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Do Eagles hold the key?

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Could Eagles' Schedule Determine Next Season's Super Bowl Champion?

We already know when Super Bowl XLVIII will be played next season: February 2, 2014. We also already know that weather is assured to be a factor as the game is being staged at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets, in East Rutherford, N.J. It's the first outdoor Super Bowl at a cold-weather site.

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Of course what no one knows is which team will hoist the Lombardi Trophy next winter, although the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers are the opening 7/1 co-favorites at Bovada. However, recent history says the Broncos and 49ers have no chance.

Yes, Denver went 13-3 this past season and was the No. 1 seed in the AFC before being stunned in the playoffs by Baltimore. The Broncos have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning and perhaps the best young defensive player in the NFL in Von Miller.

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San Francisco was the NFC's No. 2 seed and beat Green Bay and Atlanta to reach Super Bowl XLVII, where the Niners came up just yards short of a shocking comeback win over the Ravens. San Francisco had an NFL-high nine Pro Bowlers this season and all should return in 2013. That Pro Bowl group doesn't even include quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a rising superstar.

Here is why neither the Broncos nor Niners will win Super Bowl XLVIII: they don't play in Philadelphia next regular season. You see, the Ravens became the fourth-straight Super Bowl winner to have been the Eagles' home-opening opponent that season. Baltimore lost in Philadelphia 24-23 in Week 2. In 2011, the New York Giants opened at Lincoln Financial Field and beat Philly 29-16. The year before, Green Bay won 27-20 at the Eagles. In 2009, New Orleans routed Philadelphia 48-22 on the way to a 13-0 start.

Philadelphia actually has hosted the eventual Super Bowl winner for six years running but not in the opener in 2008 and '07. The NFL won't release the 2013 schedule until this spring, but here are the Eagles' home opponents and their Super Bowl odds: Dallas (25/1), New York Giants (20/1), Washington (30/1), Arizona (66/1), Chicago (20/1), Detroit (40/1), Kansas City (50/1) and San Diego (35/1).

Working in Denver's favor for next season is that it plays the NFL's easiest schedule, with an opponents' 2012 winning percentage of .430. The only playoff teams the Broncos play during the year are the Redskins, Ravens, Texans, Colts and Patriots - meaning there will be yet another Manning versus Tom Brady regular-season showdown. Denver's schedule is helped by playing six games inside its weak AFC West.

New England (15/2), Green Bay (10/1) and Seattle (12/1) round out the top five favorites.

The last time the Patriots lost the AFC Championship game, as they did this season, was after the 2006 season to Manning's Colts. New England bounced back the next year by going unbeaten until an upset loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

The Packers opened this season as the favorites with New England. Aaron Rodgers again led the NFL in quarterback rating in 2013, but Green Bay couldn't run the ball and the defense was overwhelmed in the Divisional Round loss in San Francisco. Green Bay will play the sixth-toughest schedule next year because of its deep NFC North Division.

The Seahawks were the hottest team in the NFC from December on and had the league's best quarterback in that stretch in rookie Russell Wilson. He simply left Atlanta's Matt Ryan too much time late in the fourth quarter in the Divisional Round loss to the Falcons. Seattle has perhaps the best overall defense in the NFL, although it must replace departed coordinator Gus Bradley, the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The champion Ravens are at 14/1 with the Houston Texans to win the Super Bowl. No team has repeated as Super Bowl champion since the Patriots after the 2003 and '04 seasons. Houston is still looking to reach its first AFC Championship game. Atlanta, the No. 1 seed in the NFC this season and who came up a few yards short of potentially beating the 49ers in the NFC title game, is 16/1.

There were eight head-coaching changes in the NFL this offseason and the team with the shortest futures odds among that group is Chicago at 20/1. The Bears were the only 10-win team to fail to make the playoffs in 2012. They fired defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with offensive guru Marc Trestman, the Montreal Alouettes' head coach and a former NFL offensive coordinator. The team with the longest odds overall at 150/1 is Jacksonville, which hired Bradley to replace Mike Mularkey after a 2-14 season.

Bet on Super Bowl XLVIII futures now at Bovada. Raise your game.

  
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