Super Bowl Preview Part 3: Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots Betting Advice
Published on January 31, 2017
Who: Atlanta Falcons (11–5) vs. New England Patriots (14–2)
Where: NRG Stadium. Houston, Texas
When: Sunday, February 5, 2017. 6:30 PM (EST)
The day we’ve all been waiting for is fast approaching: The newest American holiday. The Super Bowl.
Unless you’re one of the 2.5 million viewers who will instead by tuning into Animal Planet’s annual “Puppy Bowl,” odds are you’re one of the more-than-one-hundred-and-2.5 million people that will be hunkering down to tune in to the big game in Houston.
Maybe you’re one of the many people that will be on the edge of their seats after laying down a sizable bet on the big game.
And for those viewers who have been following our preview series thus far, you know just about every single thing you need to know about the two teams we’re going to see in the Super Bowl. With our help, even casual fans who may not have tuned in once throughout the regular season or the playoffs will have plenty to talk about come game day.
In Part 1 of our Super Bowl preview, we reviewed the two offenses that we’ll see in the Super Bowl. For quarterbacks, we found two men playing at the highest level of their career, backed by savant offensive coordinators and stout offensive lines. We saw two running games that have both been very productive – one relying more on a single featured back, and the other with a two-headed attack. Finally, for receiving corps, we found two very different models that are both equally effective.
Our conclusion? It’s very hard to give an advantage to one team or another based on the play of the offense.
However, in Part 2 of our Super Bowl preview, we found a much different story upon review of the defenses and special teams. We found that the special teams units for the Falcons and Patriots each have their own strengths, but are equally effective. We saw two secondary units that are playing at a very high level, even if New England’s group is definitely the more veteran of the two. But when we looked at the front sevens for these two teams, the widest gap was revealed: Both the Falcons and the Pats have trouble in pass rush, but Atlanta’s front seven is demonstrably worse against the run.
Critically, based on our assessments of the defense, we had to give the advantage to New England.
But even though we did conclude – upon exhaustive study – that New England’s defense has a slight edge over Atlanta’s, we wouldn’t go nearly so far as to say that this matchup is an “unstoppable force vs. an immovable object.” For us, that tired narrative has already been played out.
The reason that we wouldn’t paint a picture of Super Bowl 51 that is so black-and-white as an “unstoppable” force meeting an “immovable” object is that while the regular season stats may make it seem like this is case, (and while such a dramatic storyline may sell newspapers), the fact of the matter is that in the postseason you throw out the regular season. In the Super Bowl, it’s like ancient history.
So yes, while it’s true that New England had the NFL low for points allowed per game at 15.4, and the Falcons had the 6th-highest number at 25.4 points allowed per game, that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this game.
The farthest back you can go in order to look at trends for the Super Bowl is the postseason, and even then, you’re looking primarily for injuries or any other personnel changes that create meaningful matchups for the big game.
And in the postseason, the two teams we’ll see matched up in the Super Bowl revealed themselves quite clearly: In the divisional round, both the Falcons and the Patriots matched up at home against good teams with good defenses: The Falcons beat the Seahawks 36–20; the Patriots beat the Texans 34–16.
In the conference championship round, both the Falcons and the Patriots matched up at home once again, this time against good teams with worse defenses. The Falcons beat the Packers 44–21; the Patriots beat the Steelers 36–17.
So, to be clear, when you look at the scores of these games, it’s very apparent that even going up against the best teams remaining in the league, both the Falcons and the Patriots have looked pretty darn “unstoppable” on offense, and both the Patriots and the Falcons have looked very nearly “immovable” on defense. And any narrative that would oversimplify either team’s accomplishments in the 2016/17 postseason is just downright incomplete.
But this begs the question: If, as we’ve seen, there’s no easy overarching narrative to rely on going into this game, then how can we know what’s going to happen? (And, more to the point, how can we know where to place our wagers?)
The short answer is that it comes down to individual matchups. Neither of these two teams have the personnel to dominate on all levels: Julio Jones will provide a huge difficulty for the Patriots, and LeGarrette Blount will be equally tough to handle for the Falcons.
And the most important thing is that no matter what the Patriots do to stop Julio Jones, and no matter what the Falcons do to stop LeGarrette Blount – or anyone else, for that matter – all that will happen is that these efforts will tip the scales in another direction. If Jones is double-covered, then Sanu or Gabriel could be open. If the Falcons drop 8 in the box to stop the run, then quick outs to the receivers could open up.
The point we’re trying to make is that at this point of the season, with the two best teams in football going head to head for the World Championship, there isn’t any sort of easy narrative to point to and say “and that’s why this team is going to win, no question.”
We know just like everybody else that 11 of the last 12 Super Bowl winners have worn white jerseys. We know just like everybody else that the Patriots will be wearing white jerseys, as the Falcons were the designated home team and decided to wear red.
But in Super Bowl 51, it’s not about the color of the jerseys. It’s not about “unstoppable forces” and “immovable objects.” It’s about the little things.
It’s about the two best play-callers in the NFL – Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels – facing off, when a single inadequate 2nd-down play call could mean the difference between a drive stalling and a manageable down and distance on 3rd down.
It’s about the two hottest quarterbacks in the game – Tom Brady and Matt Ryan – matching up, one trying to maintain stamina after playing 270 NFL games in a span of 16 years, the other trying to keep down the jitters in his first experience playing on the biggest stage.
It’s about the Falcons’ rookie safety, called down to the line of scrimmage due to a formation that he’s never seen before in his entire life, needing to make a split decision about whether to jam the receiver right off the line of scrimmage or play back 10 yards, knowing that if he chooses wrong Tom Brady will undoubtedly make him pay.
It’s about the Patriots’ rookie left guard, having misheard the protection call for the play due to the noise and now having the NFL’s sack leader Vic Beasley bearing down on him on a wicked twist stunt that leaves him in the tough position of either giving up a sack that could kill the drive or earning a holding penalty that could push his team out of field goal position.
And luckily for you, we’ve taken a deep dive into all of these little things – all of these individual matchups – that will come to bear in Super Bowl 51.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of our preview, we summarized these factors in minute detail. But now it’s time to see how everything comes together, and most importantly, to decide what that means for how you should bet.
Below, we’ll take a look at the moneyline odds for the Super Bowl, betting against the spread, the total score over/under (which – spoiler alert – happens to be the highest of all time!) and, last but certainly not least, any individual prop bets that could potentially hold value in Super Bowl 51.
For those with less gambling experience, the “moneyline” odds are simply the odds that a team will win the game. One way to talk about these odds is in terms of how much profit a $100 bet will return: In this case, the Falcons are at +125, meaning if you bet $100 on the Falcons to win the game outright, and they did in fact win, you would receive a $125 return on your investment.
However, because the Patriots are favored to win the game, at -145 you would need to bet $145 in order to win $100. So if you bet the same $100 as above this time on the Patriots to win, and they won, you would receive only a $68.97 return.
In this case, the payout is lower because the Vegas odds-makers think that there’s a greater likelihood that the Patriots win the game, and so they want to provide an incentive for gamblers to bet on the Falcons. Of course, from their perspective, if roughly equal numbers of people bet on both the Falcons and the Patriots, then (hopefully) Vegas would make money regardless of the outcome.
And while the house (almost) always wins, from the gambler’s perspective – as is apparent from the examples above – provided that you correctly choose which team is going to win the game, you are bound to make money.
Whether the odds are favorable, and so you win more money, or the odds are not so favorable, and so you win less money – in both cases, you didn’t lose any money, so long as you guessed right. So by this logic, all we have to do here is determine which team will win Super Bowl 51!
Naturally, this is not as easy as it sounds. And it’s made doubly difficult by the fact that in the Super Bowl, many if not most of the factors that we generally rely on in order to make our assessment of which team will win the game have become null and void. Let us explain why.
Generally speaking, our approach to determining which team to bet for moneyline odds is to try and ascertain which team will maintain the drive and the determination necessary to play focused, to play hungry, and to play fundamentally sound throughout the entire 60-minute contest. We believe that the team that maintains this drive and focus generally makes fewer mistakes, and wins.
For example, in the latter half of the regular season, postseason implications make a huge difference in whether or not a team will play with heart. When a team that has been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention goes on the road against a team that has everything on the line, it’s pretty obvious that the individual matchups – for example, a fired up defensive tackle vs. a tired O-lineman – would sway towards the home team, and would ultimately end up being a determining factor.
But in the Super Bowl, obviously every single player, coach, fan, executive, and everything in between is as fully invested as they will ever be, so motivation is not even worth mentioning.
Another factor that we believe greatly influences a team’s heart and drive is whether or not they are home or away. And while the Super Bowl is played on a neutral field, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one team won’t get more of a boost from the crowd than the other.
Specifically, we’re thinking about two facts: Geography, and history.
Geographically speaking, Houston is a lot closer to Atlanta than it is to Foxborough. But our point isn’t to say that the distance would deter Patriots fans from going to the game — if the Super Bowl was played in Shanghai, you’d still see Patriots fans there. The point is that the city of Houston is more likely to be called home by Atlanta fans than it is to Patriots fans.
And historically, too, this makes sense. The two cities are fairly similar – both southern, both warm, both on the same side of the Mason-Dixon line. So, this means two things:
In this way, we wouldn’t be surprised if the crowd in NRG Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday looks a little bit more red than blue.
However, even taking all of this into account, there’s no way that either team would gain any sort of advantage based on how the fans are cheering in the stadium. With both participating teams given the right to distribute 17.5% of the total tickets, there’s definitely going to be at least 12,600 die-hard fans for both teams in the stands, making the stadium plenty noisy for both teams while the offenses are on the field.
Furthermore, the stakes are so high in the Super Bowl that the players aren’t likely to be influenced by the crowd noise – it’s not as though anything could make them any more pumped up on adrenaline than they already are. Each of the 22 men on the field will have plenty of cause for making mistakes, regardless of whether or not the noise is the thing that distracts them.
So, we can’t rely on motivation to make our decision, and we can’t rely on any sort of home field advantage.
And with a two-week bye week (and no significant injuries coming out of the last two playoff games for either team), we can’t rely on the health of the football teams either. The Falcons have been very healthy this season, with the 11 starters missing only 10 games combined this season, many of which were due to Jacob Tamme. The same story is true for the Patriots, with Rob Gronkowski the only major injury.
But more importantly, with the stakes being this high, every single player for both teams will be on the field come Super Bowl Sunday, even if they have to move heaven and earth to get there.
Going even farther down the list of game-changing factors, another element that we’re not able to use in this game is momentum. Not only are these the only two teams left standing, and not only do they each have their own dramatic storyline for why they are “destined” to win this game, but they also have been playing phenomenally well in the postseason, as we mentioned above.
Specifically, both teams dominated their respective championship game: The Falcons’ calculated win percentage against the Packers never dipped below 99% for the entire second half. The Patriots/Steelers game was only a little bit “closer,” by comparison, with the team only spending one entire quarter at a 99% statistical certainty level that they would win the game.
In summary, the absence of any sort of decisive advantage based on motivation, home field, health, and momentum, we ultimately let our choice rest on one decisive factor: Experience.
Julio Jones may have said it best of the Falcons in his post-game locker room interview after the NFC Championship game: “Can’t nobody stop us except us.” And in Super Bowl 51, we believe that the Falcons will be the ones to stop the Falcons.
With noticeable youth and inexperience in the defensive secondary, and with no carryover in personnel since the last time the franchise made it to the Super Bowl, the fact of the matter is that the Falcons are likely to make more mistakes than the Patriots based on their lack of experience.
It’s not just on the field, either: The Patriots have been to the Super Bowl 6 times already in the Brady-Belichick era, meaning that those two men (and a host of other players and other members of the organization) will be able to advise the younger and newer players in what it takes to properly prepare, in how to get your body and your mind right for the game, in what to do differently (and what not to do differently) when it comes game time.
In a game that is bound to be as tightly-contested as any Super Bowl in memory, this slight but serious advantage will ultimately prove the difference, and the New England Patriots will make Tom Brady the first quarterback to ever win 5 Super Bowls.
Pick: Patriots to win
Now that we’ve established our moneyline pick for Super Bowl 51 – that the New England Patriots will win – it’s time to turn our attention to betting against the spread.
For those unfamiliar with spread betting, the basic idea is pretty similar to moneyline odds: You are still choosing which team will win the game, and Vegas has simply set up the situation with the intention that both teams receive roughly equivalent action.
The big difference is that with spread betting, the odds are adjusted in a slightly different way than with moneyline odds: Instead of adjusting the payout for a team’s win, with bets against the spread the score by which the team must “win” is adjusted, such that a team could “win” against the spread (or, “cover the spread”) without actually winning the game.
For Super Bowl 51, the Patriots have been assigned a 3-point spread at the Bovada sportsbook (and, in fact, at just about every single sportsbook out there). Speaking very roughly, for the sake of clarity, this means that odds-makers expect the Patriots to win by 3 points.
More accurately, what this means is that the Patriots have been given a 3-point handicap, in an effort to make the betting more even. If you bet on the Patriots “against the spread,” in this particular matchup what you are saying is that the Patriots will not only win, but they will win by more than 3 points. If the Patriots win by 2, you lose. Conversely, if you bet on the Falcons against the spread and they lose by 2 points, it’s true that Atlanta is not the Super Bowl champions, but you have won your bet nonetheless.
So basically, it’s a lot like when a little kid takes on his older brother in basketball, first one up to 10 points, but then starts the game with a 3-point head-start, in order to even things out.
With a 3-point spread, what odds-makers are saying is that if they were to say that the game is a toss-up, and call it a “pick-em” (a spread of 0 points), a disproportionate number of people would likely bet on the Patriots, because more people believe that the Patriots will win.
And once again, the goal of the Vegas odds-makers is to make sure that an even amount of action is placed on both sides of the bet. So by giving the Patriots this 3-point handicap, they are trying to get more people to bet on the Falcons – specifically, those people who would say “I think that the Patriots will win the Super Bowl, but I think they will win by less than 3 points, so I’m going to bet on the Falcons even though I think they’re going to lose.”
In this way, we see very clearly what our goal is in this section: We’ve already decided that the Patriots are going to win Super Bowl 51. But now we have to ask ourselves, are they going to win by more than 3 points?
Our first clue comes from the odds themselves: Notice that betting the Falcons against the spread is currently getting even odds at the Bovada sportsbook (even odds being equivalent to +/-100), meanwhile betting the Patriots against the spread is getting worse odds (-120).
What this means is that a disproportionate number of people are betting on the Patriots at the Bovada sportsbook – despite the 3-point handicap – compared to the people who are betting on the Falcons, and so Bovada is trying to incentivize the bet on the Falcons to even things out.
However, we’re not the type to take our cue from what’s popular. It doesn’t matter to us how the majority of gamblers are betting – if the majority is wrong, it doesn’t help us to follow the crowd.
Generally speaking, our approach for determining which team will win against the spread is instead to look at the quarterbacks playing in the game, and whether or not they command offenses that are of sufficient caliber to make an impact on the outcome.
In this case, to set the stage, given that we believe Tom Brady’s team is going to win, this means that we have to ask ourselves two questions:
However, there’s just one small problem with this approach: This is the Super Bowl, and as was made abundantly clear in Part 1 of our Super Bowl preview, we’re absolutely confident that both of these men have the physical attributes, the football IQ, the run/pass balance, the downfield weapons, and most importantly the coaching and scheme necessary to perform well on offense in Super Bowl 51.
And so, to make the adjustment necessary for Super Bowl football, instead of asking the question of whether Brady or Ryan has what it takes to either pull his team ahead or keep his team close, we’re instead going to ask a related question.
The question we’re going to ask to determine whether or not the Patriots are going to win Super Bowl 51 by more than 3 points is similar to the question that we asked for whether they would win or lose the game: Will the Patriots offense be able to commit fewer mistakes than the Falcons offense, ensuring that the Patriots end up getting more possessions than the Falcons that end up in points?
Even this is a very difficult question to answer, considering the fact that these two offenses are likely the two most disciplined units in the league: The Patriots and the Falcons were tied for the fewest giveaways in the entire league during the 2016/17 regular season. In the postseason, the Patriots turned the ball over 3 times against the Texans, but no other game by either team featured a giveaway, including no turnovers at all from the Falcons.
Taking a closer look, though, it’s important to note that the Falcons got very lucky in their game against the Green Bay Packers, in terms of turnovers. Atlanta recovered two indefensible offensive fumbles that they just as easily could have lost, and they also had two Packers’ secondary players miss a clear opportunity for an interception on two separate occasions.
Meanwhile, in that Patriots/Texans divisional playoff game, one of Brady’s interceptions was tipped off of the receiver’s hands (the ball couldn’t have been placed any better than it was) and the Patriots’ fumble was on the kickoff – nothing to do with the offense. Only one of the three turnovers was truly a mistake by an offensive player: Brady throwing a tipped-ball interception after not seeing a linebacker lined up in coverage behind the wall of the line in the middle of the field.
So ultimately, the Falcons could have just as easily have lost 4 offensive turnovers this postseason, while the Patriots could have easily only lost 1.
Considering the youth of the Falcons squad, and further given the fact that Matt Ryan has appeared in 6 fewer Super Bowls than Tom Brady, we do believe that the Falcons are more likely to turn the ball over on offense than the Patriots.
In the ground game, too, we see the same story. LeGarrette Blount is 30 years old – a seasoned veteran – meanwhile the two running backs employed by the Falcons are 23 and 24. We believe the younger players will be much more likely to let the bigness of the moment distract them, and cause them to keep them from being as fundamentally sound as they would have been otherwise.
In the end, even if there are 0 turnovers in the entire game, we still believe that the youth and inexperience of the Falcons squad will cause them to sputter and stall on more drives than the Patriots. In a game that is likely to be incredibly tight, if the Falcons so much as lose out on one single drive – due to a dropped pass, a fumbled snap, a blown protection assignment, anything – it could prove the difference in the ball game.
Meanwhile, we believe that the Patriots are balanced enough, have enough veteran talent on the field at all times, and have enough Super Bowl experience to limit their mistakes throughout the entire game. We believe that the Patriots will be able to capitalize on the mistakes made by the Falcons and keep the pressure on throughout the entire game, ultimately ending up in a victory by more than 3 points.
Pick: Patriots to win by more than 3
So, we have now established that we believe that the New England Patriots are going to win Super Bowl 51, and that they are going to win by more than 3 points.
But this still isn’t enough to tell us whether the total score, combined for both teams, is going to be above or below 59.5 points (the all-time high for an over/under in a Super Bowl). A 7-point victory in the NFL could come in a game that ends 7–0 (for a total score of 7), or in a game that ends 57–50 (for a total score of 107).
In this way, our goal in determining whether to bet that the game will go over 59.5 points or whether it will go under 59.5 points is to try to more holistically determine whether or not the game will be generally high-scoring or generally low-scoring.
Our approach for making this assessment relies on our understanding of the two defenses involved. We believe, generally speaking, quality defenses are ultimately defenses that forbid the other team from putting points on the board, and so the higher that we rate the defenses involved in the matchup, the more likely we are to say that there will be few points scored in the game and thus to recommend the under.
Historically, it is important to note that only one team in league history has ever won the Super Bowl after having allowed more points per game than average (relative to the rest of the league during that particular season). In the 2011/12 season, the New York Giants allowed 12.7% more points per game on average than did the rest of the league that year. The 2016/17 Falcons are giving up 9.6% more points than the league average.
But as we mentioned above, in the postseason you throw out regular season performance and look almost exclusively at how their defense fared against playoff teams, and how well they match up.
And in this case, as we reviewed in detail in Part 2 of our Super Bowl preview, we rate both of these two defenses very highly, and find very few holes in either of them.
There is one primary deficiency that is shared by both teams, which is the inability of the front seven to put pressure on the quarterback. With quarterbacks as good as Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, who are able to get the ball out of their hands very quickly, it becomes nearly impossible to bring extra men on the rush, because the result would be to get picked apart in the quick passing game.
The solution, as has been known for years, by teams throughout the league, is to employ a defense that is well-rounded enough that 7 or 8 secondary players (or linebackers in coverage) can hold out for somewhere between 3 and 5 seconds, giving the 3 or 4 pass-rushers the ability to pressure the quarterback enough that he makes a bad decision, or better yet to sack the quarterback outright.
However, while this sounds pretty simple, very few defenses in the league have secondary units deep enough to provide this kind of time, and even fewer defenses have pass rushers proficient enough to get to the quarterback going 3- or 4-on-5. The offensive lines of the Falcons and Patriots have been winning the battles against 3- or 4-men pressures throughout most of the season.
So, in this way, we find it very unlikely that either defense would be able to dominate the opposing offense, and we do believe that points will be scored in this matchup. We believe that this lack of a pass rush is enough to provide both of these two teams a starting place of 2 touchdowns, and so we’ll start off our assessment of the game with a guaranteed minimum score of 14–14, for a total of 28.
Now, let’s see if there will be even more scoring, over and above the two touchdowns that will result from the ineffective pass rush of both front sevens.
Assuming a below-average number of possessions for both teams (somewhere between 7 and 10), and further assuming that the turnover differential remains roughly equal for both teams, so as not to rob possessions from any one team disproportionately, we believe that there will be a total of four scoring possessions for each team.
The reason we settle on four scoring possessions is first because we do believe that the teams will have fewer drives between them than average. We believe that drives will be long and time-consuming, with a large amount of low-yield running plays and a large amount of third down conversions. We foresee fewer 1st-down plays of more than 10 yards than is the average for both of these teams.
With fewer possessions for both teams, we believe there will be fewer opportunities for scoring possessions. Of these opportunities, we believe that both defenses will be good for roughly one 3-and-out, we could see an additional possession ending in a turnover for both teams, and among the 5-8 remaining possessions per team, we believe that the opposing defense will be able to stop the opposing offense and force a punt roughly 50% of the time.
It doesn’t take much to end a drive: One offensive miscue, such as a dropped ball, an errant pass, or a blown protection leading to a sack or a throw-away; tacked on with one successful play that goes for less than 10 yards; one more play that perhaps features a good defensive effort; and voila – fourth down. We believe that both teams will be able to accomplish this three or four times throughout the course of the game.
So adding all of this together, if the drives are long and time-consuming (featuring a lot of running plays or equivalent short passing plays), if two drives per team end in a turnover or a 3-and-out, and if the opposing defense is enough to put together three or four stops, then we would estimate that there will only be four scoring possessions for each team.
We’ve already indicated that both offenses are potent enough to account for two touchdowns apiece. So the ultimate question becomes: How will the other two scoring possessions end?
It’s at this point that we believe that the Achilles heel of the Atlanta Falcons will come to bear.
For those who read Parts 1 and 2 of our Super Bowl preview, you know that we were bound to come back around to the only major advantage that we identified in favor of the New England Patriots, namely that the front seven of the New England Patriots is much stouter against the run than is the front seven of the Atlanta Falcons. This, to us, is the most glaring deficiency on either team.
And we believe that Bill Belichick is going to use his workhorse back LeGarrette Blount to exploit this weakness, and that this will end up proving the decisive factor.
Specifically, we predict that each team is going to score four times. We predict that two of these four, for both teams, will be touchdowns. But then, we predict that the Falcons will see one more scoring drive stall while in opposing territory than will the Patriots, giving them 3 points instead of 7.
Both teams are likely to get a field goal for one of the three scoring possessions, but ultimately, we believe that when push comes to shove, the Patriots will be able to push and shove the pile forward and get a key first down with the ground game against the weak rush defense of the Atlanta front seven, which will ultimately keep their offense on the field and make the drive end in a touchdown.
On the other side, we believe that the Atlanta Falcons will be unable to run the ball as effectively, and will thus see one critical drive stall, finding themselves at fourth down and required to kick a field goal.
In summary, we believe that both teams will earn two touchdowns and a field goal for three of their four scoring possessions, building the score up to 17–17, but we believe that for that critical fourth scoring possession, the Patriots will be able to punch the ball into the end-zone due to the better matchup of their run game against the Atlanta front seven, meanwhile the Falcons will ultimately need to settle for a field goal.
Put this all together, and we get the final score shown below. With our predicted total score of 44, we recommend that interested gamblers pound the under for Super Bowl 51, and give the two defenses in this matchup the credit that they are due.
Pick: Patriots 24, Falcons 20
Now that we’ve established our comprehensive view of the game, that the New England Patriots will win Super Bowl 51 by 4 points, covering the spread, and that the total score will go under 59.5 points, it’s time for us to look and find ways in which we can capitalize on this foreknowledge by placing wagers on specialized betting opportunities known as proposition or “prop” bets.
Before we get into the prop bets, though, it’s important to note that here we are advocating a much different view of prop betting than is customary for the Super Bowl.
Given the fact that the Super Bowl is one of the most widely televised events over the course of the entire year, viewed by at least 100 million people, it makes sense why Vegas would open up as many opportunities to wager on the game as possible.
This is one of the primary reasons why this game features more unique (and occasionally bizarre) ways to wager money than any other event.
As we’ve covered previously, Vegas odds-makers are giving gamblers the opportunity to gamble on events as non-football related as how many times Tom Brady’s wife Giselle Bundchen comes up in conversation during the game or beforehand (the over/under is set at 1.5 times), how many times President Donald Trump’s name is mentioned (over/under set at 1.5), the song which Lady Gaga sings first during the halftime performance and her hair color (blonde is the prohibitive favorite at -500), and even the color of Gatorade that will be doused on the winning team’s coach after the game.
But the most important thing to remember about these bets is that they are not by any means a money-making opportunity, nor should they be considered such. The fun prop bets for the Super Bowl should be considered only that: Fun.
So if you want to wager money on whether Deflategate is mentioned, or whether the Dirty Bird is danced, by all means go right ahead. So long as you don’t have any real belief that you will win the bet, and you are wagering purely to make your viewing experience more enjoyable, we are in full support.
But a fun time is not what we are trying to accomplish in this Part 3 of our Super Bowl preview. Our style of fun is to make money, and so our goal is to focus on prop bets that offer good value for outcomes that we believe to have a high probability of happening, based on our assessment of the game.
In this way, we see that the overarching goal is to find ways to capitalize on the view of the game that we have established above.
The first prop bet that we would point to fitting these joint criteria of being both probable, according to our view of the game, but also simultaneously being valuable is the margin of victory bet.
The simplest way to bet on the margin of victory is to simply wager that the Patriots will win by 1-6 points, as we predicted above. At +350, this wager offers significant payout – if we predicted correctly. Importantly, however, the fact of the matter is that even if we are slightly off, the odds are good enough that you can still find excellent value by hedging your bet.
In this case, we would recommend splitting your overall margin of victory wager into three parts, and putting equal money on each. Splitting the wager between Patriots by 1-6 points (+350), Falcons by 1-6 points (+450) and Patriots by 13-18 points (+700) ensures that so long as one of these three outcomes is correct, you are guaranteed to get a positive return, even though you know that two of the bets will not turn out.
Be sure to stay away from any bet that is the equivalent of a coin toss. Most obviously, avoid the actual coin toss bet; it may be famous, but is also famously stupid to wager on. Less obviously, things like which team will score first, get a 1st down first, get inside opposing territory first, et cetera – all of these rely heavily on which team receives the opening kickoff, which, of course, is a coin toss.
Another way to potentially profit from the view of the game that we’ve established above is to bet the individual team over/under totals. The Patriots’ scoring over/under is set at 30½ points, and the under is getting +110. The Falcons, similarly, is set at 27½ points, and the under is getting +115. Given that a low-scoring game is one of the more rare opinions we’re espousing here, the odds are generally favorable.
If the game follows the course that we’ve developed above, there’s a good chance that Tom Brady will be selected as Super Bowl MVP. However, at +120, his odds aren’t nearly good enough to merit wagering on. In fact, his odds are so bad that he actually hamstrings the entire MVP pool, making it impossible to hedge the bet on a player like LeGarrette Blount, or Chris Hogan.
Our view of the game also makes the total touchdowns bet hold potential value. The over/under is set at 6½, and the under is getting +110. If the game goes according to what we expect, there will only be 5 total touchdowns scored, making the under a potential profit-maker.
The exact number of touchdowns bet also provides a good hedging opportunity. Given that 5, 6, 7, and 8 touchdowns are all getting better than +400 odds, this means that if a particular sum of money were split into four equal parts and wagered on all four of these outcomes, the gambler is guaranteed to turn a profit – assuming that one of these four outcomes turns out to be correct.
And that about covers it! Despite the fact that there are dozens and dozens of individual player props that we’ve left out, these are too variable to rely on. Remember: the more specific the bet, the less likely it is to come to pass. Offensive production could come from any source in Super Bowl 51, so keep your options open.
Our three-part review of Super Bowl 51 finally draws to a close. After an exhaustive look at the offenses involved, including assessments of the quarterbacks and offensive lines, the backfields, and the receiving corps, we were forced to declare it a wash, with no clear advantage on either side save the Super Bowl experience of the Patriots.
When we looked at the defense and special teams, we found no major advantage for either special teams unit, and we found both secondaries to be highly effective (even if the Falcons is clearly the younger of the two). But we did find a major difference between the two front sevens, with Atlanta’s group significantly worse against the run than New England’s.
This assessment combined to give us a view of the game as more low-scoring than most people anticipate, pushing us to take the under. We believe that there will be fewer possessions than in past games, as the scoring drives will be long and time-consuming, full of short runs and clock-chewing third downs. Ultimately, we give the game to the Patriots, predicting that they will win the game primarily due to the fact that their wealth of Super Bowl experience will cause their older, more veteran unit to make fewer mistakes than the Falcons, making Tom Brady the only quarterback in the history of the NFL to ever win 5 Super Bowls.
Here are our best bets: