Betting on the Super Bowl Total
T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Predictions
I have spent most of the last week scratching my head trying to figure out what to do with the Super Bowl total. The problem is that I can see good arguments for both sides of the number. The total is at 48.5 right now, and it doesn't seem as of now that the bookies have much interest in moving very far from that number. I'm just a writer and a guy who's trying to figure out what is going to happen, so this is not in any way an official pick. What I'm going to do, though, is lay out the argument both for going over and for going under, and then I will decide which way I see it going. Come along for the ride:
Trends - There are a huge number of trends pointing towards an over. Indianapolis has gone over seven times in their last nine as road favorites. They have gone over eight of the last 11 times that they have played on grass. The Colts have gone over in 42 of their last 61 games which have followed a game with at least 250 yards of passing. Chicago is 13-3 for the over on grass. The Bears have an impressive overall record over their last 22 games - 16-5-1. The Bears have gone over in their last four playoff games. They've gone over eight of the last nine games following a game in which they have allowed less than 90 yards rushing. They are 5-1 going over in a game after scoring 30 or more in the previous game. Chicago is 6-2-1 in last nine against teams with a winning record, and 5-2-1 in their last eight following an ATS win. You could dig up a hundred more trends to support this position if you're a bit creative as well.
Bears' defense - As well regarded as the Chicago defensive unit is, there have been a fair number of unimpressive scoreboard performances of late. St. Louis, with an offense not entirely dissimilar to Indianapolis, scored 27. Tampa Bay put up 31. Detroit, another pass-heavy team, posted 21. Seattle managed 24. Any one of those totals could arguably be enough to put the total over, especially if you are of the opinion that the spread is fairly accurate and representative of the match-up.
Bears' offense - Ignoring the completely irrelevant game against Detroit to end the season, the Bears have scored at least 26 points their last six games. Despite periodic problems both with the passing game and the running game, the team still finds all sorts of ways to put up points. The Bears have a reasonably balanced offense to try to exploit the Colts, and the O-line should be able to control an Indy pass rush that is solid but isn't among the most aggressive in the league. Grossman has shown that he can be effective if he can find rhythm early on. If he does that then the Bears certainly have the ability to put up the numbers they need to go over.
Colts' offense - Up until the start of the second half against New England it was pretty easy to think that the Colts' offense had disappeared. Manning has struggled throughout the playoffs, and field goal kicking had become the primary weapon. The explosiveness that the Colts showed in their two most recent quarters, though, could be viewed as a re-awakening of an offensive giant. That confidence could carry over and help push the total over.
Summary - The argument to go over is supported by trends and comes down to two proven offenses combined with a Colts' defense that could be overachieving and a Bears defense that is struggling with injuries and has been underachieving. 48.5 points is easily within range of these offenses if they maintain the form of their last game.
Trends - There are trends to support the under as well. Chicago has gone under 39 times in the last 59 games in which they were underdogs. They've gone under 45 times in the last 66 games which have followed games in which they have had less than 150 yards of passing. They have gone under in six of their last eight games as underdogs. Indianapolis has gone under in five of their last seven against teams with a winning record. They have gone under in six of eight games following a straight up win. The game last week against the Patriots was the only playoff game in the last five that the Colts have gone over. The Colts are also 5-1 under in their last six road playoff games.
Colts vs. comparable offenses - The Bears defense at their best could be, very loosely, compared to Baltimore and Dallas. Indy struggled against both of those teams, and didn't come at all close to going over this total in those games.
Bears vs. Saints - The Bears played a bend-but-don't-break defense that was remarkably effective at keeping the Saints off the scoreboard. If it weren't for big plays then the Saints would have accomplished nothing at all. Though the Colts arguably have more offensive talent than the Saints, they certainly haven't been playing as well as a unit over the whole playoffs as the Saints did. If Chicago did what they did to the Saints, then it seems possible that they could do the same thing to the Colts. If the Colts don't score a lot then it seems unlikely that the total goes over.
Familiarity - The head coaches, Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy, have worked together in the past and are very close to this day. That means that they know each other's philosophies and approaches. With few secrets, it seems possible that both teams will play a conservative style so that the opposing coach can't exploit it. That could keep the total low.
Summary - The Colts have struggled against stout defenses over the second half of the season. The Bears defense is playing well, and both coaches will be playing close to their vests. All factors could keep the score low.
My take - The biggest problem I face here is that I tend to think that the total is reasonably accurate. I could see a score somewhere in the 28-21 range, which is right in the range of the posted total. Ultimately, I would choose the over if I were forced to take a side. Chicago seems to be able to find ways to score, and I don't have a ton of faith in the Indianapolis defense despite some of their recent performances. I don't think that the Colts offense will be as good as it was in the second half last week, but I do think that they will be improved compared to the first two playoff games. It basically comes down to this - I feel better about betting against both defenses locking down their opponents than I do about betting that both units will hold their ground.