And then there were two, playing for one.
Of the NFL’s 32 teams all but two have seen their seasons end. The two most recent teams to begin preparing for the 2018 season are Jacksonville and Minnesota, losers in the AFC and NFL Championship games, respectively.
The two winners, New England and Philadelphia, will play for the one goal that all teams strive for when the regular season begins each September – the right to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy, emblematic of winning the final game of the season, the Super Bowl.
It may not be too many years until the Super Bowl Trophy is renamed and becomes the Lombardi-Belichick Trophy. As excellent as Lombardi was as coach of the Green Bay Packers in the era that started prior to the playing of the Super Bowl and included his leading the Packers to winning the first two such games, Bill Belichick is rewriting the record book for NFL coaches in a way that will be perhaps impossible to match much less exceed.
In coming from behind to defeat Jacksonville last Sunday, 24-20, and win the AFC Championship, Belichick and his team earned an eighth trip to the Super Bowl in a span of 17 seasons. It is the tenth Super Bowl appearance overall for the franchise, which lost to Chicago, 46-10, in Super Bowl 25 and to Green Bay, 35-21, in Super Bowl 31, both before the tandem of Belichick and QB Tom Brady arrived in Foxboro.
Putting this in perspective, no other franchise has been to more than eight Super Bowls, a mark held jointly by Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh. Arguments about the “best ever” in most disciplines are bound to be based largely on a combination of both measurable facts and statistics in combination with subjective evaluations.
When it comes to NFL coaches it’s hard not to place Belichick and Lombardi at the top of the list, above such coaching legends including Tom Landry, Don Shula and a host of others. Having Belichick’s name right there with Lombardi’s is worthy of consideration.
The Patriots have won five of the previous seven Super Bowls in the Brady/Belichick era, losing twice to the New York Giants in Super Bowls 42 and 46. The Giants’ 17-14 win in SB 42 denied New England a perfect season as the Pats were 18-0 before the offense was held in check by the G-Men. In a rematch four seasons later the result was nearly the same as the Giants won 21-17.
A win over the Eagles would tie New England with Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl titles at six. The Patriots’ wins have come against the St. Louis Rams, Carolina, Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta. Super Bowl 52, to be played a week from Sunday in Minneapolis, will give one of those five franchises the opportunity to avenge their early Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
The NFC Championship Game featured the tenth instance of a home team being the betting underdog and the sixth such time the home underdog was a number-one seed. Seeding began in 1990 when the NFL Playoffs expanded to include 12, rather than 10, teams. For the second week in a row the Eagles were in that role, as a 3-point home underdog to the second-seeded Vikings a week after winning as similar 3-point home underdogs over Atlanta.
This will be a rematch of Super Bowl 39 in which the Eagles lost to the Patriots, 24-21. As the NFC Title game was winding down the first lines started to pop up in Las Vegas and around the world with New England opening as pretty much a solid 6-point favorite with the Over/Under 47. In the first few hours after those initial lines appeared the Eagles took the early money and could be found in the range of +5 to +6 with +5.5 and +6 the most prevalent numbers.
The Patriots are trying to add evidence to support an argument this is the greatest team/franchise of all time. Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Dallas and Denver are the other franchises in addition to New England to have won back-to-back Super Bowls. Pittsburgh did it twice during their dynasty of the 1970’s, winning their four Super Bowls in a span of just six seasons.
Dallas’ back-to-back wins were in Super Bowls 27 and 28. The Cowboys also won Super Bowl 30, two seasons late, giving them three Super Bowl wins in four seasons. New England is trying to do the same. After winning 49 to cap the 2014 season they won again last season. A win over the Eagles in Super Bowl 52 would be their third Super Bowl win in four seasons.
The difference between what the Cowboys achieved in the early 1990’s and what New England would achieve with a win over the Eagles is this would be the second time New England would have won three Super Bowls in four seasons. The Pats began their dynasty with wins in SB 36, 38 and 39.
What makes a repeat of that feat even more impressive is these two mini-dynasties would be separated by a stretch of nine Super Bowls not won by the Patriots, Super Bowls 40 through 48 .
New England has been the dominant team in the NFL since the start of this millennium. Beginning with the 1991 season the Pats have made the Playoffs in 15 of 17 seasons, missing out in 2002 (when they went 9-7 but lost out to the New York Jets on tie breakers for the AFC East title) and in 2008 (when, despite losing Brady in the first half of their opening game to a season-ending injury still went 11-5, losing the AFC East title to Miami, again on tie breakers).
Their 15 trips to the Playoffs have all been as Division winners with no Wild Card berths. They have gone to seven Super Bowls, winning five. They have now been to seven straight AFC Championship games and to 12 overall in the past 17 seasons.
Despite this outstanding record and reputation of invincibility the Pats have not been able to win a Super Bowl in blowout or even comfortable fashion. In their first era of winning three Super Bowls in foru seasons all three of the wins were by exactly a FG. Their last two Super Bowl wins have been by 4 points (over Seattle when QB Russell Wilson was intercepted on the goal line instead of running the ball with Marshawn Lynch) and by 6 points in last season’s win over Atlanta when they came back after trailing 28-3.
Put another way, if you had laid -6 points with the Patriots in each of their seven Super Bowls in the Belichick/Brady era you would have gone 0-6-1 ATS and if you laid -6.5 you would be 0-7 ATS!
Once you decide which team you plan to wager upon be sure to shop around for the best number. As noted earlier, as of Monday morning you could lay -5 with the Patriots or take +6 with the Eagles.
Part of the reason for the variance in lines is likely attributed to sportsbooks having one final opportunity to manage their future book liability for Super Bowl bets that have been made for the past season, looking to attract money that might more evenly balance their liabilities on the Patriots and Eagles to maximize their potential profits based on one of three scenarios (in combination with money-lines plays on the Super Bowl).
Those scenarios are the Pats winning and covering, the Pats winning but losing to the pointspread and the Eagles pulling the upset and winning outright.
Through the first 10 Playoff games this season Underdogs are an impressive 9-1 ATS with five of those underdogs winning outright, including Philadelphia in both of its post season games. Home teams are 7-3 straight up but just 3-7 ATS.
Five of the games have gone OVER the Total and five have stayed UNDER. The average score has been 27.5-18.0, making the average margin of victory 9.5 points per game and the average total points 45.5 ppg.
For the fourth time in the last five seasons the Super Bowl will match both number one seeds. The other Super Bowl in this span was last season when New England, the AFC’s top seed, defeated the NFC’s number two seed, Atlanta.
The old saying of “on any given Sunday” had given way to “in any given season.” Yet the past five seasons suggest the pendulum is swinging such that the Super Bowl ultimately features the top two teams in the league meeting after the first ten games of the 11 game Playoff system that is the NFL Playoffs.
Next week’s column will focus on the Super Bowl 52 matchup with an analysis and prediction plus the annual discussion of the many propositions, commonly referred to as “props,” that have made the Super Bowl the biggest single wagering event of the year that continues to grow in widespread appeal each year.
Although from an artistic and competitive standpoint the Super Bowl has often been a Super Bore for the public at large, the proliferation of props has the attention of bettors from well before the opening kickoff to the final gun – and sometimes beyond.