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Super Bowl countdown:
A look at props and totals

Jan 20, 2004 6:13 AM

In the world of 11-to-10, there’s nothing quite like Super Bowl week.

In this case, it’s two weeks, as the champions of the AFC and NFC have two weeks to prepare for the Big Game. It’s also one of the most creative weeks of the sports betting season. While there’s only one game left on the football calendar, there are still ample opportunities for betting on the Super Bowl. There will be hundreds of creative props by various linemakers in Las Vegas and the offshore industry.

For example, you can bet on the exact score of the game by each team. Last season, if you thought the Raiders might score exactly 12 points in the game (which is the number of points Tampa Bay’s defense allowed per game), it was offered at 100-1. There will be "over / under" lines offered on how many touchdown passes a quarterback might throw, the first team to turn the ball over, and even the coin flip.

There will be creative wagers offered such as how many receiving yards one player amasses matched up against the number of points NBA rookie standout LeBron James scores Super Bowl Sunday against Washington.

The Super Bowl brings out the best in the creative minds of linemakers. Smart bettors will search through all the props and totals offered in an attempt to find an edge and add to their bankrolls.

When examining Super Bowl totals, weather is not as important an issue as in other January playoff games. Super Sunday is always played indoors or at warm weather sites. Since Super Bowl X in 1976 between the Steelers and Cowboys, the "over" is 18-10.

Another factor is that coaches with a lead are less likely to sit on the ball in a Super Bowl. If a team is up 17-0 at the half of a December game, for example, a coach might be inclined to go conservative. That would involve working down the clock with running plays to avoid injuries and leave town with a victory.

In the Super Bowl, however, it’s the final game of the season and no lead is safe. No coach wants to play super-conservative and be remembered as the guy who blew a 17-0 lead in the biggest game of his career. Since it’s the last game of the season, coaching staffs will also install trick plays and new offensive wrinkles in an attempt to maximize scoring opportunities.

Despite the excessive "over" results the last 20 years, defense often rules over offense in Super Bowls. Last season was a textbook example. When the No. 1 offense (Oakland) faced the No. 1 defense (Tampa Bay), the Raiders were a 4-point favorite. Instead, Tampa’s defense dominated in a 48-21 rout. In fact, the last three Super Bowl champs won with defense first and offense second. Two of those champs ”” the Patriots and Buccaneers ”” were Super Bowl underdogs.

Good handicappers know that statistics don’t always tell the whole story, either. Two years ago, the Patriots had the 24th ranked defense in the NFL and were a 14-point underdog against St. Louis. A closer look found New England weak on defense in the first half of the season, then getting healthy and coming on extremely strong in the second half. The Patriots allowed 10, 11, 24, 17, 16, 16, 9, 13, 6, 13, 17, and 17 points over their final 12 games (including postseason), with the "under" prevailing eight times.

You’ll also be able to find point spread props. A year ago, you could bet on the Buccaneers at -14½ to beat the Raiders at +550. You could also bet on the first player to score a TD (which turned out to be Mike Alstott at 6-1), the "over / under" of passing yardage by Rich Gannon (255½ yards), or who will score more points that day, Oakland or Sacramento’s Chris Webber?

Soft lines can be found if you look for them, but many prop numbers will be good numbers. For example, the Raiders ended up passing for 250 yards in the Super Bowl, just 5½ less than the line!

Key numbers will come into play, since bookies are petrified of getting middled. Four years ago the Rams were a 7 to 7½-point favorite against the Titans. The Rams won, 23-16. The most famous example occurred in 1979, forever known in Las Vegas as "Black Sunday." The Steelers opened a 2½-point favorite over the Cowboys, were bet up to 5, then back down to 3½. Bookmakers all across the country were sweating and screaming when the Steelers won the game, 35-31.