As the biggest game of the year draws near, it's important to remember that it's not necessarily time for the biggest bet of the year. The Super Bowl is still just one game, after all.
With that said, it's one hell of a spectacle, and that means it's time to have some fun with the NFL season finale. And with a full props board in play, plus perhaps the best reason to play the money line in any given season, there are still plenty of edges to be had.
3 Unanswered Scores - Yes
There's no need to rush to the betting window on this one, as it'll probably be available in the range of -170 come game day. Laying a lot more than you stand to win isn't for the faint of heart so recreational bettors largely prefer to risk a little to win a lot, but therein lies the value. So much recreational money gets wagered on the Super Bowl leading up to kickoff that it has a pronounced impact on the odds, to the extent that laying a seemingly steep price up front can actually provide an edge relative to the true probability of something occurring. In this case, even in games projected to be close and/or low-scoring, we see teams produce three or more unanswered scores more often than a lot of fans would realize.
Exhibit A: Last year's Super Bowl. While it was the first one ever to go to overtime, even with a tie game at the end of regulation both teams had already gone on runs of at least three consecutive scores.
Exhibit B: This year's NFC Championship Game. In a matchup between two dominant defenses and two QBs better classified as game managers than playmakers, many projected a low-scoring, low-variance grinder. Yet after an opening-drive touchdown march by the Vikings, the Eagles scored six straight times, making this prop a winner before halftime in the process of advancing to Super Sunday.
First Stephen Gostkowski Kickoff a Touchback - No
This is one should also require laying more up front than you'd stand to win, but can be found at even money and at that price warrants taking without hesitation.
The reason is simple: The payout implies that it takes 50/50 odds of a touchback to break even, despite the fact that almost 60 percent of Gostkowski's kickoffs this season have not resulted in touchbacks. The price on this prop accounts for the fact that only nine teams steered clear of touchbacks on more than half of their kickoffs this season, but appears not to account for the Patriots producing the league's third-lowest touchback rate.
That may sound like a shortcoming using a traditional train of thought, but since the NFL's rule change last season to bring the ball out to the 25-yard line after touchbacks resulting from kickoffs, Bill Belichick has proven to be one of few coaches with the common sense to take advantage of the opportunity to win the field position battle in the form of high, short kickoffs that force a return after the coverage unit has had time to get downfield. For example, this season the Patriots were the only team to hold put its opponents to average starting field position inside the 25.
Maybe Gostkowski gets a little too amped up and boots his first kickoff into the end zone and the Eagles are smart enough to take a knee and start the drive at the 25. But when 50/50 odds are on the table for a prop bet the season-long stats give a 59 percent chance of cashing, it would seem fiscally irresponsible not to invest.
Bonus Prop: First Accepted Penalty - False Start
If the previous prop bet is based purely on numbers, this one is almost entirely driven by intuition, and including a (very) occasional non-binary, plus-money-payout prop in the betting portfolio can be good for the soul if not also the bankroll.
The notion here is that the officials, as humans, would prefer to let the players and coaches determine the outcome. That means they could be hesitant to throw flags on judgment calls that could go either way, especially in the early going when they'll have nerves just like the players and coaches. While it's excusable to swallow the whistle on a borderline pass interference or holding infraction that would get called if the stakes were lower, false start is one of the most obvious penalties to identify with the naked eye and is therefore too egregious a violation not to get flagged.
This bet is widely available at +300 or better (in some places, much better), and for that potential ROI a small flyer can be justified. Super Bowl referee Gene Steratore may be the man behind the most peculiar first-down measurement in NFL history, but for Steratore and his crew on Super Sunday, anonymity is a friend.
Pick of the Week: Patriots Moneyline
When it comes to the more serious wagers, the math is rightfully restored to its prominent place in the equation. For a typical favorite of 4 to 4 1/2 points, like the Patriots are in this game, a bet on the favorite to win outright would come with a price tag attached in the range of -210 to -230. Yet despite sportsbooks opening the moneyline as high as -235 in some places, New England can now be had for -180; as with the first prop bet, we could even see -170 closer to kickoff so there's no rush.
As touched on earlier, more recreational money is wagered on the Super Bowl than any other game, and most fans would prefer to bet $100 on the Eagles to win $160 rather than risk $180 to win $100 on the Patriots. For Eagles fans in particular the moneyline is a go-to, as covering the point spread is of little solace should their team lose by 3 or 4. This helps to explain why the MGM in Las Vegas reported eight times more moneyline bets on the Eagles than the Patriots during the first three days after the conference championship games, and why the outpouring of moneyline support for the Eagles hasn't stopped yet. The volume of recreational money in play, and the overwhelming tendency of recreational bettors to pursue a plus-money payout over a substantial upfront risk, makes the Super Bowl favorite arguably the most worthwhile moneyline option on the betting board every year for those who go by the numbers.
It boils down to a matter of value on a line that should be priced higher, and would be in any other game. Someone with all the handicapping expertise in the world could still struggle to get down at -180 (if not better on game day) on a typical bet that should be priced well north of -200, so when the betting market provides this kind of value, it presents an edge that calls for exploiting regardless of one's personal preference as to who ultimately hoists the Lombardi Trophy.
Last week: 3-0
Picks of the Week: 14-5-1