Jan. 3 (Bloomberg) -- The New Orleans Saints haven’t lost in more than two months and boast the best odds to win the Super Bowl among the eight teams playing in the first round of the National Football League playoffs.
The Saints enter the postseason ranked 5-1 to take the Super Bowl, backed by an eight-game winning streak, a record- setting quarterback, an unbeaten home record and the experience of an NFL title two years ago.
Only the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, who both have a shorter potential championship path with first-round playoff byes, are given a better chance to win the Super Bowl, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.
“We’re playing as well as we’ve played all season long right now,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for an NFL-record 5,476 yards this season. “The real season starts now. We have to continue to progress and get better. All of our goals, dreams and aspirations are right there in front of us.”
The Packers have 8-5 odds of successfully defending their Super Bowl title after becoming the sixth team in NFL history to go 15-1 during the regular season. Green Bay got a bye as the top seed in the National Football Conference and won’t play this weekend, when there are four first-round games.
The Patriots, with a 13-3 record, are the top seed in the American Football Conference and have 7-2 odds of winning the Super Bowl, according to the Las Vegas Hilton’s Race and Sports Book. Like New Orleans, the Patriots -- behind quarterback Tom Brady -- didn’t lose in the second half of the season.
The Saints have better championship odds than the other two teams with first-round byes: the Baltimore Ravens at 6-1 and the San Francisco 49ers at 12-1. The 49ers (13-3) got the No. 2 seed in the NFC ahead of the Saints because they had a better record against conference opponents. While San Francisco has a week off, the Saints prepare to host the Detroit Lions on Jan. 7 at the Superdome.
New Orleans is listed as a 10 1/2-point favorite against the Lions, who surrendered 480 passing yards and six touchdowns to Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn in losing their regular-season finale 45-41. The Saints beat Detroit 31-17 at home on Dec. 4 -- one of eight straight wins to end the regular season -- and the Lions have lost five straight playoff games since their last postseason win in 1991.
The New York Giants host the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC’s other first-round game on Jan. 8. The Giants are three-point favorites after beating the Dallas Cowboys in the final game of the regular season two days ago to win the NFC East.
The AFC’s first-round matchups have the Houston Texans hosting the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 7 and the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the Denver Broncos and quarterback Tim Tebow the following day.
The Texans, in the postseason for the first time in their 10-year history, are three-point favorites against the Bengals. Pittsburgh is a 7 1/2-point favorite against the Broncos, who ended the season with three losses.
The Steelers are the sixth-favorite among the 12 playoff teams, with 10-1 odds to win their record-extending seventh Super Bowl title. The Giants have 12-1 odds, followed by the Falcons and Texans at 40-1, the Lions at 60-1 and the Bengals and Broncos at 70-1.
Denver has the worst record of the postseason participants at 8-8 and made the playoff field by winning the AFC West in a three-way tiebreaker. Tebow, who won seven of his first eight games as a starter this season, has committed eight turnovers during the losing skid.
The Saints lost their final three regular-season games in 2009 and went on to win the Super Bowl. Last season, as defending champions, the Saints were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s a clean slate, new season,” Broncos running back Lance Ball said. “That’s how we have to handle it. The past is the past. We’re in here now. We’re all for one goal. We just have to get back to the winning ways.”
--Editors: Larry Siddons, Dex McLuskey.
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