Best long-shot bets to win Super Bowl XLV
Here’s the thing about NFL long-shots: they come in.
Unlike, say, the NBA -- where in November everyone can identify the teams that will vie for rings in June -- NFL parity makes picking long-shots a profitable proposition. Consider: two of the last three Super Bowl winners (2009 Saints and 2007 Giants) went 8-8 the year before.
New Orleans was 25-to-1 to win it all last year. The 70-to-1 Patriots won the Super Bowl following the 2001 season. And the Rams, 300-to-1 underdogs, shocked the world two years earlier.
Let’s remove this year’s projected top 13 teams, who range from 7-to-1 to 22-to-1: Colts, Cowboys, Jets, Chargers, Saints, Packers, Ravens, Vikings, Patriots, Eagles, Steelers, Giants, Bengals.
Of the 19 left, five long-shots offer tremendous value.
HOUSTON TEXANS (33/1)
2009 record: 9-7
The Texans closed last season on a four-game win streak and also closed the talent gap on their big brother, the Indianapolis Colts. Playmakers abound, starting with receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
Only Kris Brown’s erratic foot -- nine missed field goals -- and Steve Slaton’s butterfingers -- five lost fumbles -- kept them out of the 2009 playoffs.
In Johnson, tight end Owen Daniels, receivers Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones and Slaton, quarterback Matt Schaub has a wealth of targets. Look for new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison to bring more balance. The defense isn’t dominant, but it doesn’t have to be.
Winning the home opener against Indy could spark the Texans to their long-awaited breakthrough.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (28/1)
2009 record: 8-8
Hard to believe you can get a likely division champ at this price. With 20 starters back and a creampuff schedule, the Niners should host a playoff game, if not two, come January.
Linebacker Patrick Willis leads a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest points (17.6) last year. Tight end Vernon Davis is a beast, and how good will receiver Michael Crabtree be with training camp to prepare? Believe it or not, quarterback Alex Smith finally looks comfortable running this offense.
You've got to love a smash-mouth coach who uses two first-round draft picks on offensive linemen. And how’s this for symmetry: it’s the 25th anniversary of Mike Singletary winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- and the Super Bowl.
TENNESSEE TITANS (30/1)
2009 record: 8-8
I admire Jeff Fisher’s hard-nosed style as much as anyone, but did he really stick with quarterback Kerry Collins for six dreadful losses? Imagine what the Titans could have done had Vince Young -- 8-2 as a starter -- gotten the job earlier.
All-world running back Chris Johnson really took off once Young took over. Young helps Johnson in many ways. He bootlegs off fake handoffs, holding the weakside end. He hits Johnson in stride on screens. Mainly, he’s not Kerry Collins. Johnson will put up monster numbers again. The underrated receiving corps will benefit from eight-man fronts.
The secondary, decimated by injury last year, will be better. Don’t forget both safeties and cornerback Cortland Finnegan made the Pro Bowl in 2008.
Throw in first-round pick Derrick Morgan, the All-American defensive end who surprisingly fell to No. 16, and Tennessee has the needed ingredients.
ATLANTA FALCONS (24/1)
2009 record: 9-7
Finishing with three victories in a row, the Falcons posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time in the franchise’s 44-year history. Now they have what it takes to win their first Super Bowl.
Shrewd general manager Thomas Dimitroff upgraded the defense, signing free agent cornerback Dunta Robinson and drafting punishing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Last year’s top picks, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore, missed mos