Following 256 regular season games, that eliminated 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams, and 10 playoff games, Green Bay and Pittsburgh remain to fight it out Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas at Super Bowl XLV.
It has been a most interesting and highly competitive season. Green Bay owns three Super Bowl titles including wins in Super Bowls I and II, defeating Kansas City and Oakland in the days before Super Sunday became a national phenomenon.
After beating New England in Super Bowl XXXI, the Packers lost their lone Super Bowl a season later, losing to Denver.
Pittsburgh has tied Dallas with an eighth Super Bowl appearance, seeking to add to its all time record of six wins (Dallas and San Francisco each have five). The Steelers are in their third Super Bowl in the past six seasons, having defeated Seattle and Arizona for their last two Vince Lombardi Trophies.
Green Bay is trying to duplicate what Pittsburgh accomplished in the Steelers’ Super Bowl win over Seattle following the 2005 season – winning the title following three straight road victories in the playoffs. That feat was repeated by the New York Giants following the 2007 season when ousting previously unbeaten New England after three straight road wins.
Previously it had been two decades since a team won three straight road games to make it to the Super Bowl. The 1985 New England Patriots were the first team to take that very difficult route. Their momentum, however, was shattered by the powerful Chicago Bears, who won Super Bowl XX 46-10.
The 1985 Bears are considered by most observers to be one of the best teams of all time, especially when it comes to their defense, coached by Buddy Ryan, father of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. The offense was more than capable, led by QB Jim McMahon and one of the top three running backs of all time, the late, great Walter Payton.
But the most important player in that game – responsible for the birth of an entirely new industry that has experienced tremendous growth in the years since and continues to grow and flourish today – was defensive lineman William “the Refrigerator” Perry.
Because the Bears were double digit favorites in Super Bowl XX over New England with virtually everyone expecting a rout, several sports books came up with the novel idea of offering bets on whether or not Perry would score a touchdown.
Thus was born the modern era of the proposition bet. And although the books lost money on that prop as Perry indeed did plunge into the end zone during the game (which, as memory recalls, was bet down from around 15-1 to about 4-1 or 5-1), it was the start of what has annually become an event as big as – or perhaps bigger – than the game itself.
National and even international attention is focused on the many ways one can wager on the Super Bowl. Back in the early 1990’s, the Imperial Palace was the most innovative author of props under Kirk Brooks and Jay Kornegay.
When Kornegay moved to the Las Vegas Hilton, it became the industry leader in prop bets and continues to offer hundreds of ways in which bettors can have action on virtually every play of the game. In fact, it’s possible to have action even before kickoff as a wager related to the coin toss is available (often phrased as which team will receive the opening kickoff).
The release of the Hilton’s double digit pages of props (our sources say scheduled for Thursday night) is an eagerly awaited event as the Super Bowl approaches and now most, if not all, of the sports books have some sort of prop offerings.
On Sunday night right after the Steelers held off a second half rally to defeat the New York Jets 24-19, the Green Bay Packers opened as 2-point favorites in many sports books in Las Vegas and quickly rose to 2½.
Some of the larger off shore books had Green Bay a FG favorite on Sunday night but by mid Monday morning, that line had dropped to 2½.
The over/under opened at 45 and also rose rather quickly, by mid Monday morning ranging between 45½ and 46½.
In next week’s column there will be an analysis and selection for Super Bowl XLV and a look at some of the more interesting propositions available.
Whereas Pittsburgh is seeking its third Super Bowl title in six seasons, Green Bay is the tenth different NFC team to appear in the Super Bowl over the last 10 seasons. That is perhaps the strongest statement of parity – at least in the NFC – that can be made.
In fact, since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990, only Detroit and Minnesota have failed to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
That’s not quite been the case in the AFC where since 1990 half the conference (eight) – have failed to win the league championship.
Historically the point spread has mattered little in the Super Bowl although that was more the case in early Super Bowls than more recently. Under the current playoff format, 14 of the 20 Super Bowl winners have also covered the spread, with four ATS losses and a pair of pushes.
Following a pair of wins and non covers by New England in the last two Super Bowl wins, the points have come into play just once in the last five. Interestingly this occurred when Pittsburgh defeated Arizona 27-23 as 6½ point favorites.
With the line in Super Bowl XLV likely to not rise above three, the points are also likely to not matter this season. Should the line close at less than a FG, it would be the first time since Super Bowl XVI that this will have occurred (San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 26-21 as 1-point underdogs).
There have been several Super Bowls in the nearly three decades since that had a line of three, the most recent being in Super Bowl XXXV when favored Baltimore routed the New York Giants 34-7.
The Giants’ 20-19 win over Buffalo in SB XXV was the last time the Big Game was decided by less than a FG – the only time the margin has been less than three. So if you like the Packers, you might do well to lay the points. If you like the Steelers, then a play on the money line might be more to your liking.
A survey of local books on Monday morning showed Green Bay laying between -135 and -145 on the money line with the take back on Pittsburgh ranging between +115 and +125.
Clearly Pittsburgh has a big edge in experience but the odds makers discount that by considering Green Bay to be the better of the two teams – or at least believing that the betting public will take that approach.
Although Pittsburgh played a dominant first half in building a 24-0 lead over the Jets in the AFC Championship, its failure to score in the second half and allowing the Jets to nearly complete what would have been the biggest comeback in championship game history has left the impression with the public that the Steelers are flawed.
Of course just a few hours earlier the Packers were less than impressive in winning at Chicago, 21-14, also being held without an offensive touchdown after recess.
The impression here is that the public will indeed wager on Green Bay, pushing the line to -3 (though likely no higher) as the sharp bettors – the so-called “Wise Guys” – will take the +3 on Pittsburgh and also play the Steelers on the money line.
The total is interesting as well. Five of the last six Super Bowls have stayed under. When the Steelers and Packers last met in week 15 of the 2009 season, Pittsburgh scored a TD on the game’s final play for a wild 37-36 win.
Much time over the next week will be devoted to analyzing and breaking down the Big Game.
In the meantime, enjoy the Pro Bowl which returns to Hawaii this Sunday after a one year transplant to Miami. Of course there will be no Pittsburgh or Green Bay representation in what is the quintessential exhibition contest.
If you must play the game, the obvious play is the OVER, although the total will likely be in the mid to high 50’s – perhaps even higher. Of the last 11 Pro Bowls since 1990, eight produced at least 59 total points.
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