Enough scandal, focus on the game

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Sadly, the 2014 NFL season comes to an end this Sunday with the playing of Super Bowl 49 between Seattle and New England in Glendale, Arizona.

But even more sadly, much of the conversation surrounding the Super Bowl has concerned the use of deflated footballs by the New England Patriots in their AFC Championship game 45-7 rout of Indianapolis.

While the allegations of “cheating” are not new when it concerns the Patriots regime of Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady it is a shame that this latest allegation has overshadowed much of the press coverage of what handicaps as a very compelling and competitive matchup.

Hopefully over the final week leading up to the game the focus will shift to the game itself and the “deflate-gate” controversy will be accorded less and less coverage with the incident being relegated to the background until after the Super Bowl.

Of course the deflate-gate mess does introduce another variable into the analysis of the game. Will it have been too much of a distraction for the Patriots to overcome during the two weeks of practice and preparation for the game? Or will it serve to act to provide the “us against the world” motivation that so often results in a team rallying around itself to produce the proverbial “one hundred and ten percent” effort?

As stated last week, this Super Bowl presents a compelling and intriguing matchup on many levels. New England was the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls and the Pats are trying to deny defending champion Seattle from accomplishing that same feat.

New England QB Tom Brady is in the latter stages of a Hall of Fame career and will be matched against Seattle’s Russell Wilson, arguably the best of the new breed of QB that has been changing the game in recent seasons. Will the torch be passed from the old to the new? Or will the veteran lead his team to one more title amidst all the controversy that is being seen by some as tarnishing his legacy?

New England is known more for its offense, but their defense this season may have been its best during its success the franchise has enjoyed for more than a decade.

Seattle is known more for its defense, led by the “Legion of Doom.” But the Seahawks have an efficient offense, powered by the “Beast,” RB Marshawn Lynch, and the dual threat of QB Wilson that keeps opposing defenses off balance.

This has the makings of a classic battle, a thought reinforced by the pick ’em point spread. But there have been other Super Bowl matchups that suggested a tight contest. Some have lived up to billing. Others, such as last season, turned into duds.

Recent Super Bowl history suggests there is a better chance that this game will live up to billing. 5 of the last 7 have been decided by 6 points or less as have 8 of the last 13. Five of those 13 games have been decided by exactly a FG.

The Super Bowl has become a national phenomenon that has spread globally. All day parties are the norm. Let’s enjoy the game and have some fun.

The forecast for Super 49 shall be presented shortly.

But wagering on the Side and/or Total for the Super Bowl barely scratches the surface of the number of ways to enjoy, and hopefully profit from, our country’s most popular non-official holiday.

It began rather simply nearly three decades ago when, in what was expected to be a lopsided Super Bowl victory by the 1985 Chicago Bears over the New England Patriots, a few sports books put up a betting proposition concerning whether or not Chicago’s huge defensive lineman, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, would score a touchdown.

 

Bears Coach Mike Ditka had used Perry in goal-line situations during the season and some sports book operators, looking to attract more action than might normally occur back in the day, offered odds that began in the neighborhood of 20 to 1 or so. The novelty of being able to make such an unusual bet caught on and attracted much nationwide publicity that was even greater after Perry indeed scored on a 1-yard plunge late in the third quarter of Chicago’s 46-10 rout.

And thus was born a new industry – the proposition wager, or “props” as they have been referred to ever since.

Over the years the number, nature and variety of props has grown immensely, largely due to the efforts of Las Vegas Sports Book executive Jay Kornegay and his team of odds makers dating back to his days at the Imperial Palace and carrying over to his current position at the Westgate (formerly the Hilton and LVH).

What started out as a single sheet of paper with perhaps a couple of dozen props has grown to a packet of more than 25 legal sized sheets containing more than 300 props.

Virtually every Sports Book in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada have their own props adding from dozens to hundreds of additional bets you can make to enhance your enjoyment of the Big Game while also giving you the chance to profit while you are entertained.

The Sports Books have many of the same or very similar props but also will have some unique props of their own creation. Props will run the gamut from whether or not there will be a score in the game’s first six and a half minutes to whether each team’s QB will have more or less than a specified number or passing yards to which player will score the game’s first (or last) touchdown.

There are several different types of props but most can be classified into one of two major types. The first is referred to as a “head-to-head” prop in that there are two possible outcomes with the options generally being of the yes/no or over/under variety. The head-to-head props can also involve which of two specified results will occur first, or last, such as whether a team will punt before it scores.

A healthy percentage of the head-to-head props will be priced close to pick ‘em, meaning you would lay minus 110 to back either side of the prop. The line would shift if more action comes in one on side of the prop than on the other side such that a pick ‘em prop initially could move to minus 120/even money or minus 130/plus 110 etc.

The second type of prop is often referred to as the “needle in a haystack” prop in which the bettor selects one of several possible outcomes greater than two. One of the more limited such props would involve the game situation at the end of the first half tied to the end of game result, which has six possible combinations or which team will have the game’s first score and what type of score it will be. Another would be picking which of 20 specific players would score the game’s first touchdown or in which of 15 different ranges a QB’s total passing yardage will fall.

The ultimate “needle in the haystack” prop would be selecting the exact number of points one of the teams will score. At the Westgate, for example, varying odds are offered for New England being shut out (100-1), scoring exactly 2 points (5000-1), scoring precisely from 3 to 49 points or scoring 50 points or more (30-1). The longest such odds are for scoring exactly 4 points, which can only be done by scoring a pair of safeties. Those odds are 9999-1.

Some of the more creative props are the crossover props that involve comparing the results of basketball, soccer, golf or hockey results to an aspect of the Super Bowl such as points scored by Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat in their Sunday morning game at Boston vs the total number of Seattle first downs.

Or whether Tiger Woods; final round score in the Phoenix Open will be more or less than Patriot WR Julian Edelman’s total receiving yards. Such props will often have a “handicap” included to make the projected result as even as possible. For example, the specific prop just cited would be Wood’s final round score minus 5.5 or Edelman’s yardage plus 5.5.

The casual or occasional bettor often takes a different approach from the professional bettor. The pro often will lay 5 or 6 to one, or higher, on a prop that has a very high probability of occurring, such as that the game will not go into overtime. The casual bettor will more often take the other side at what appears to be a juicy price. The actual odds favor the professional as there has never been a Super Bowl that has gone into overtime (although several have come close). Of course, no Super Bowl has gone off as a widespread pick ‘em contest either!

Because this game is priced pretty much at pick ‘em there is not any glaring prejudice to one side or the other as there often is when there is a clear cut favorite. In such games many of the props will be skewed towards the favored team and the favored team’s players. That can be in the form of the ‘vig’ you must lay or in the number of rushing yards, passing yards, receptions, etc. that a player must exceed.

In line with this is the tendency for the public at large to favor the “Yes” part of a prop versus the “No’ and to favor “Over” more than “Under.” Hence, there is often more imputed “value” in going contrary by playing the “No” or the “Under.”

One of my favorite plays each year is to play what I call a “tandem” prop. Although it involves two separate bets the two are related. The props involve betting that the first pass by each QB will be incomplete. Often the price on the ‘incomplete’ is priced in the range of plus 140 to plus 160.

The wager is actually based on the expectation, supported by the math, that both initial passes will not be complete. If one QB completes his first pass and the other does not, we show a small profit since each prop carries a plus price.

Another prop that has delivered more often than is generally believed is that there will be a special teams or defensive touchdown. Again, the ‘yes’ carries a nice plus price.

As noted earlier, many pro bettors don’t mind laying big prices. But the majority of the public does not bet such high volume and many readers like to make many small wagers and spread them out over a wide variety of props. It is theoretically possible to have “action” on every snap of the football.

The best advice is that once you have decided on what props to play, try to shop around town to find the best price on that prop, both in terms of the vig you must lay or the plus price you will get and also the wording and the specifics of the prop. 

Often as props are bet during the week the numbers will move such that at one Book the rushing yards for a certain player might be 75.5 while at another Book it might be 81.5. Or an identical prop might be plus 125 at one Book and plus 135 at another. Over even a dozen or so props those differences add up.

As to the game itself and how it may unfold it has long been held that defense and a strong running game are more capable of winning championship games than a very high powered offense backed by an ordinary defense. Offense relies on timing and execution. Defense relies on recognition, reaction and disruption. Defense and the ability to run the football travel well and are often characteristics of teams that win big games away from home, be it in a true road game or at a neutral site.

The key components of the Patriots, Belichick and QB Tom Brady, are in their sixth Super Bowl. They won three Super Bowls in a four season span from 2001 through 2004. Each win was by exactly 3 points, including their first win, over the St Louis Rams, in which the Pats were 14 point underdogs, winning 20-17.

In their next two wins the Pats failed to cover the point spread, favored by 7 points over both Carolina and Philadelphia in wins of 32-29 and 24-21.

The Pats have lost their two most recent Super Bowls including their loss in Super Bowl 42 when they were trying to become the only team to finish 19-0. As 12.5 point favorites the Pats lost to the New York Giants 17-14. In a rematch 4 seasons later the Pats were favored by just a FG but again lost to the Giants 21-17.

Thus New England, in the Brady/Belichick era, is 3-2 SU but just 1-4 ATS in Super Bowls with four of the games decided by exactly a FG and the other by 4 points.

Prior to the Brady/Belichick regime New England lost both prior Super Bowls, to Chicago in Super Bowl 20 and to Green Bay in Super Bowl 31. Before winning last season Seattle’s only previous Super Bowl appearance was its loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 40.

That was before current coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson joined Seahawks Nation.

The numbers suggest a competitive game and support a line of pick ’em. Over the first eight days of Super Bowl wagering the line, which opened with Seattle a 2.5 to 3 point favorite but which quickly dropped to pick ‘em, has slowly started to side with New England and the Patriots, at least in Nevada, can more often be found as one point favorites on Monday morning than they can be found at pick ‘em. Most of the major offshore books still have the game at pick ‘em. The Over/Under has remained steady at 48 although some 47.5’s have started to show.

Normally New England would be given an edge for experience but considering they are facing the defending Super Bowl champions that edge is negated. Although Brady is considered the better QB in the true sense of a prototypical signal caller Wilson’s added dimension of being able to run and improvise on the run tends negate Brady’s edge as a pure passer.

Belichick normally has the coaching edge over most of his colleagues but any edge over Carroll is negligible. At best considering not just Carroll’s success last season but also his penchant for being unconventional and often “thinking outside the box.”

Seattle enters this game having won 8 straight games, covering in 7 of them before their non-cover overtime win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. And although the Seahawks were very fortunate to win that game it must be noted that their defense played exceptionally well, holding Green Bay to its third lowest total yards output of the season (306). The Packers’ second lowest output was in their season opening loss at Seattle as well.

New England also survived a close call in reaching the Super Bowl but their scare was in the Divisional round when they rallied three times against Baltimore, overcoming deficits of 14-0, 28-14 and 31-28. So it’s not as if the Pats breezed into the Super Bowl while the Seahawks struggled.

In looking at Super Bowl winners since the beginning having the statistical edge in each of 4 key statistics over the course of the regular season has resulted in a 12-3 SU record. Those areas are (1) allowing fewer points; (2) averaging more rushing yards; (3) allowing fewer rushing yards; and (4) allowing fewer total yards. A team has had the edge in all four categories in 15 of the prior 48 Super Bowls. Seattle has the edge in all four categories this season.

As many solid reasons as there are for picking New England there are just as many reasons to pick Seattle. After demolishing Denver last season there were many observers who suggested that the makeup of that Seattle team, with its blend of youth and veterans, overall balance and depth on defense set the team up to be competitive for many seasons with most of their key players yet to reach their prime.

Seattle has overcome some obstacles, including becoming the first defending Super Bowl champion in a decade to win a Playoff game the following season. It’s not easy to repeat as champion. Only 6 franchises have been able to repeat (Pittsburgh and San Francisco have done it twice).

Seattle seeks to join that group while also seeking to avoid becoming the fourth Super Bowl champion to lose the Super Bowl the following season. Earlier this season Seattle was first 3-3 and then 6-4 and in danger of not even making the Playoffs, much less earn the NFC’s top seed. But their defense, which held 5 of its last 6 regular season foes, 4 of whom were also battling for the Playoffs, is the key to this game.

When New England lost to the Giants twice it was not the New England defense that lost the game. It was the New England offense. In the loss that denied the Pats that 19-0 record the Pats scored just 14 points, their season low. In their 18 wins that season New England had scored at least 20 points in each game. In losing to the Giants 4 years later, 21-17, the 17 points tied a season low.

And while the Giants had very good defenses both times the current Seattle defense is more stout and could pressure Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. After throwing zero interceptions in 7 of his first 8 games, Brady has been intercepted in 8 of his next 10 games. It would be surprising if Seattle was not breaking down tape of how the Giants successfully defended Brady in those two Super Bowls.

Although “deflate-gate” may not be nearly the negative many observers believe it could be, it certainly is not a positive. And while the Pats spent much of last week attempting to defuse the allegations and may likely be questioned about it throughout the coming week the Seattle Seahawks have no such distractions and have been going about their business of preparing for this game.

Pick: Seattle Seahawks, 23-20 and the UNDER.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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