This year everybody has been talking about the Denver Broncos who start with legendary passer Peyton Manning for the 2nd year after his move across from Indianapolis after a serious injury & it's easy to see why the Broncos have been the talk of the league with several big moves. The addition of the prolific Wes Welker at receiver was probably the most eye-catching move; he's had over 1,000 receiving yards in 5 seasons & Manning will relish having him to pass to. Welker is 32 though & that's probably why the Patriots let him go, the Broncos are going all out for this season & that could put the pressure on from a very early stage. They've also added to their defense at the deep positions with the signings of the veteran safety Quentin Jammer & the excellent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback. We really like Rodgers-Cromartie who probably wasn't used to best effect at all times in his two years in Philadelphia but he was great at Arizona previously & could be a key player here.
(Von Miller is suspended for 6 games & that could cost Denver dearly)
We were keen on outright glory for the Houston Texans last year & not too much has changed to think they shouldn't be right there again this year. They amassed an impressive 11 wins from their first 12 games last season before slumping at the end to 3 losses in 4 & missing the AFC's top seed that would have kept them at home throughout the playoffs which is key as they're a dome side meaning inclement winter weather can really harm their chances. Some labelled the Texans as 'soft' but we're not sure it was a choke & it's no coincidence the slide came when their dominant inside linebacker Brian Cushing was injured, we're certain if he'd stayed fit the story would have had a different outcome.
(The return of Brian Cushing from injury is great news for the Texans)
At 7/1 to win the AFC Houston seem to be the value picks as we think the New England Patriots may eventually start to slow this year after being exceptional for so long & the Broncos are just to short in price. Of the other AFC contenders according to the bookmakers we don't think the Ravens will even win their division (we like the Bengals in the AFC North so that also rules out Pittsburgh who could end up with a losing season) & 2013 is too early for the improving Colts, Dolphins & Chiefs.
The NFC looks stronger than the AFC this year with powerhouses like the San Francisco 49ers & Green Bay plus the impressive & improving Seattle Seahawks & always dangerous New Orleans Saints & Chicago Bears but the only team we want to side with is the Atlanta Falcons.
(Steven Jackson - last piece in the Atlanta Falcons' jigsaw?)
Atlanta have also tried to improve their defense this year & taken a gamble on the now veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora from the Giants but if he stays fit he'll add another dimension to their play bringing real aggression & pressure on opposition QB's - along with Justin Babineaux at defensive tackle they could have a lot of sacks this year. They've also looked to upgrade at cornerback with their first two draft selections & Desmond Trufant looks like he could thrive in the professional game, with their safety positions already solid look out for a much improved defensive showing this year.
Again like the Texans in the AFC Atlanta just look the value here with Seattle & San Francisco too short as joint favourites considering they'll have to play each other twice in the regular season meaning dropped games & Green Bay need to improve a little defensively even though their offense remains incredible. Take big odds of 9/1 for Atlanta to win the NFC & even bigger odds of 18/1 for them to collect their Super Bowl rings in early 2014.
Houston Texans to win AFC at 7/1 (Ladbrokes)
Atlanta Falcons to win NFC at 9/1 (General) & to win Super Bowl at 18/1 (Paddy Power)