After all these years, it’s still easy to put Tom Brady at the top when ranking NFL quarterbacks. Some impressive young guns are on the rise, and Brady’s trigger finger might be a hair slower and his legs a little heavier, but time has not passed him by.
Brady turns 36 in August, when football betting will return, our handicapping records get reset to 0-0 and we recapture a youthful enthusiasm.
It’s not too late for Brady to win another Super Bowl, although he has failed to win any of the past eight. He’s not too old. Old quarterbacks become commentators and do commercials to endorse products promoting a healthy prostate, pills that fix sexual dysfunction and hair dye that makes the gray go away.
In the perception of the betting public, Brady and the New England Patriots are not a thing of the past.
On a mid-January weekend, when the conference championship games were played, the LVH sports book posted odds to win the Super Bowl in 2014. The Patriots opened as the favorites and remain the favorites at 6-1 odds.
“Right when we put them up, we took a considerable amount of money on the Patriots,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “It’s probably because people see a lot of volatility and parity in the NFL, and the Patriots are one team that’s a constant with Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm.”
It’s debatable whether Belichick still ranks as the NFL’s top coach, but he has kept New England in a title-contending role for more than a decade, an incredibly difficult task in a league with so much parity and volatility. The faces on his defense change, but the one constant has been Brady.
At age 35, Brady passed for 34 touchdowns with eight interceptions, carrying the Patriots to a 12-4 record and the AFC’s No. 2 playoff seed. It’s tough not to still rank him No. 1.
The coaching Harbaugh brothers are challenging Belichick’s reign — John and the Baltimore Ravens knocked out New England before upsetting Jim and the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 on Sunday.
Will Jim Harbaugh lead the 49ers back to a Super Bowl? The odds say “yes,” and it should happen in the near future. San Francisco is the 7-1 second choice to win the Super Bowl in 2014 on the LVH odds board.
Five more questions to consider as we look ahead to next season:
■ Which quarterback has the brighter future, Colin Kaepernick or RG3?
I asked this on Twitter, and Kaepernick won a unanimous decision. One play from winning the Super Bowl in his 10th start, he’s hotter right now. And Robert Griffin III blew out a knee after leading the Washington Redskins to the playoffs. A month ago, RG3 was The Next Big Thing. But he’s fragile, and so is popularity. Kaepernick is bigger and stronger, so he’s more likely to last as a running quarterback who also happens to throw lasers.
■ Is Joe Flacco an elite quarterback?
A lot can change in a month and after a miracle 70-yard touchdown pass in Denver. Flacco stunned Peyton Manning and the Broncos, upset Brady and played flawlessly against the 49ers. The Ravens are at 14-1 odds to repeat. Flacco had 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the playoffs to reach the next level. I rank him seventh in the league behind the New York Giants’ Eli Manning, another quarterback who’s erratic in the regular season but elite in the postseason.
■ Are the odds stacked against Rex Ryan?
The New York Jets, off a 6-10 season, have a new general manager, and 10 assistant coaches exited Ryan’s staff. The quarterback situation needs an overhaul — Mark Sanchez can’t get it done, and Tim Tebow is done in New York — and Ryan must rebuild the defense. The Jets’ odds to win the Super Bowl are 50-1. I like Ryan’s act, but he might be a long shot to survive next season.
■ Will Chip Kelly’s offense energize the Eagles?
Kelly was an innovative offensive coach at Oregon, but the NFL is a different world. He’s searching for the right quarterback to run his system in Philadelphia, and it’s hard to say if Michael Vick is even the short-term answer. Kelly could have moderate success next season. The NFC East is wide open, with the Giants looking the strongest. Griffin’s injury casts a cloud of uncertainty over the Redskins, and Dallas is in disarray. Kelly was a good hire, but the Eagles are a bad bet at 50-1 odds.
■ Are the Saints set to make a comeback?
New Orleans slipped to 7-9 without Sean Payton, one of the league’s elite coaches. But he’s back from his season-long suspension, and it appears he wants to hire Rob Ryan, who was wrongly fired after doing a solid job as Cowboys defensive coordinator. With a better defense, and with Drew Brees still putting up fat passing numbers, watch for Payton and the Saints (16-1 odds) to return with a vengeance.
That leads to my rankings of the top five quarterbacks: Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.
The young guns are coming — Kaepernick, Griffin, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson — to help make the NFL’s future more exciting.
John Elway won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 1999 at age 38, so whether it’s perception or reality, Brady seems to have time to make at least one more title run.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.