The journey that began in the heat of last summer with 32 teams reporting to training camps having the goal of reaching and winning the Super Bowl reaches its final destination a week from next Sunday.
On Feb. 1 the 2014-15 NFL season comes to a close in Glendale, Arizona with the playing of Super Bowl XLIX (49) when the Seattle Seahawks try to defend the Super Bowl title they won last season against New England. The Patriots are the last team to win back-to-back NFL championships, the second of which came 10 years ago in Super Bowl 39.
Seattle and New England won their conference titles last Sunday in starkly contrasting fashion. The Seahawks overcame a 16-0 halftime deficit, and 5 turnovers, to defeat Green Bay, in overtime, 28-22, using back-to-back 35-yard pass completions to score the winning touchdown on the first possession of the extra session.
That ending was made possible only after a flurry of late fourth quarter activity when Seattle trailed 19-7 with less than 4 minutes remaining and starting a drive on their own 31 needing to score a pair of touchdowns to have a chance to win. Seven plays, taking just 1:43 off the clock, later the Seahawks got the first TD to make the score 19-14.
With only one timeout remaining Seattle decided to go for the onside kick which was recovered by the Seahawks but only after the ball went through the hands and bounced off the helmet of Green Bay TE Brandon Bostick. Four plays and 44 seconds later RB Marshawn Lynch waltzed into the end zone after a 24-yard run to make the score 20-19. After a successful 2-point conversion gave Seattle a 3-point lead Green Bay and QB Aaron Rodgers had 79 seconds remaining.
The Packers moved down the field and Mason Crosby kicked a 48 yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
The thrilling finish, directed by Russell Wilson, almost erased memories of what had been an uncharacteristically sloppy game by Seattle QB and an offense that had 5 turnovers. It also called into question Green Bay’s decisions in the first quarter to settle for a pair of field goals rather than try for TD’s from the 1 twice, which would have had Green Bay up 14-0 rather than just 6-0 and might have prevented a successful Seattle comeback.
No such drama in the AFC Title game.
New England scored a pair of first quarter touchdowns and, after taking a 17-7 halftime lead, broke open the game with three third quarter TD’s en route to a 45-7 win in a game played in driving rain for much of the contest.
After Seattle won its game and the Patriots took a 14-0 lead over the Colts the first Super Bowl lines started to appear with Seattle a 2.5-to-3 point favorite over New England and the Total opening at 48.5. As the Patriots began to dominate their game the line steadily decreased. By late Sunday evening the line was at pick ‘em at many Sports Books with a few spots having either the ‘Hawks or Pats favored by a single point.
One of the oft dispensed bits of handicapping advice is that you should not overreact to what you witnessed last. Evidently that advice was not heeded in the first few hours of Super Bowl betting as prior to the playing of the Conference Championship games several sports books had “advance” lines available for wagering on each of the four potential Super Bowl matchups. The matchup between the Patriots and Seahawks had Seattle a 3-point favorite.
Most of that action was arguably from the “wise guys” who bet “value” so it may not have been an “overreaction” in the traditional sense. The pros grabbed what might likely turn out to have been the best number available to back the Patriots with the option of coming back later and betting Seattle at pick ‘em or +1.
Perhaps the line will ultimately move back towards the opening line of Seattle -2.5. But if the early flurry of betting action was from the public (unlikely) it would be interpreted as a clear indication of an overreaction to New England’s blowout win versus Seattle’s amazing comeback.
For a second-straight season, but for only the third time in the past 20 years, the top seeds in both Conferences have advanced to the Super Bowl. That third occurrence was recent, when New Orleans defeated Indianapolis in Super Bowl 44. In fact, since the playoffs expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 1990, there have been four previous matchups of the top seeded teams. All four have been won by the NFC (Dallas in Super Bowl 28 and Washington in SB 26, both over Buffalo).
For many years the Super Bowl was one sided. Yet despite last season’s 41-8 rout by Seattle over Denver, 10 of the last 17 have been decided by 7 points or less. In all, 5 of the last 7 have been decided by 6 points or less.
Also since the playoffs format expanded to 12 teams there have also been just 4 prior Super Bowls with a closing line of a FG or less – and 3 of them have been in the past 4 seasons. Two of the games have been competitive, decided by 3 and 4 points. The others were blowouts, including last season.
There has never been a Super Bowl with a consensus or widespread closing line of pick ‘em. The closest were Super Bowl 7 when unbeaten Miami was just a 1.5 point favorite versus Washington (Miami won 14-7) and SB 16 when San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 26-21 also as a 1-point favorite. Some sources actually show both the unbeaten Dolphins and the 49ers as having been 1-point underdogs as does my personal recollection.
The point spread has not mattered in any of the last 5 Super Bowls nor in 8 of the last 9. Barring an unexpected sharp line move that trend should continue this season and obviously shall if the line closes at pick ‘em.
On a macro basis Seattle and New England have very similar credentials. Both are now 14-4 after a pair of playoff wins. The OVER is 10-8. New England is 10-8 ATS whereas Seattle is 11-7.
In the regular season Seattle lost just 14 turnovers, New England 13. Seattle recovered 24 opponent turnovers, New England 25. The quality of opposition faced, based both on SU and ATS records, was nearly identical.
Most statistical measures also support this game being lined at pick ‘em. Even their last meeting, in 2012, was decided by a single point. That was Wilson’s rookie season as Seattle QB and the Seahawks defeated New England 24-23 (as 3.5 point home underdogs).
Partly due to the two-week buildup between advancing to the Super Bowl and the playing of the game itself and partly due to the huge interest in the game that grows and grows each year, no event is picked apart, dissected and analyzed more than the game that ends the NFL season.
Did Seattle get its bad game out of its system with their comeback win over Green Bay? Or did their struggles and improbable comeback show just how difficult it is to repeat as Super Bowl Champions?
Did New England leave its best game on the field when they routed Indianapolis to win the AFC Title? Was it a harbinger of a focused effort of a team intent on winning a fourth Super Bowl while denying its opponent a chance to match their own achievement of being the most recent team to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
There are compelling cases to be made for both Seattle and New England to be hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy late on the evening of Feb. 1. Those cases shall be presented in next week’s column along with a forecast of who will win the season’s final game.
We will also discuss the many other ways to bet the Super Bowl as the number of available “proposition bets” are likely to set an all-time record, as may the statewide betting handle.
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]