Allow me to disagree, Seattle 34-23

Jan 31, 2006 5:30 AM

More than halfway through the two weeks of ”˜hype’ and the line for Super Bowl XL settles in at Pittsburgh -4 over Seattle, public sentiment is on the Steelers.

Such support drove the Steelers up to -4½ at some sports books, usually played right back to -4 by Seattle supporters. This XL chapter is one of the few competitively priced Super Bowls in recent memory.

In fact, this will be only the third Super Bowl in the last 18 that will have a point spread lower than 6 and just the eleventh with a spread under double digits. It is really remarkable that the biggest game of the NFL season between supposedly the two best teams has found nearly half the time one of the two favored by double digits.

Yet double-digit favoritism may be warranted given 26-of-39 previous Super Bowls have been decided by 10 points or more and that the average victory is 15½. Naturally, the underdog enjoyed several of those double-digit wins. The Super Bowl has often been one sided, although recent history challenges this assertion.

Sort of.

After six straight Super Bowls in which the winning margin varied from 10-to-35 points, five of the last seven have been decided by 7 or less. Three of the last four have been three-point results. New England won all three by a FG, a fact indicating how great a "team" the Patriots have been. They prove the old axiom of the sum being greater than the individual parts, along with being well prepared and coached to win by just enough.

Pittsburgh and Seattle will play in the ideal indoor conditions of Ford Field in Detroit to determine whether the AFC will win its seventh title in nine seasons. Seattle could join St Louis and Tampa Bay in achieving its first ever Super Bowl title and capturing just the NFC’s third Vince Lombardi Trophy since the conference’s long string of Super Bowl success ended nearly a decade ago.

Both representatives deserve to be in Detroit. Seattle was the most consistent team in the NFL following a 2-2 start, winning all 13 meaningful games since losing at Washington in overtime way back on Oct. 2. Their lone loss since then was the regular season finale in Green Bay when the regulars were rested after halftime.

Pittsburgh won four straight games that were, in effect, elimination games to close the season. The Steelers earned the sixth and final AFC seed, getting the necessary help when Kansas City and San Diego suffering late season losses.

Seattle won a pair of home playoff games in convincing fashion over Washington and Carolina. Pittsburgh won road games at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, the top three AFC seeds. The Steelers have the kind of momentum (seven straight wins) that often leads to a Super Bowl triumph.

In a broad sense Pittsburgh has the edge on defense. Seattle is better on offense. The differences are not major. Pittsburgh’s offense is better than generally thought. Known as a run first, pass second team, the Steelers actually excelled in the passing game, relying more on the aerial attack as the season progressed. The Steelers ranked second to only Indianapolis in average yards gained per pass attempt and led the league in yards per completion (12.9) — a full .7 yards better than the second ranked team.

Clearly Pittsburgh’s passing game is underrated.

Similarly, Seattle’s defense is not given proper credit. The Seahawks led the league in QB sacks (50) and played with the lead in most of their games. Nine of their 15 wins (including playoffs) were by double digits. Seattle ranked right at the league average in yards allowed defensively, but were a solid ninth in fewest points allowed — less than a point per game higher Pittsburgh yielded.

Much has been made of Seattle’s weak schedule, and it was. But, as discussed last week, the gap has narrowed between the conferences. AFC teams were just 34-30 against the NFC.

After losing three games in a row to stand 7-5, the Steelers won their final four regular season games against Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland and Detroit — teams ranked 29, 25, 26 and 27 in total offense. While not diminishing the accomplishment, the impressive numbers posted down the stretch must be put in perspective.

To be fair, in winning their three playoff games the Steelers defeated offenses ranked No. 6, 3 and 5. However, the defense allowed over 300 yards in each of those games as compared to the 235 surrendered in that four-game win streak.

A compelling case can be made for either team winning the Super Bowl. Both are led by capable quarterbacks and are well coached. Both offenses can run the ball and the passing attacks are underrated. The defenses have excelled at defending the run and each has been able to sack the quarterback.

Statistically this shapes up as an even game. Both teams are playing well. The bottom line is that both teams won elimination games to get here. Pittsburgh had good fortune beating Cincinnati without QB Carson Palmer and surviving against Indianapolis despite the questionable officiating.

While a solid case can be made for Pittsburgh, Seattle is more than capable of winning this game. The Seahawks come in with the same underdog mentality the Steelers had in their three playoff road games. The tables are now turned, with the pressure on the Steelers now carrying the role of favorite and expected to cover by most of the wagering public.

With two weeks to break down film and recognize such situations, it is reasonable to believe both quarterbacks will be capable of creating big plays, resulting in a high scoring game.

Thus, the call is SEATTLE, OVER in a 34-23 upset win.

Rise of the props

Proposition wagering on the Super Bowl has increased dramatically in recent seasons and has become more a part of the entertainment experience derived from the event.

The preferred approach has always been to focus on props with just two possible outcomes — Player A vs. Player B, Over or Under, etc. A secondary approach is to focus on props returning either a plus price or even money. Astute handicapping can often uncover perceived overlays since the books providing the props only have time to do some very basic research. The bettors have some two weeks to attack.

There are two distinct kinds of props — those related to opinions on how the game may unfold and those remotely related to having an opinion on who will win or which team will outperform the other.

One favored prop is actually against Seattle’s star player Shaun Alexander, determining whether his longest run from scrimmage will be Over or Under 19½ yards. The preference here is UNDER, given the solid nature of the Pittsburgh defense.

One prop worth searching for but has yet to be found concerns Seattle’s first play from scrimmage being a run or a pass. Seattle’s first play was a pass play in 17-of-18 games.

Finding a middle is also a strategy to consider. One with appeal concerns the total number of rushing yards gained by Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis. One property has 38½, another 45 ½. The difference is often due to the specific clientele expected to stay and wager at the specific resort. These differences open up the possibility for winning both ways.

Pittsburgh is +110 to punt first. This is an example of a prop that realistically is less related to how the game will unfold than it is to the public sentiment favoring Pittsburgh to win. This prop is more correctly priced at a minus price for both sides so a plus on Pittsburgh represent value.

When the game ends, may you have more winning tickets to cash than losing ones.