Understating the Super Bowl Point Spread
By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Predictions
Over the weekend I was cruising around Buckhead having a few drinks with an old friend when the topic of the Super Bowl came up. He mentioned that he had asked "a guy" that he places wagers through to throw down $2,000 on Chicago for him next Sunday. But when I asked my friend what number he got the line at he looked at me like I just asked him to recite the state capitols in reverse alphabetical order.
It would seem simple enough that the No. 1 fundamental of betting the Super Bowl involves understanding the spread. However, there are still so many square bettors out there that toss out their hard-earned loot without a full appreciation or knowledge about the line that they're playing.
Now, it's possible that my friend was just trying to impress me. But if he really wanted to accomplish that feat he could have done so by knowing that in Super Bowl history teams favored by exactly a touchdown are just 1-4-1 ATS or that the underdog has covered in four of the last five years. That type of analysis could justify two dimes on the Bears. Nostalgia from the time you stole a hand job from a toothless tranny in the parking garage of O'Hare Airport couldn't.
If you are going to bet on Super Bowl XLI, which will kickoff at approximately 6:20 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 4 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, you should at least have a working knowledge of what the spread is, and what it is trying to tell you.
The Indianapolis-Chicago line opened with the Colts instilled as a 7.5-point favorite. That number was quickly bet down to an even touchdown. That tells me that the sharp bettors and Windy City wise guys saw the obvious value in getting the team with the better defense above a key number and the early action was on the Bears.
(When I say "key number" I mean that seven is a statistically significant difference in the outcome of NFL games. In fact, the final score is decided by exactly seven points in approximately 7.1 percent of all games. Further, if you have Chicago at +7.5 you would have them through three "key numbers" - 3, 4, and 7 - and across differences that combine to make up approximately 43 percent of all NFL outcomes. That's value.)
Now, it's not surprising that the Colts are the favorite and I believe that the number is fair, though beatable from either side. The touchdown represents the fact that the AFC has clearly been the superior conference both in this season and in recent years. The AFC has won seven of the past nine Super Bowls straight up (5-3-1 against the spread) and has won 61.5 percent (118-74) of all interconference games since the start of the 2004 season.
Besides the recent conference totalitarianism, the Colts get the nod because they fit the profile of the team that the public is most likely to back. They have the more potent, fan-friendly offense. They have a recent history of success with five consecutive trips to the postseason. Additionally, the last impression that fans and gamblers have of Indianapolis was its dramatic comeback victory over New England in the AFC Title Game.
Finally, the Colts are the favorite because they hold the key to the most hyped storyline of the week: Peyton Manning. Indy becomes the sentimental favorite for the general betting public because the question of whether or not Manning will get a Super Bowl ring has been overblown to the point that its more important than our failing education system or the hypocrisy of our current Republican administration. People want to believe that this is Peyton's time, and they'll line up to throw their money on him in the hopes that he can vanquish over a decade's worth of choke jobs.
Now, I'm not here to say that the Colts are the favorite in this game simply as a result of some public relations machinations. No, no. They are a veteran crew with some devastating skill players. They can score points in bunches and have some momentum, so if they do win there's a fair chance that it will be by a double-digit margin. But what you have to keep in mind is that the Super Bowl line isn't set according to who the books think will win the game, it's based on who the books believe the public will play.
Which brings us to our next point. Since its initial settling, the line has held firm at -7 at most online sportsbooks. However, at two of the more prominent books (Pinnacle and BetCris) that spread has at least flirted with a stay at -6.5 due to heavy Bears action. In fact, Pinnacle and 5Dimes currently have the Colts available at -6.5. I'm not surprised to see this type of manipulation by the books and suspect it will increase as we get nearer to kickoff in order to balance the action.
Again, that's the goal: balance the action. Traditionally, the public overwhelmingly backs the favorites in the Super Bowl. This puts the books in a kamikaze position of needing the dog to cover to avoid a massive loss. But this year may be a bit different. Because Chicago is from a major market, with a marquee defense and a strong tradition, the books may have a chance to avoid such an all-or-nothing scenario.
However, there's also another underlying plot that should influence the line.
"It will take a lot of action for us to (move off 7), considering we'd be doing more than just moving off a key number," a bookmaker at Bodog said in published reports. "We would also be opening ourselves to be sided by the players if we were to move off -7. If the sharps keep playing the Bears and the recreational players play them as opposed to the Colts, we may move."
We've already established that seven is an important number. If the books were to lower the line to -6.5 then they would be opening themselves up to get middled. Bettors would get the Bears +7.5 and the Colts -6.5, and if Indianapolis won by exactly a touchdown the books would get hammered by having to pay out on both tickets. Therefore, if a majority of books were to move to 6.5 you would instantly be tipped off that a LOT of money was heading on the dog.
That scenario isn't likely, but it certainly is possible. According to Wagerline.com's calculations nearly 58 percent of all Super Bowl bets up to this point have been placed on the underdog Bears.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.
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