Saints Have Plenty of Competition in Quest to Repeat

Colts, Vikings, Cowboys among NFL teams drawing heavy attention from bettors

Now that Brett Favre’s annual ESPN-fueled will-he-or-won’t-he melodrama has reached its expected conclusion, we finally have a clear picture of the upcoming NFL season, which is definitely good news to Jay Kornegay.

No longer will the Las Vegas Hilton sports book executive director have to play a guessing game with the season’s odds wondering if the 40-year-old quarterback is going to suit up for one more year with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Favre is a big pain in the you-know-what,” Kornegay says. “He’s driving us nuts. He’s basically a tree-killer because we keep changing our customer sheets all the time.”

When the NFL season’s lines were first posted, Kornegay opened the Vikings at 12-1 to win the Super Bowl with the belief that Favre was going to play. Then he dropped Minnesota to 16-1 when it appeared the QB might actually retire. Once Favre officially returned on Aug. 18, money flooded in on the Vikings and pushed their odds to 9-1 in little more than a day.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride with the Vikings the last few weeks concerning Favre,” he says. “And it definitely affected the odds on almost everything that we have on the board concerning the NFL.”

Even with Favre back under center for a Minnesota team that likely would have reached the Super Bowl last season if not for five turnovers in the NFC Championship Game against New Orleans, the Vikings are not favored to win it all. That distinction, at 7-1, goes to the Indianapolis Colts, who lost to the Saints in the Super Bowl after starting the season 14-0.

New Orleans and the Dallas Cowboys, at 8-1, are the top choices in the NFC to take home the Lombardi Trophy this season, followed by Minnesota. Rarely has the defending Super Bowl champion been worse than 6-1 to repeat, but “that’s just a reflection of the number of good teams in the NFL,” Kornegay says. “There’s so many of them that the top 10 to 12 teams in the NFL can easily win the Super Bowl. And I don’t think it stops there, to tell you the truth.”

One team that has attracted a ton of attention is the New York Jets, who reached the AFC Championship Game last season behind first-year head coach Rex Ryan, rookie QB Mark Sanchez, a strong running game and the league’s top-ranked defense. With the addition of running back LaDainian Tomlinson, they are 12-1 favorites to win the title, along with AFC East rival New England, which opened at 8-1 and seems to be getting overlooked by bettors.

There seems to be little debate about which teams are going to win the other three AFC divisions, with the Colts, Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers overwhelming favorites to win the South, North and West, respectively. Kornegay says the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans are two AFC long shots that have been getting long looks from bettors, and he named the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be without suspended QB Ben Roethlisberger for their first six games, as his dark horse to take the conference title.

In the NFC, despite all the hype surrounding Favre and the Vikings, Kornegay predicts that not only will they not win the conference title, they won’t even win the NFC North. Instead he likes the Green Bay Packers, who took off in the second half of last season, to finish ahead of Minnesota.

In the South, Kornegay likes the Saints to edge Atlanta for first place, although he wouldn’t be surprised if their order is reversed.

“I think [the Falcons] have a lot of great tools,” he says. “I love Matt Ryan. I think he’s a terrific quarterback, a terrific leader. I love the coaching there, and I can see them easily overtaking the Saints.”

The most competitive division this year should be the NFC East, although just about everyone with an opinion seems to be siding with the Cowboys. Kornegay, though, says he could see either the Philadelphia Eagles or New York Giants shaking things up, with even the Washington Redskins having a puncher’s chance with QB Donovan McNabb coming over from Philly.

“It seems like the Cowboys have everything in place, but we’ve definitely heard that before,” Kornegay says.

The San Francisco 49ers are substantial favorites to win the NFC West, definitely the weakest division in the league, especially with the retirement of Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner.

“I love the 49ers’ defense,” Kornegay says. “But with [QB] Alex Smith being that inconsistent, you’ve got to have some concerns about them being that strong a team to just hand them the division title.”

While San Francisco is Kornegay’s dark-horse pick to win the NFC, he says the conference champion will likely come out of the East or North, taking the Packers to play the Chargers in Super Bowl XLV in Cowboys Stadium.

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