The Super Bowl is, finally, almost here. It has felt like a particularly long season this year — the replacement refs seemed like they were a lifetime ago. It has been a good one, though, and we are about to cap it off with what has the potential to be a very good Super Bowl.
There are still a lot of stories to hear between now and kickoff. We’ll be so sick of the Harbaugh family and their family pictures by then that we’ll want to puke, and we’ll certainly be ready for Ray Lewis to retire just so we don’t have to hear about him anymore — just like when Jerome Bettis was entering his final game. Luckily, we can distract ourselves from all the hype and overblown stories by focusing on what matters — Super Bowl handicapping.
Free $60 in Member Super Bowl Picks
Super Bowl handicapping is unlike handicapping any other football game. The better you can understand and embrace those differences, the better your chances of long-term success are. In order to best understand those differences and deal with them effectively, there is one sentence above all else that you need to keep in mind:
This is not just another game
People make the mistake of assuming that this game will be just like any other game when they are handicapping it. While there are obviously many similarities — it is still 11 guys playing for 60 minutes, and the team that scores most wins — there are key differences. Players have been thinking about playing in this game for their whole lives, and they have an extra week to sit around and get lost in their heads. During that time they face more scrutiny and media attention than they have ever seen. The game itself is slower than most, and the halftime break is almost endless. Add that all together and it means that winning the Super Bowl has more to do with the mental strength of a team than their talent or schemes. That mental factor always matters in the NFL, but never more than now.
Even more significant than the on-field differences in this game are the differences in the betting. The amount of money bet on this game is truly stunning — at least $100 million bet in Las Vegas, and many times that bet elsewhere both legally and illegally. That’s dramatically more than is bet on any other game during the year.
It’s not just the amount bet, either. There are a lot of serious bettors who bet aggressively on this game, but there are even more casual bettors who throw a few bucks — or many more — on the game. Public money has a big impact on how lines are set and how they move, so bettors need to be very aware of the impact of that has on where the value can be found. That is if there is any value, of course — something that is very unlikely when there is this much betting volume.
The biggest problem is that the public money isn’t always predictable and that you can’t just avoid the public money and profit. The public loves the “over” and the favorite in most cases, and the Super Bowl typically isn’t an exception. Over the last 30 years, though, you could have made a solid profit form parlaying the favorite and the over in the Super Bowl — exactly the bets the public floods to each year. What that means is that you have to be very aware of the public money and the effect it is having on the odds, but you can’t afford to make any seemingly logical assumptions while doing so.
Avoiding assumptions will be key this year in particular because of the pattern of the early betting action. The Niners are favored, but the Ravens have been by far the most popular team early on. Action is leveling out slightly heading into the Pro Bowl weekend, but the books are still reacting significantly to the public betting so far. The line opened with San Francisco favored by five points, but that quickly fell to four points, and later fell to 3.5 points in many spots. On Friday afternoon 5Dimes became the first book to move the line the three points. The key number of three is a very significant number for sportsbooks, so for them to move the line to three indicates just how strong the public money has been — and how they are anticipating it to continue. In other words, this is not your typical Super Bowl from a betting perspective — and the typical ones are tough enough for bettors to deal with.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham