In case you missed it, hockey is back!
But I digress. The NFL Playoffs are in full force, and that’s all anyone cares about or should care about. After one week of action in which the Top 4 teams sat at home and watched, the Broncos remain the favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Odds, however, could turn upside down when the dust settles on what should be a wild weekend of divisional-round games.
(odds provided by Sportsbook.ag unless otherwise indicated):
Denver Broncos (+300) – Denver remains the favorite, but its odds moved from +250 to +300 over the course of the last week. Perhaps the thinking is that a Baltimore team inspired by Ray Lewis is a real threat? Still, the Broncos have all the tools to bring Peyton Manning a second Super Bowl ring.
New England Patriots (+350) – It’s setting up well for the Patriots, who will open their playoff campaign against an opponent (Houston) they absolutely destroyed at home in the regular season.
San Francisco 49ers (+500) – The 49ers won’t have to face Seattle again because Minnesota failed to pull off an upset at Lambeau Field. Of course, the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers may present an even tougher foe. The winner will likely be favored in the NFC Championship, even if it has to go on the road.
Green Bay Packers (+700) – With Green Bay’s performance last weekend (and perhaps because Atlanta has to face Seattle instead of Washington), it surpassed the Falcons as the NFC’s second favorite. Still, a date at San Francisco is a tough proposition.
New York Rangers (+800) – Hockey is back, baby! Well, not quite yet, but it will be later this month. The Rangers compiled a conference-best 109 points last season but they underwhelmed in the playoffs, needing two Game 7s to reach the Eastern finals before bowing out to New Jersey.
Pittsburgh Penguins (+800) – These guys are perennial favorites, and why not? Evgeni Malkin led the league in points (by far) last season, and Sidney Crosby is back (scored eight points in a six-game series loss to Philadelphia).
Los Angeles Kings (+900) – The defending Stanley Cup Champions are at least favored to win the Western Conference and return to the finals. L.A. is dealing with some injury issues right now, but it proved last season that the regular season means almost nothing — as long as you sneak in.
Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks (+1000) – Vancouver led the NHL in points in 2012 but ran into the L.A. buzzsaw right off the bat. With a nucleus of Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews still on board, Chicago should remain a serious contender. Don’t be surprised if the budding playoff rivalry between these two teams is renewed in the Western finals.
NBA Western Conference
Oklahoma City Thunder (+150) – Sometimes the long NBA season doesn’t get interesting until the playoffs…. Not so much in 2012-13. The Western Conference has been gripping, with one Los Angeles team going north and the other heading south. OKC is a staple contender at the top, and its 26-8 record has kept it ahead of the Clippers according to the odds — but not according to the standings.
Los Angeles Clippers (+200) – Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Clippers (27-8) have the best record in the entire NBA. They assumed the mantle when the Thunder suffered a surprising loss at Washington on Monday. The Clips are back to their winning ways with two straight (over the Warriors and Lakers) after two losses followed their 17-game surge.
San Antonio Spurs (+350) – With just about all the talk focusing on L.A., San Antonio (27-10) is once again flying under the radar. But it should not be overlooked that Tim Duncan is flat-out balling at 36 years old, averaging 17.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game.
Los Angeles Lakers (+600) – It should come as no surprise that Kobe Bryant joined Twitter. He needed a distraction from just how bad it has become for the Lakers. They are 15-18 following three straight losses, and both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are out indefinitely.
Australian Open (odds provided by Bovada Sportsbook)
Novak Djokovic (+120) – Djokovic has it all going for him heading into the tennis season’s first Grand Slam. For one, he’s the two-time defending champion in Melbourne. Furthermore, since losing two matches at the London Olympics, the top-ranked Serb is 30-3 with titles in Toronto, Beijing, Shanghai, and the World Tour Finals plus runner-ups in Cincinnati and at the U.S. Open.
Andy Murray (+300) – Djokovic is the favorite (and for good reason), but should it be Murray or Federer at No. 2? Murray has always been stellar at the hard-court majors; he won the 2012 U.S. Open for his first slam title and he is a two-time runner-up Down Under. The third-ranked Scot kicked off his season last week with a title in Brisbane. Talk about perfect preparation.
Roger Federer (+450) – Federer hasn’t won a title since triumphing in Cincinnati last summer. The Swiss somewhat made up for a routine Shanghai loss to Murray by scoring revenge at the World Tour Finals, but he lost one day later to Djokovic in the final. Federer looks like the third best right now, but +450 is serious value for a 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Juan Martin Del Potro (+1400) – More than three years after his breakout at the 2009 U.S. Open, Del Potro is still left with just one major championship. The difference now, however, is that the affable Argentine is armed with a clean bill of health (unlike in 2010, 2011, and 2012). Del Potro beat Federer twice last fall, indicating that he is ready to compete with the Top 3.