Signs point to unbeaten New England

January 29, 2008 5:10 AM

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The hype and the countdown to history continues at Super Bowl XLII.

New England and New York Giants will meet for a second time this season with the Patriots’ place in history at stake.

The Patriots will either be known as the first team in NFL history to complete a perfect 19-0 season or the team that came close.

New England was the team to beat since last April when acquiring WR Randy Moss in a draft day deal with Oakland. To complement Moss, the Pats added Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. On defense they signed Adalius Thomas to bolster an already stout unit that seeks its fourth Super Bowl win in seven years.

The Giants were expected to fall back this season following the retirement of the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Tiki Barber. That plus the perceived dictatorial style of coach Tom Coughlin had many experts doubting if New York could achieve even the 8 wins projected for them by oddsmakers.

Those doubts seemed validated when the Giants started 0-2 and were down 17-3 at halftime in Week 3 at Washington. Their come-from behind win in the nation’s capital set the stage for six more road wins in the regular season. A 38-35 home loss in Week 17 to New England (Giants had a double-digit third quarter lead) seemed to galvanize the G-men.

After opening as a 14-point favorite at most sports books, the line has moved toward the Giants over the past week. As we go to press, New England is favored by either 12 or 12½ points around the world. The Over/Under, which opened at 55, now is floating between 53½ and 54.

The Patriots are in Super Bowl XLII because they’ve been the dominant team in the league since the season began. They’ve gotten by all challengers, with 13 of their 18 wins by double digits.

New York played virtually error free football in their three playoff wins, losing just a single fumble on a punt return in their win over Green Bay. QB Eli Manning has managed the games well, avoiding mistakes costly during the regular season.

We’ve never previously had a Super Bowl team with an 18-0 record. The 1972 Miami Dolphins were 16-0 when facing Washington in Super Bowl VII, but that was a totally different era. Miami benefited from a weak schedule that featured few quality teams. It was in the era before free agency and the salary cap.

The merger between the AFL and NFL was just a few years old and the NFL was still perceived as the far better league despite wins in Super Bowls III and IV by the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. The former AFL teams were accorded such little respect that 16-0 Miami was a 2-point underdog in the Super Bowl. They defeated Washington 14-7.

Aside from those who proclaim the ’72 Dolphins or the series of Pittsburgh teams in the 1970’s as the greatest of all time, there are two teams which often come up in such a discussion.

The 1985 Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX 46-10 over a previous incarnation of these New England Patriots. Many observers believe the ’85 Bears are the best single team in the modern era of pro football.

Four seasons later the 1989 San Francisco 49ers capped a 17-2 season by eclipsing the Bears’ Super Bowl performance, setting the still standing record of 55 points and a 45-point margin of victory.

The 2007 New England Patriots are certainly in the discussion of the "greatest team ever" but a loss in the Super Bowl would eliminate them from such talk.

Even a less than impressive win could tarnish their accomplishment to the extent that, for example, the ’85 Bears capped their season with a pair of playoff shutouts and a 36-point Super Bowl win.

For the Patriots to win they need simply do what they’ve done all season — execute their offense by spreading the ball around, attacking the weaknesses of the defense and playing aggressively.

They have many weapons on offense, led by QB Tom Brady who has already won three Super Bowls. The running game is more than capable even though the stats are not outstanding. New England just likes to pass the ball for most of their offensive production. The defense is solid though unspectacular, making the big play when needed.

The weather in Arizona should be conducive for New England to run the offense like the first half of the season. An early 14-0 or 14-3 lead would not be a surprise. Once the Pats get the lead, they tend to extend it.

Rested, healthy and playing in ideal conditions, look for the Patriots to rout a New York Giants team that, while they’ve played well in the playoffs, are still rather ordinary. NY outscored the opposition by just 22 points over the regular season. PATS/OVER.

The propositions

With the multitude of propositions now available, many opportunities will be uncovered by the wiseguys to profit from the linesmakers’ rush to deliver them out on the marketplace.

But you don’t have to be a wise guy to enjoy and profit from the props.

Most sports books have several pages of props. The Las Vegas Hilton may be the most ambitious property with their 21 pages of props. Some of the more standard props include point spread, total points by quarter and adjusted point spreads.

For example, New England is a 3 point favorite for the first quarter and the first quarter Over/Under is 10 ½. One of the special point spreads has New England as a 7½ point favorite. To lay this lower number than the actual line you must risk 160 rather than 110 to win 100.

There are two basic types of propositions. One is the head-to head prop where there are only two possible betting options, such as in the Brady vs. Kobe Bryant prop. The second type is one that offers multiple betting options such as the player to score first in the game.

Many astute bettors cashed nicely on the "first player to score" prop by betting it would be Chicago kick returner Devon Hester. He returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI and rewarded backers 30-1 at most books.

As might be expected Randy Moss has the lowest odds to be the first player to score a touchdown with odds of 9-2. Laurence Maroney and Wes Welker are 7-1. The lowest odds on the Giants player are 8-1 on Plaxico Burress.

Other examples of this "needle in a haystack" prop are ones that ask you to pick the range in which the total points scored will fall. The first meeting produced 73 points. The range for this game of 71 to 77 pays 12-1.

The basic approach is to hit half of the props played. The props are offered mainly for fun as they carry lower limits than regular straight wagers. They are priced to ensure a profit for the Book, often using "spreads" of 30 cents or more in head-to-head props and carrying a healthy hold for the multiple option props.

The "house" still has the "best of it." However, in doing so, the astute bettor has a chance to profit in many more ways the side or total.