Patriots favored with Brady back

All it took was one Sunday to dramatically change the balance of power in the NFL last season. Tom Brady took a fall, and the New England Patriots’ hopes of reaching the Super Bowl plummeted.

Brady’s left knee broke down in the season opener, and while the Patriots rallied for an 11-5 record without their star quarterback, they just missed the playoffs.

One year later, Brady is back and New England is again the favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots are at 4-1 odds at the Las Vegas Hilton. But do they deserve that lofty status?

“I think the Patriots are the favorites because they’re probably the best team,” Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “The odds are a reflection of a lot of opinions out there. However, I question the Patriots.

“Everybody remembers that magical run two years ago, and how dominant they were, and that seems to stick in a lot of people’s minds. But since the second half of that season, the Patriots have not been close to that dominant.”

The San Diego Chargers, at 8-1 odds, are the second choice on the board, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers at 10-1.

With Brady out of the picture, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a thrilling Super Bowl victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The chances of a rematch are remote.

There are few believers in the Cardinals, who are getting 30-1 odds to win the championship, and the Steelers must deal with some tougher competition in the AFC.

Kornegay’s crystal ball shows the Chargers and Green Bay Packers meeting in the Super Bowl. “This is shaping up to be the Chargers’ year,” he said.

But making predictions in early September is tricky. One major injury can change everything. Let the guessing game begin anyway.

Here’s an early look at some of the season’s top matchups, with current betting lines from the Hilton:

Sept. 20: Pittsburgh (-11/2) at Chicago — The Bears are convinced quarterback Jay Cutler is the answer to their problems. Kornegay said he’s not so sure: “What is a franchise quarterback? A franchise quarterback who just led his team to an 8-8 record last year?” Cutler did more whining than winning in Denver.

Oct. 5: Green Bay at Minnesota (-4) — Drama queen Brett Favre will be dressed in purple for his reunion with the Packers. Regardless of the outcome on this Monday night in Minneapolis, Green Bay is better off with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.

Nov. 1: Minnesota at Green Bay (-21/2) — More drama awaits as Favre returns to Lambeau Field.

Nov. 8: San Diego at New York Giants (-3) — The Chargers should coast through the AFC West, but they will get tested in the regular season by every beast in the NFC East.

Nov. 15: New England (-3) at Indianapolis — Brady and Peyton Manning take center stage on one of the season’s best Sundays. In other games, Dallas is at Green Bay, and Philadelphia is at San Diego.

Nov. 30 — New England (-31/2) at New Orleans: Expect a lot of offense and some great proposition betting as Brady duels with Drew Brees on a Monday night.

Dec. 13: San Diego at Dallas (-21/2) — The Cowboys typically fade in December, when the Chargers always get hot. Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and Norv Turner face Tony Romo, Marion Barber and Wade Phillips. Two talented teams and two clumsy head coaches.

Dec. 28: Minnesota at Chicago (-2) — If he hasn’t already retired again, Favre revisits Soldier Field, where he routinely embarrasses the Bears.

And that’s only scratching the surface. As usual, the NFL season promises to be thick with intrigue.

Terrell Owens takes his tired act to Buffalo, and Michael Vick tries to make a positive impression in Philadelphia.

What we know for certain is the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders will still stink.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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