Road to Super Bowl LIII: Midseason picks to reach Atlanta

With the NFL regular season at its halfway point for many teams, a new batch of Super Bowl LIII prognostication was unleashed.

Look for the New England Patriots vs. the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta. Or maybe the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Los Angeles Rams.

At least those were the prevalent forecasts for the Feb. 3, 2019, matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as pundits reassessed the league in recent days:

> On NFL Network, Pro Football Hall of Famer (and former Falcon) Deion Sanders predicted the Patriots vs. the Saints in Atlanta. “Without a shadow of a doubt, Tom Brady and them are going to be there,” Sanders said. Former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew disagreed with Sanders, predicting a Chiefs-Rams game in Atlanta.

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> Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, via his radio show on New York’s WFAN, said the Chiefs and Rams are the league’s two best teams because of their talented offenses. “They’re putting up so many touchdowns and scoring so many points that you can see where they are the top two,” Esiason said. “Even though the Patriots beat the Chiefs (43-40), let’s face it: The Chiefs that night (were) a little less amped up.”

> USA Today’s six-person midseason panel predicted a New England-New Orleans Super Bowl. The Patriots got three of the six votes to win the AFC, with the Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers drawing one apiece. The Saints drew four votes to win the NFC, the other two going to the Rams.

> CBS Sports’ panel of six was evenly split on the Patriots or Chiefs as AFC champion and on the Rams or Saints as NFC champ. That was a change from the panel’s preseason forecast of the Green Bay Packers as Super Bowl LIII winner.

> And how do Las Vegas oddsmakers see the Super Bowl at the season’s midway point? The Chiefs and Patriots are the co-favorites to win the AFC at 9/4 odds, while the Rams are the NFC favorite at 7/4, followed by the Saints at 7/2,  according to Vegas Insider.  (The Rams and Saints meet Sunday in New Orleans.) The undefeated Rams are currently the favorite to win the Super Bowl at 3/1 odds.

By the way, in the new batch of Super Bowl predictions, we found no one picking the Falcons, who were Sports Illustrated's preseason choice to win the big game at home.

Blank’s message to volunteers

The Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee held a “kickoff rally” at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last weekend for its 10,000-person volunteer force.

“As volunteers, you’re the ones that will provide the energy and the passion and the fellowship that we want everybody to see that will visit Atlanta,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank told the gathering via video. “We hope obviously to play in the game, but there is a lot of work between here and there. Whether we’re playing or not, we want to be the best Super Bowl that the NFL has ever had.”

Falcons president Rich McKay told the group: “The impression we make is how we sell ourselves into the next event, not just the Super Bowl but the next FIFA World Cup and other big events like this.”

The host committee unveiled the uniforms that volunteers will wear during Super Bowl week.

Former Falcons star Warrick Dunn is honorary captain of the team of volunteers, dubbed Team ATL.

Past editions of the AJC’s weekly “Road to the Super Bowl” notebook: 

Broadcasts, security will require changes in and around Mercedes-Benz Stadium

NFL welcomes $2 hot dogs at the big game

> Large NFL delegation in Atlanta for planning