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December 10, 2018

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Leading the pack: Chiefs, Rams aren’t the only Super Bowl contenders

Patrick Mahomes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs onto the field before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Carson, Calif.

Two Super Bowl favorites will make NFL betting history on Monday Night Football to cap Week 11 of the season. The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams face off with the highest-ever over/under total of 64 points at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. Sports books don’t report betting handle on specific games, but it’s likely the showdown—in which the Rams are 2.5-point favorites—will be the most bet-on contest of the regular season.

Sports bettors have a predilection toward teams with high-powered offenses at the top of the standings. In the Rams and Chiefs, they find a pair of teams that hit on both counts. The two teams are tied for both the NFL’s best record, 9-1, and its most efficient offense, with both averaging 6.9 yards per play.

Chiefs second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who leads the NFL in passing with 3,150 yards and 31 touchdowns, is the runaway favorite to win the MVP award at minus-150 (risking $1.50 to win $1). Two of the next five players chasing Mahomes are on the Rams—Todd Gurley, who leads the NFL in rushing with 988 yards and 13 touchdowns, sits at 4-to-1; and Jared Goff, who trails Mahomes with 3,134 yards and 22 passing touchdowns, is at 18-to-1.

Generally, the words “potential Super Bowl preview” get thrown around too loosely, with any regular-season game pitting a strong AFC team against a strong NFC team earning the distinction. But this is one case in which it’s justified.

Offshore betting odds had made Rams vs. Chiefs the most likely Super Bowl matchup for several weeks, until it only recently slipped back to second behind the Chiefs against the New Orleans Saints. The South Point sports book lists both Kansas City and LA at 7-to-2 odds to win the Super Bowl, which puts them tied for second in the league.

Only five other teams are priced at less than 20-to-1 as the NFL officially arrives in the second half of the regular season, with every team having played more than eight games. Here’s a look at the other contenders from a betting perspective.

New Orleans Saints (5-to-2): The Rams had gotten as low as 7-to-5 to win the Super Bowl—and even had a proposition wager asking if they’d go undefeated at several sports books—until the Saints put an end to all of that. New Orleans beat LA 45-35 as 2.5-point underdogs two weeks ago, and then assumed the Rams’ spot at the top of the futures betting board. New Orleans has won and covered in seven consecutive games, having helped bettors beat up on the books the past couple of weeks.

New England Patriots (9-to-2): New England is always in the thick of the race under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, but this year’s version looks more vulnerable than usual. The Patriots are coming off of a noncompetitive 34-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, and it wasn’t their first lopsided setback against subpar opposition (they’ve also fallen 31-20 to the Jaguars and 26-10 to the Lions). And yet, the Patriots are still a comfortable 7-3 straight-up and 6-4 against the spread, with a history of peaking at the end of the year.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-to-1): If it weren't for the Saints, the Steelers would be considered the hottest team in the NFL. Overcoming the dysfunction that plagued them during a 1-2-1 straight-up, 1-3 against-the-spread start to the season, the Steelers have since won and covered in five straight games. And the most promising part is that none of the victories has been close. Pittsburgh has won and covered by at least seven points in each game of its current streak.

Los Angeles Chargers (10-to-1): The knee-jerk reaction was to write off the Chargers after they lost two of their first three games both straight-up and against the spread. Hindsight revealed that was flawed methodology, considering the two teams to beat them were the Chiefs and Rams. The Chargers have flown ever since, winning every game and showing the efficiency that made them a preseason sleeper in the future market. Their biggest hurdle is that they're AFC West division-mates with the Chiefs, with the December 13 rematch between the two teams looming as one of the biggest remaining games of the year.

Minnesota Vikings (15-to-1): It might not feel like the Vikings fit this high; an argument could be made that they haven't quite lived up to expectations. Their odds to win the Super Bowl have actually risen, as they went off the board at 10-to-1 at the end of preseason. With a nominal plus-17 point differential, the Vikings are fortunate to be 5-3-1 straight-up. They have a chance to seize control of the NFC North, however, when they travel to take on the Chicago Bears as 2.5-point underdogs on Sunday Night Football. Chiefs vs. Rams might be the historic meeting looming over all of Week 11, but Minnesota vs. Chicago could be just as significant.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.