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There’s often a consensus “winner” of the NFL free-agency period after signing a number of stars and making the most flashy moves during a down time on the football calendar.
Sometimes, these big acquisitions pay off, as they did for the New England Patriots last year. The Pats uncharacteristically brought in more name-brand talent than usual, adding guys such as Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks to a lineup that was coming off a Super Bowl victory.
While New England fell just short a repeat bid, it still won 13 games during the regular season and navigated through the conference playoffs. The Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, are one of the cautionary tales of crowning a champion too early, but we have to go back to 2011.
Philly was the talk of the league during the 2011 offseason for its flashy free-agent signings that included Vince Young, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Steve Smith (the other one) and more. Young gave the ill-fated “Dream Team” moniker to this group, which won eight gams that season.
While it’s too early to say which team will win it all in 2018, it isn’t too early to check out some updated Super Bowl odds.
The opening odds mentioned in this article were released right after the Eagles hoisted the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 4, while the current odds came out March 22 via bookmaker BetDSI.eu.
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Jacksonville Jaguars: 28-1 Open, 22-1 Current
Houston Texans 25-1 Open, 22-1 Current
Both of these teams improved slightly after making moves along the offensive line.
In Jacksonville’s case, a club that pushed the Pats to the brink in the AFC Championship Game filled its biggest need by inking star guard Andrew Norwell. The former Carolina Panthers interior lineman will shore up an O-line that should rank among the best in the league in 2018.
General manager Dave Caldwell told ESPN’s Michael DiRocco that the marquee signing checked all the boxes for how his team wants to play: “Obviously we have a philosophy of how we’re going to play and what we want to do, and [Norwell] fits all of those: tough, nasty run-blocker; very good pass protector.”
The Texans also improved an offensive line that ranked among the worst in the league last year. They went out and signed three offensive linemen—Senio Kelemete is the most notable of the bunch—to address the issue. Those signings boosted their odds, and adding the Honey Badger was the cherry on top.
Tyrann Mathieu was a surprising addition to the free-agency talent pool after refusing a paycut from the Arizona Cardinals. Houston was able to secure his services for a reasonable $7 million over one year, a contract that should help the franchise get back on track defensively and make a playoff push in 2018.
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Super Bowl Odds: 33-1 Open, 22-1 Current
The Raiders have been steadily climbing the odds table this offseason for more than free-agency decisions alone. The team announced it would hire Jon Gruden as its new head coach in January, getting a bump there.
Gruden is not the sole decision-maker in Oakland—general manager Reggie McKenzie is still on board—but his influence on the personnel the team is bringing on is being seen. The 54-year-old is taking an old-school approach, bringing in players such as fullback Keith Smith and running back Doug Martin to bolster the ground attack in the Bay Area.
Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Gruden succinctly explained his process: “Man, I’m trying to throw back the game to 1998. I still think doing things the old-fashioned way [is the right way.]”
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson‘s signing also moved the needle.
The former Green Bay Packers star had a rough 2017 campaign without Aaron Rodgers under center for much it, but he should be able to rebound with Derek Carr throwing him passes in the Coliseum. It should be a strong pairing, especially with Amari Cooper drawing attention as the main receiving weapon, but there is some risk.
To make room for Nelson, the Raiders cut Michael Crabtree. The team is getting older and paying more money—Nelson makes $15 million ($13 million guaranteed) over two years, while Crabtree would have earned $7 million for this upcoming season.
That said, the oddsmakers are on board.
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Super Bowl Odds: 100-1 Open, 80-1 Current
The Bears were among the longest shots to win Super Bowl LIII after the 2017 season. Their odds still aren’t great, but they’ve shot up the rankings by making a number of critical acquisitions, with the biggest being Allen Robinson’s signing.
The former Jacksonville Jaguar signed a three-year, $42 million deal with Chicago, giving second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky a receiving weapon he lacked last season. Robinson is two years removed from a breakout 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown performance in 2015. The Penn State product’s stats fell off a bit in 2016, while he suffered a torn ACL on his first and only catch of 2017, making this a risky move.
Even if Robinson ends up as just a good wideout and not an amazing one, he would still be an upgrade over the players in Chicago’s receiving corps in 2017. The club also signed two players who should make a big impact on Trubisky’s development: speedster Taylor Gabriel from the Atlanta Falcons and Super Bowl hero Trey Burton from the Eagles.
Upgrading the pass-catching options was key for Chicago. The team did lose or cut a handful of defensive contributors, including Mitch Unrein, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Quintin Demps, but it managed to retain Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Sam Acho.
With the draft coming up, the Bears should look to continue addressing the front seven. If they patch up the holes on the roster with picks in late April, it won’t be surprising to see their odds of winning it all increase even further, but this team is still a year or two away from really having a chance of contending.
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Super Bowl Odds: 100-1 Open, 66-1 Current
No team has had its odds shift more than the Browns during free agency.
The club was unsurprisingly at the bottom of the list after an 0-16 season. It appears that Cleveland’s fortunes are changing, however, after a flurry of acquisitions, trades and other moves. The Browns are now ahead of the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and are tied with the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals odds-wise.
Under new general manager John Dorsey, the organization began converting its war chest of draft capital into veteran contributors. The team made three swaps, improving under center by trading with Buffalo to land quarterback Tyrod Taylor, upgrading the receiving corps by swinging a deal with Miami for star receiver Jarvis Landry, and bolstering the secondary by flipping quarterback DeShone Kizer and a draft pick to Green Bay for Damarious Randall and another pick.
The Browns weren’t shy in free agency, either, picking up veteran running back Carlos Hyde to replace Isaiah Crowell and scoring a pair of corners in T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell. They were also fortunate to nab offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson, as their presence will help lessen the blow of losing star left tackle Joe Thomas to retirement.
There aren’t many expecting the Browns to vault from a winless season to a Super Bowl-caliber one, but the moves show the franchise is at least making progress. After winning one game the last two years, Cleveland is ready to make more noise in 2018, especially if it makes shrewd moves during the upcoming draft with picks Nos. 1 and 4.
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Super Bowl Odds: 12-1 Open, 9-1 Current
The Vikings came so close to becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium but came up short in the NFC Championship Game against the underdog Eagles. They’re banking that a big-money acquisition to bolster the situation under center will help the league’s best defense win it all in 2018.
Minnesota went all-in on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, winning the former Washington Redskins star by inking him to a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed contract. It’s a massive price to pay, but it’s tough to win consistently without a franchise QB. Now the organization, which won 13 games last season and earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC, appears ready to take another leap.
Cousins’ top-tier passing ability will add a new dimension to the offense in the Twin Cities. According to ESPN’s KC Joyner, only three quarterbacks have averaged more yards per attempt on downfield passes (thrown 11 or more yards) in the last two seasons, and you may have heard of them: Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan.
The Michigan State product became just the 11th quarterback in history to go over the 4,000-yard mark for three consecutive seasons, joining an elite fraternity of signal-callers. He should have no issues making it four in a row with the talent in Minnesota’s receiving corps, which includes Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
The offense of course improved with the Cousins signing, but the team also bolstered its No. 1 defense by grabbing a high-upside defensive tackle in Sheldon Richardson on a one-year, prove-it deal. The team also added some more protection on the offensive line with guard Tom Compton.
These moves didn’t have nearly the same impact on the Super Bowl lines as Cousins’ pact, but they make the Vikings a deeper, more dangerous team that could capitalize on the 9-1 odds to win the franchise’s first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
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Michael Zagaris/Getty Images
Super Bowl Odds: 20-1 Open, 14-1 Current
The Niners have been among the most active teams in free agency, bringing in a plethora of talented contributors on big-money deals. General manager John Lynch is building a roster that should vastly improve on its 6-10 record in 2018.
Surrounding Jimmy Garoppolo—who was undefeated during his five starts last year—with more talent was always the smart call going into the offseason, and San Francisco has succeeded so far. The club hasn’t brought in a stud wideout yet but made sure it kept Marquise Goodwin—the team’s top receiving option last year—around with a contract extension.
It’s likely the Niners will go into the draft, where they hold the No. 9 pick, with wide receiver at the top of their list.
The front office snapped up a great pass-catching back in Jerick McKinnon. San Francisco made him one of the league’s highest-paid players at the position, which foreshadows a huge role in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system, especially after Carlos Hyde’s departure. Garoppolo will also have increased protection thanks to the acquisition of offensive lineman Weston Richburg, who was reportedly the organization’s top target in free agency.
According to ESPN’s Nick Wagoner, Richburg is excited for a chance to build a contender with Garoppolo under center:
“I just spent four years with Eli [Manning], and that was fantastic. So this will be cool because we’re the same age. … I’m just excited to start something special with [Garoppolo]. He basically just got here. I’m just tickled to be able to be a part of that and work together with him and try to make something really special out of this.”
Defensively, the Niners made one of the shrewdest moves of the offseason, bringing in cornerback Richard Sherman after the NFC West-rival Seahawks cut ties with him. Sherman is coming off an Achilles injury, but he’s still one of the league’s best players at the position if he’s able to return to full health.
These transactions represent a bright future, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the odds move to single digits with a solid draft.