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Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Jacksonville Jaguars look the complete NFL package

New Orleans Saints and LA Chargers contenders for Vince Lombardi Trophy

Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles
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While deep pockets are almost all you need in some sporting spheres to guarantee success, the NFL has never seen itself as a battlefield where the rich get richer.

Parity is the name of the game. It's the reason for salary caps and the worst team from the previous season getting first pick of the college talent in the draft the following year.

New names should appear in the race for the Super Bowl and even if it takes teams a few years, they should be able to get into a challenging position eventually.

It has all worked out very nicely this year.

Of the 32 teams, at least half will think they have a realistic chance of claiming the Vince Lombardi Trophy while another eight might believe they can go deep into the playoffs if they enjoy some good fortune, particularly regarding injuries, the most common cause of a derailed season.

That leads to an exciting spectacle and cracking games, although for punters having to consider such small margins is a nightmare.

Perennial challengers New England, last season's AFC champions head the market again, mainly because their divisional rivals Buffalo, Miami and the New York Jets are three of the weaker teams.

Defending champions Philadelphia could be stronger than last year with the return of quarterback Carson Wentz from injury, notwithstanding replacement Nick Foles's great contribution in the post-season last year.

And the same can be said of Kirk Cousins-led Minnesota, who the Eagles beat in the NFC Championship game.

Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay, spearheaded by fit-again quarterback Aaron Rodgers, will have their backers, but there is some value to be had a little further down the listand we could see a new name on the trophy.

Wilkerson's best bet
Jacksonville 20-1
The Patriots, Packers and Steelers have won 15 Super Bowls between them but Jacksonville have an excellent chance of claiming their first this year.

The Jaguars will still be kicking themselves that they allowed a ten-point final-quarter lead slip against New England in last season's AFC Championship game and it is not difficult to see that acting as motivation for them to make further progress.

But it is more than that nagging memory that makes them a decent bet to win it all.

They possess what was the second strongest defence in the league last season and a running back in Leonard Fournette who was a revelation in his rookie season.

Those who have misgivings about the Jaguars will point out that Blake Bortles cannot be considered the sort of pin-up quarterback who can inspire a team to the ultimate success.

Now in his fifth year he has a great chance to excel. His confidence must be higher after Jacksonville improved from 3-13  to 10-6 last season, and the fixtures look to have fallen kindly for them.

Bortles will be pitting his wits against a host of teams who struggled defending the pass last year - they face just two teams who were ranked in the top ten (Pittsburgh and Washington) and have nine games against teams who were 24th or lower.

Everything else looks to be in place and there will be no excuses if they do not go deep into the playoffs once again.

Next best
New Orleans 16-1
The NFC looks to be the tougher side of the draw by far and the South is the most competitive division in it, but New Orleans look like a team who can make a bold challenge.

Drew Brees will be 40 in January but he remains one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league and he has a great supporting cast to call upon.

The Saints will be without suspended running back Mark Ingram for their first four matches, but fellow rusher Alvin Kamara was a revelation when claiming the offensive rookie of the year award last season.

Decent receivers provide support and there have been great improvements on defence - cornerback Marshon Lattimore was defensive rookie of the year, making it only the second time both star newcomers have come from the same team.

Sean Payton's young roster could come together to give Brees a  shot at a second Super Bowl success.

Other selection
Los Angeles Chargers 20-1
The Rams have had an active off-season and hefty free-agency activity has made them one of the most fancied teams.

However, it is worth chancing that the other recent arrivals in Tinseltown, the Chargers, could force their way into the picture on the other side of the draw.

The Chargers are favourites to take the AFC West and can progress even further having finished like a train last year to just miss out on the playoffs - their 9-7 record was the same as that of Buffalo who claimed the final AFC wildcard spot. They lost their opening four games, three of them by three points or fewer.

The have an excellent combination of a a strong veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers and a fine defence which has been boosted through the draft.

They have been a nearly team for many years but if they can be more comfortable in their new home after a difficult and injury-blighted first season, expect them to make their presence felt.

2pts each-way 20-1 Hills
New Orleans
1.5pts each-way 16-1 Betfair, BoyleSports, Paddy Power
Los Angeles Chargers
1pt each-way 20-1 general

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Sean Payton's young roster could come together to give Drew Brees a shot at a second Super Bowl success
E.W. Terms
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