Odds have Bengals near top of AFC in 2014

CINCINNATI -- Super Bowl XLVIII was barely over before Las Vegas oddsmakers began setting lines for next year's league championship. For the Cincinnati Bengals, odds are high that another AFC North division title will be coming in 2014, as will a conference finish that will only be outdone by the Broncos and Patriots.

According to Bovada Sportsbook, the Bengals exit the 2013 season as 25-to-1 odds to win Super Bowl XLIX, which will be held in Phoenix next February. Only the Broncos (8-to-1) and Patriots (14-to-1) had better odds of reaching the game as the AFC's representative. At 9-to-2, the Seattle Seahawks are favored to repeat as NFL champions. Seattle won the 48th Super Bowl on Sunday night, blasting Denver, 43-8.

Of course, much will change across the league in the next 364 days, rendering the above odds moot. Maybe the Bengals will make the key personnel fixes that will allow them to win the AFC Championship game. Maybe their moves won't pan out and they'll have a losing season. Odds aren't the best barometers of how a team can project this far before the season begins, but they can be a sign of how others feeling about that particular team. And right now, oddsmakers still like the Bengals.

Cincinnati finished third in the AFC during the regular season, posting an 11-5 record and a third AFC North championship. The Broncos and Patriots finished in the top two spots in the standings and ended up meeting in the conference title game. The Bengals will play the Broncos in 2014. In 2013, they beat the Patriots 13-6, snapping Tom Brady's 52-game streak of completing a touchdown pass. It was the second-longest such streak in NFL history.

So far this offseason, the only changes the Bengals have been able to make are those within their coaching ranks. Paul Guenther was promoted from coaching linebackers to serving as the new defensive coordinator after Mike Zimmer left to take the head-coaching job at Minnesota. Hue Jackson moved from coaching running backs to serving as offensive coordinator in the wake of Jay Gruden's departure for the Washington head-coaching job. There have been other changes with position coaches and quality control personnel. When free agency starts next month, other alterations could be coming.

With so much still in the air as far as what the Bengals' future will look like, the 25-to-1 odds -- ones shared by the Falcons, Panthers, Bears and Eagles of the NFC -- probably are about accurate for them. They are, after all, bringing back mostly the same team, and may have even made an upgrade offensively. They certainly appear to be a playoff-bound team once again, for now. But the biggest question looming above their heads this offseason is the very same one that has followed them the last two offseasons: will this be the year they finally win a playoff game?