Falcons 16-1 New Orleans Saints 18-1 Dallas Cowboys 20-1 Pittsburgh Steelers 20-1 Chicago Bears 25-1 Cincinnati Bengals 25-1 New York Giants 25-1 Baltimore Ravens 30-1 Washington Redskins 30-1 Indianapolis Colts 30-1 Carolina Panthers 40-1 Detroit Lions 40-1 Miami Dolphins 40-1 Kansas City Chiefs 50-1 St. Louis Rams 50-1 Minnesota Vikings 60-1 San Diego Chargers 60-1 Philadelphia Eagles 60-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 60-1 Cleveland Browns 60-1 New York Jets 80-1 Tennessee Titans 100-1 Buffalo Bills 100-1 Arizona Cardinals 100-1 Oakland Raiders 500-1 Jacksonville Jaguars 500-1 ================================ *Courtesy of Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book
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