Prior to last year’s Super Bowl I questioned whether or not defense was allowed in the NFL playoffs anymore. After an unprecedented ‘over’ run throughout the 2010 playoffs, I was convinced that no one among the elite teams is capable of stopping anyone else on the elite teams when it mattered most.
I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that I’m wrong. And if the two teams in this year’s Super Bowl can’t get stops then I suppose there’s nothing left to prove.
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The Steelers and Packers meet at 6:30 p.m. next Sunday in Dallas to knock heads for Super Bowl XLV. While most people are busy trying to determine which team is going to win The Big Game, I have become obsessed with betting the Super Bowl total. Because while this game features, statistically, the two best defenses in the NFL, I can’t help but stutter when I look at this year’s tantalizing total at 44.0.
Usually betting the Super Bowl total is one of the easiest numbers of the season to beat. If there is one thing that I know from handicapping is that when “everyone” expects one thing it’s usually the exact opposite that ends up occurring. And because the Super Bowl is an amplification of Sharps vs. Squares, Perception vs. Reality, and Hype vs. Results, the total in the NFL championship game is usually pretty low-lying fruit.
- Prior to Super Bowl XLIV everyone was predicting a scoring bonanza between the Saints and Colts, with each team expected to post 30 points. The total was the highest in Super Bowl history at 56.5, but the game easily stayed ‘under’ with just 48 total points.
- In 2008 in Super Bowl XLII the “unstoppable” Patriots offense was expected to go bonkers and coronate a perfect season. The total was solid at 54.0 and it wasn’t even close, with the Giants winning 17-14.
- In 2003 and 2001, Super Bowls XXXVII and XXXV, respectively, two of the all-time great defenses were featured. In 2003 it was Tampa Bay with Sapp, Lynch and Brooks. In 2001 it was the Ravens with Lewis, Woodson and Adams. Both games featured totals in the 30s and both games went ‘over’ with ease.
These are just some of the more obvious examples from the last decade. That doesn’t include the Philadelphia-New England Super Bowl XXXIX where two of the top eight scoring offenses played ‘under’. Or the Carolina-New England Super Bowl XXXVIII where two Top 10 defenses and the only other Super Bowl total in the 30s were eviscerated in a 32-29 shootout.
So it has become pretty simple. You just figure out what the public consensus about the Super Bowl is and then bet the Super Bowl total on the opposite side. History has taught us this profitable lesson and then reproduced it time and time again.
But here is the rub about betting the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl total: I can’t figure out what the consensus is.
Pittsburgh and Green Bay, respectively, boast the No.1 and No. 2 scoring defenses in the NFL. These two stop units combine to allow just 29.5 points per game and are among the toughest, most physical groups in the league. Both teams are in the Top 5 in total yards. Pittsburgh is No. 1 against the run, Green Bay is No. 5 against the pass, and there are Pro Bowl players on both sides. With that in mind you would think that this game would be billed as a grinder and a smash mouth, throwback game between two of the most venerable franchises in football.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case. At least not the best I can figure listening to the bobblehead media. Aaron Rodgers is considered the hottest quarterback in the league right now; the leader of a high-flying, pass-happy attack that has averaged nearly 30 points per game over the last seven weeks. Ben Roethlisberger is in the other corner, the triggerman for a Steelers attack that filled up two of the best defenses in football (Baltimore and the New York Jets) for a combined 55 points over the last couple weekends.
Further muddling the matter is the fact that the most recent meeting between these two clubs, last December, was a bizarre 37-36 Steelers win that featured 35 points in the fourth quarter and a game winning touchdown pass on the final play of the game. There were over 840 yards of total offense in that game and just about all of the primaries will be facing off again in Dallas.
So what is this year’s consensus for betting the Super Bowl total: is it going to be a defensive struggle between two of the most thuggish, brutal defenses in the sport or an aerial dual between two of the most proficient and productive quarterbacks in the country? Judging by the number on this game, which is presently at 44.0 after an open of 46.0, it would appear that in the betting world the former is the case.
But how sure are we about that: sure enough to bet the cell phone bill or enough to bet the mortgage?
Unfortunately, history is both our friend and our enemy in trying to crack this code.
On the one hand the line is an indicator. But in the opposite of the direction it is being bet. On the surface it seems relatively high. At 44.0 it is above some key totals numbers (41 and 42) and looks just enticing enough to suck us in on the ‘under’.
However, it actually represents the fourth-lowest total in the last 23 years of the Super Bowl. Since 1988, when Washington faced Denver in Super Bowl XXII, there have only been three totals posted lower than this year’s and only six totals posted below 46:
Super Bowl XXXVIII (New England 32, Carolina 29) – Went ‘over’ 37.5
Super Bowl XXXVII (Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21) – Went ‘over’ 44.0
Super Bowl XXXV (Baltimore 34, Oakland 7) – Went ‘over’ 33.0
Super Bowl XXVII (Dallas, 52, Buffalo 17) – Went ‘over’ 44.5
Super Bowl XXV (New York 20, Buffalo 19) – Went ‘under’ 40.5
Further, if you go back to 1983 there were three other Super Bowls (XXI, XX and XVII) that featured totals posted below 41.0. All three of them sailed ‘over’ by an average of nearly 16 points per game.
Therefore, over the last 29 years teams are 7-1 against the total in the Super Bowl when it is posted below 46.0. And the one time that the game did stay ‘under’ it was only by about three feet (the notorious “wide right” kick by Scott Norwood not only would have won the game for Buffalo but also sent the game ‘over’ the total.)
So it looks like we’ve found an angle, right? Well, this is where the numbers and history can also be manipulated to suggest a strong ‘under’ play. And this one is both more basic and more recent.
The ‘under’ has hit in five of the last six Super Bowls and is 7-4 in the last 11 years. Further, betting the ‘under’ is counter to the general public’s natural inclination to bet the ‘over’ on Super Sunday.
So where are we then? Well, to be honest, I believe that this is one of the trickiest totals in recent Super Bowl history. On the one hand, we have two of the best defenses in football. On the other hand we have two offenses that routinely decimate the top stop units in football. The public wants to bet the ‘over’ and the number is moving as if there is heavy ‘under’ action.
At this point betting the Super Bowl total is more about total confusion. But one side of this wager is going to hit. One trend is going to win out and the other is going to look ridiculous. One side is going to be basking in the glow of Easy Money and being Right, while the other will be left to face the harsh realities of their own shortcomings.
Welcome to the Super Bowl.
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Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He has banked nearly $20,000 in profit for his clients in all sports over the last six months and is rolling out more predictions this week. You can sign up and get more information here.