Grantland’s Bill Barnwell examined the gambling odds to win Super Bowl XLVII on Tuesday with the San Francisco 49ers surprisingly at the top of the list.
Your eyes do not deceive you.
The 49ers, who finished 13-3 last season and were arguably a Ted Ginn Jr. knee injury away from going to the Super Bowl last year, are in the Vegas pole position to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy at 4-1 odds.
Not the defending Super Bowl champion Giants; or the 15-1 Packers that went belly up in the NFC Divisional round to the aforementioned G-Men; or the dancing bounty hunters from Louisiana; or the Patriots, who narrowly lost another Super Bowl to New York but the Alex Smith-led 49ers are considered the crème de la crème of football.
To fill offensive personnel voids, the 49ers brought in help including ex-Giants Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham; “out of shape” rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins; rookie runner LaMichael James; and of course, will try to resuscitate the career of Randy Moss.
The Vegas stance on San Francisco is not that far-fetched considering their consistent play and most importantly, a rock-solid, hard-hitting defense returning in 2012.
At the end of last season, I’m not sure the best team won the Super Bowl…and I don’t mean the Patriots. San Francisco appeared to be a better and younger version of the Baltimore Ravens.
Yet, the Giants, who nearly crossed into Niners territory during the second half of the NFC title game on their own accord as often as Mick Jagger preached about living a life of celibacy, escaped San Francisco with a win and eventually won the title.
If San Fran reached Super Bowl XLVI with their brand of defense and ball control against that particular Patriots team, I’m not sure Brady and Belichick would have been able to easily claim a fourth Super Bowl ring.
However, that was last year.
This is Jim Harbaugh’s second year as head coach, which means the message may not be as fresh or inspirational to returning stars. Will they be as eager to run through a brick wall for him after experiencing tremendous success last season?
Despite San Francisco only playing five 2011 playoff teams in 2012, they’ll have a target on their back. It will not be as easy for them to overcome 20-point road deficits or benefit from an opposing running back throwing a mind-numbing pass one yard removed from the end zone.
New challenges will emerge in the NFC (Chicago and/or Philadelphia?) and the collective bullseye on them will be omnipresent as the 49ers try to repeat as NFC West champions.
Oh wait, that’s right. Their division is terrifyingly mediocre.
They play in the dreadful NFC West and will compete against the remains of Sam Bradford in St. Louis; Kevin Kolb or
Red John Skelton in Arizona; and Matt Flynn or Tavaris Jackson in Seattle.
Now, I’m starting to understand this Vegas formula:
BAD DIVISION + FOURTH RANKED DEFENSE + FEWEST TURNOVERS + FORCING MOST TURNOVERS + NUMBER ONE RUSH DEFENSE = SUPER BOWL XLVII CHAMPIONS
Here is the funny thing. You know what overrides all of this?
If I had to coach one game to save the universe and my quarterback options were Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Tim Tebow, and Alex Smith, you know who is my last option?
Actually, I might contemplate letting the universe explode at that point but if I’m forced to pick one to support, it’s not Smith.
He was sacked a league-high 44 times last year while posting a career-high 90.7 quarterback rating. He could certainly improve and become a better player but he’ll need to do a lot to win the ultimate prize.
His touchdown to interception ratio of 17 to 5 is nice but I’m not sure it can ultimately win a Super Bowl.
In other words, the flashier quarterbacks like Brees and Rodgers win these days rather than graduates of Game Manager University.
Smith’s output is effective and can help you win games but it’s not going to win a Super Bowl.
As great as San Francisco’s defense was last season, Super Bowl XLVI featured a meeting between two quarterbacks who combined to throw for 10,168 yards and 68 touchdowns.
That’s not an accident.
Smith and San Francisco’s passing attack needs drastic improvement to win it all in 2012.
So, who is the best team in the NFL?
I’m not sure yet.
I’m just sure it’s not San Francisco.