With the NFL's offseason officially upon us, it's time to start looking toward Super Bowl XLVIII, which will be held at MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, N.J. Odds makers in Las Vegas have already set odds for bettors on Super Bowl XLVIII -- and it's no surprise who's at the top.
These odds will change throughout the offseason, as teams lose and gain players through free agency, trades and the 2013 NFL Draft.
New England Patriots (7/1): The Patriots took a 13-7 lead into halftime in the AFC Championship game before being dominated by the eventual Super Bowl champions in the second half, ultimately losing 28-13.
Expectations have been Super Bowl or bust in Foxboro since 2005, and that isn't changing as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick anchor the Patriots. Yes, New England needs to address the secondary, add a pass rusher, re-sign Wes Welker and address needs at the wide receiver position, but the Patriots do have plenty of cap room.
It's not surprising that the Patriots are the favorites, as Brady and Belichick look for their fourth ring since 2001. The favorites haven't won recently though, so the Patriots will need to buck that trend if the Lombardi Trophy is to head back to Foxboro.
Denver Broncos (8/1): Peyton Manning and the Broncos were a proper Hail Mary defensive play away from hosting the AFC Championship game weeks ago, and there's no reason to think they won't be a Super Bowl contender next year.
Though Manning will be another year older, he'll have a full year experience in Denver under his belt, and will continue to put up gaudy numbers as long as he's healthy. And the Broncos will be contenders as long as that's the case.
In addition to Manning and Denver's dangerous offense, Von Miller emerged as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate in his second year and will return to anchor a defense that surrendered the fourth-fewest points in the league.
San Francisco 49ers (8/1): The last two seasons have ended in heartbreak for 49ers fans -- in the 2012 NFC Championship game, the 49ers fell to the New York Giants because of shoddy special teams play. On Sunday, they came agonizingly close to finishing a 22-point comeback, but ultimately fell short against the Ravens.
Still, there's no reason to think that the 49ers won't be right in the hunt again next year. Colin Kaepernick should continue to get better as a starting quarterback, and certainly, the Super Bowl experience will only help.
San Francisco needs to address some issues in the secondary, but the defensive unit should have another good year next year as well.
Green Bay's offense will likely look a little different next year, as Greg Jennings is fully expected to test the free agent market, and likely won't return to Green Bay. Donald Driver already decided to retire. Despite this, the Packers' offense will likely be just fine -- so long as Rodgers remains healthy.
It's Green Bay's defense that needs fixing. If the Packers can shore up a defense that ranked No. 17 against the run and allowed 45 points in the Divisional round, then the Packers' odds will improve as the offseason goes on.
Houston Texans (14/1): For awhile, the Texans looked like the top team in the AFC, and certainly looked like the surest bet to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVII.
Then, the Texans were thrashed by the Patriots on Monday Night Football, and eventually finished 12-4 -- without a bye week. Houston's season ended in the Divisional round, after the Patriots once again had their way with them.
Still, the Texans have the pieces in place to make another run at the team's first Super Bowl. Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and J.J. Watt will all be back with the team next year. Houston will need to improve defensively, as the Texans still need to prove they can stop elite offenses. Until then, the Patriots and Broncos will continue to be the favorites in the AFC.
Baltimore Ravens (14/1): Despite winning Super Bowl XLVII and defeating three teams higher on this list in the playoffs, the Ravens find themselves with 14/1 odds to win Super Bowl XLVIII, and perhaps rightfully so.
Baltimore's roster will look noticeably different next season. Ray Lewis is retiring and it's very possible that the team will lose Ed Reed in free agency. Ozzie Newsome is going to have to pay Joe Flacco a lot of money, perhaps $20 million dollars per season, which could result in other roster casualties.
If the 2012-13 season taught us anything, it's not to count the Ravens out -- but we'll see how the team reacts to adversity without Lewis and possibly Reed next year.
The pieces remain in place for the Seahawks to be successful again in 2013. Russell Wilson will return as the team's starting quarterback, and Seattle's excellent young defense should continue to improve.
Seattle will also likely receive a mid-round draft pick in exchange for Matt Flynn, who is fully expected to be traded this offseason. With a solid offseason, the Seahawks could find themselves vying for the top-seed in the NFC next season -- and we all know how difficult it is to play in Seattle.
Atlanta Falcons (18/1): Odds makers and bettors don't seem to have a ton of faith in Matt Ryan and the Falcons. In their defense, the Falcons did need every second to avoid losing to the Seahawks in the Divisional round, and don't exactly have a prestigious playoff track record.
Questions concern the Falcons headed into 2013. Tony Gonzalez says he's going to retire, but the Falcons will likely try to do everything they can to lure the tight end back to Atlanta for one last hurrah next season. Michael Turner also has another year of wear-and-tear on his legs, and could begin a sharper decline.
Still, Ryan is a very good quarterback, and Julio Jones should continue to get better. The Falcons will be good next year -- the question is, once again, how good.
Pittsburgh Steerers (18/1): No, the Steelers didn't qualify for the playoffs in 2012, but that's a rarity for the Steelers lately. Pittsburgh boasted one of the best defenses in the league last year, surrendering the sixth-fewest points, while ranking No. 1 and No. 2 against the pass and rush, respectively.
As long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, the Steelers will have a legitimate chance to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Still, the Steelers have some offseason work to do and the team could lose wide receiver Mike Wallace in free agency.
New Orleans Saints (18/1): Odds makers aren't too skittish about the Saints in 2013. Sean Payton will be back in the saddle as New Orleans' offensive-minded head coach will be back on the sidelines after serving a year-long suspension.
Payton's return is music to Drew Brees' ears -- and to the ears of Saints fans everywhere.
However, the Saints must address their defense if they're going to be taken as legitimate Super Bowl contenders next year. Only the Tennessee Titans surrendered more points than the Saints did last year -- and having the second-worst defense in the league isn't going to win the Super Bowl.
If the Saints can even have a league average defense next year, they'll be legitimate title contenders -- again.