Everyone assumed that it would take a while for Peyton Manning to find his rhythm and for the Denver Broncos to gel. But nobody could have anticipated the extent to which it has become a tale of two seasons in the Mile High City. Once 2-3, the Broncos are now 11-3 and in position for the No. 2 seed (and a first-round bye) in the AFC.
In the span of 62 days, Manning led his team from a losing record to the favorite to reach Super Bowl XLVII.
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Denver Broncos (+160) – The Broncos wrap up their regular season by hosting Cleveland and Kansas City. In other words, they have a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs all but clinched. Denver is the second favorite to win the Super Bowl at +400, trailing only San Francisco (+350).
New England Patriots (+180) – Denver also has New England to thank for what was a perfect weekend, as the Patriots went down at home to San Francisco. The Pats have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos, but for the moment that is no longer in effect.
Houston Texans (+200) – Don’t forget about the Texans, who have the best record in the AFC at 12-2. They wrapped up the AFC South on Sunday by beating Indianapolis in the first of two games between the two teams in the last three weeks. Still, Adrian Peterson (Week 16) and Andrew Luck (Week 17) stand in Houston’s way of the No. 1 seed.
Miami Heat (-180) – Miami isn’t exactly setting the world on fire right now, but the defending champs are still considerable favorites to make a third straight appearance in the NBA Finals. The Heat have lost three of their last six and trail the Knicks in the Eastern Conference standings. Get ready for a Miami vs. Oklahoma City showdown on Christmas Day.
New York Knicks (+450) – The Knicks may be regretting the end of the short but sweet Jeremy Lin era right about now. Oh, they are doing just fine without him, to be sure; but Houston swept the season series with New York after a 109-96 road victory on Monday night. Lin had 22 points and a game-high eight assists. Another showdown with Brooklyn—this time at home—is on tap for Wednesday.
Boston Celtics (+800) – If the regular season ended now, Boston would be in the playoffs by one half of one game. The odds suggest a turnaround is expected, but they also suggest that the Celtics have little chance against superior Eastern Conference opposition. After all, nothing KG and company have done this season has inspired confidence. They are +1.5 road favorites at Chicago on Tuesday.
Chicago Bulls (+800) – There is some value on the Bulls at +800 because there is some chance that Derrick Rose could somehow come back for crunch time. For the time being, they have stayed afloat without him. Chicago is 13-10 and leading the Central Division.
LeBron James (+140) – The battle for NBA MVP, albeit in its formative stages, is a tight one. LeBron has the advantage as the best player on what is supposed to be the league’s best team. He currently tops the Miami charts in points (25.4), rebounds (8.6), and assists (6.7).
Kevin Durant (+220) – No James Harden, no problem. Oklahoma City is 20-4 (the NBA’s best record) thanks to a current 11-game winning streak. Durant is averaging 27.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. If the Thunder even come close to keeping this up, Durant could overtake LeBron.
Carmelo Anthony (+300) – The key for ‘Melo is to stay healthy. He has missed four of New York’s last seven games and sat out Monday’s loss to Houston with an ankle injury. When he takes the floor, the Knicks are 16-4 and getting 27.9 points per contest from Carmelo.
Kobe Bryant (+400) – The league’s current top four scorers are the top four favorites. Kobe is leading the way at 29.5 ppg, but he is also jacking up more shots than anyone else (20.6 per outing) as the leader of an otherwise terrible Los Angeles squad. If the Lakers (11-14) continue to play this poorly, Kobe has no chance even if he goes into 80-points-per-game mode.
American League Pennant
Detroit Tigers (+350) – Rarely has a pennant race been this interesting in December. I’m not even kidding. The race for the 2013 American League title is already an absolute thriller! The Tigers have not been much of a factor in the winter arms race, but the defending league champs already have the necessary arms—and the bats—at their disposal.
Los Angeles Angels (+400) – Why only spend a lot when you can spend even more than a lot? The Angels, perhaps inspired by the National League team with which they share their city, decided that landing Albert Pujols last season wasn’t enough. Now they have Josh Hamilton to go along with Pujols and Mike Trout.
New York Yankees (+600) – Never has someone who hit .235 been considered an upgrade over Alex Rodriguez. Maybe Kevin Youkilis isn’t, but he can’t be any worse than A-Rod and he probably can’t be any worse than he was last season in Boston and Chicago. The Yankees are still a force, but they need make more moves if they want to keep pace with none other than…wait for it…the Toronto Blue Jays!
Toronto Blue Jays (+600) – Toronto was the beneficiary of Florida’s latest fire sale, landing Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, John Buck, and Emilio Bonafacio. The Jays also traded for R.A. Dickey over the weekend and signed him to a two-year extension. Boston now has last place all wrapped up in what will likely be an otherwise fascinating AL East.