Tips for Betting the Super Bowl
by Robert Ferringo - 01/17/2007
(Note: This article appears in the current issue of High Roller Magazine)
It's the belief that the United States is destined to become the grandest and greatest empire in history. It's the idea that we as a people are inherently Right and selected for greatness. And it is the manifestation of a principle at the core of our society: Bigger is Better.
Whether it's our nuclear weapons program or a Big Mac, Americans lust for grandiosity. It's a fundamental American ideal and can be found throughout our culture. But when it comes to sheer gluttony, self-importance and hyperbole there is no single event on the American calendar that can match Super Bowl Sunday, which will take place this year on Feb. 4 in Miami.
Don't be fooled. Over budget commercials and avocado dip won't be at the heart of this annual orgy of Greed, Excess and Consumerism. The true soul of the event may be our desire for total world domination but the spirit of this Lord's Day lies in the fervor and anxiety of millions of rabid gamblers across the nation.
"You will never get the NFL to publicly admit it, but the league would not be the most popular sport in the United States if it weren't for the ability of people to wager on it," said Ross Benjamin, a long-time professional handicapper. "The NFL realizes that the gambling that goes on is an integral part of the popularity and success of (the Super Bowl)."
To some the Super Bowl represents a fourth down Hail Mary pass; some weak-hearted last gasp attempt at Redemption and salvaging a season lost to bad luck and hubris. To others The Big Game represents a sort of pagan celebration of their good fortune and cunning throughout another long, bizarre NFL year. For them it's the coronation of their inherent superiority and a chance to run up the score against the oddsmakers.
But regardless of your level of fear or desperation, the Super Bowl gives folks one last instance to press their luck in a very public duel with the Gambling Gods. It also symbolizes one final day to worship at the Altar of Speed and Savagery that is the NFL.
According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board the state's licensed sportsbooks processed approximately $94.5 million in wagers on Super Bowl XL. Nielsen television ratings claim that last year's contest drew around 90.7 million viewers in the United States alone. That averages out to nearly $10 bet per viewer. Also, estimates including offshore betting place the game's total handle in the range of $1 billion. That only represents the sums of money gambled legally and the true scope of this event can't be quantified.
So, since every heretic and lunatic that's ever seen or heard of football is looking to lay a little green on the title game, how can seasoned gamblers find value in the lines? It's a tricky situation, but I've done a bit of research and come up with a five-point plan for gambling success Super Bowl Sunday. There are no guarantees, except that if you follow this blueprint your odds of winning increase exponentially:
1) When betting the Super Bowl, understand the line.
"Most people don't realize that we make most of our lines during the course of the year geared toward 'wise guy' or 'professional' bettors," said Jay Kornegay, the former Executive Director of Racing and Sports for the now defunct Las Vegas Hilton. "The Super Bowl is the one line that is geared or made toward how the public or novice bettor views the game."
During the regular season the goal for the books is to balance the action. Lines are posted not in an attempt to predict the actual outcome, but to prompt an equal or near equal amount of wagering on each side of any particular game. However, the public overwhelmingly bets the favorites in the Super Bowl. This makes it a kamikaze spot for the books: either the chalk covers and John Q. Public can afford that new flat panel television or the underdog covers and books can pour their winnings into hookers and blow.
In response to the square bettor's infatuation with public favorites, the books shade the spreads even more than normal. The idea is to entice the sharps to back the dog at a premium price or through a key number. The result is that favorites since 1990 have gone 13-4 straight up but a modest 8-7-2 against the spread. Overall, the chalk is 26-14 SU but just 19-18-3 ATS in The Big Game.
Mob rule is the operative logic in any country as savage and ruthless as ours. Betting the Super Bowl is no different. The public is a drunken, lazy, brainwashed fool when it comes to football. What do you expect from a crew that gets its information from Chris Berman or Michael Irvin? So by falling in lock step with the public you could be unknowingly walking off a bridge.
Now, that doesn't mean you can't back the favorite. Last year I cleaned house with Pittsburgh as a four-point heavy over Seattle. I knew they were a better team and was able to get them at a favorable number. But while the 21-10 final may have appeared to be an easy cover, the Seahawks actually drove to the Pittsburgh 23-yard line with less than a minute left. If they had managed a garbage touchdown I would have pushed and all those poor souls who took the Steelers at -4.5 would have lost a heartbreaker.
If you are going to play a favorite you should go into the game with specific number in mind. If the opening spread is in that range you should hit it early and often because the longer you linger the most likely it is that it will move against you. Conversely, if you're eying the underdog you want to wait while the money pours in on the chalk. There a good chance you can steal a precious extra half-point or point before kickoff.
2. Know your coaches.
If you had to bet your mortgage on an NFL game, which coach would you want leading your team?
"I always personally evaluate each head coach in respect to how well prepared they have had their teams in any big game situations they have been involved in," Benjamin said. "Does the one extra week of preparation time favor one head coach over the other?
"It's also very important as to how well disciplined each team is with all the distractions that go on in the two weeks leading up to the game. Discipline of a team is a direct reflection of the head coach. Discipline in this type of environment equals focus and attention to detail. These factors can't be underestimated."
Discipline in pro football can mean different things to different people. To you it could represent taking care of the ball and not committing crippling penalties. To me it means taking particular care to ensure that your players don't end up drunk and babbling in the corner of some Mexican bar or that they don't attempt to solicit sex from local law enforcement. That stuff has a way of disrupting a team's karma, and you can usually get a read on it by scouring a coach's history.
3. Are you experienced?
Experience is a cousin of discipline. And when the Hype Machine comes looking for victims I'll always side with the guys who have been there before and are used to victory.
My own personal Big Game-Big Program Corollary states that if you have an organization or city making its first Big Game appearance - Seattle - and they are facing an organization or city that is used to titles - Pittsburgh - then you have to lend significant weight to the championship pedigree.
This may seem like another one of my wild and baseless theories born out of some horrid meth binge, but history actually supports it. First-time Super Bowl participants are just 7-19 in the game's history. That includes a 1-6 mark by virgins since 1993. Conversely, teams making five or more appearances are a robust 9-3.
4. Know who's playing, and know where they're from.
I'm not talking about knowing a team's mascots or where its tight end went to college. I'm talking about some solid, empirical analysis. You need to scour both teams' schedule for common opponents or opponents that play a similar brand of football. You need to note how these teams have been playing lately and who seems to have the momentum going in. And finally, you need to note which conference each team played in and how that group did against their counterpart throughout the season.
Domination by a particular conference has been a cyclical and reoccurring theme throughout the history of the NFL championship. Initially, the AFC won 11 of the first 15 Super Bowls tilts, followed by an obscene 15-1 run by the NFC. In those 15 games the NFC averaged a 16.5-point margin of victory.
However, the pendulum has swung back toward the AFC in recent years. They are 7-2 straight up and 5-3-1 ATS since Green Bay was beaten by Denver in 1998. What this tells me is that the NFC has two or three humiliating losses left in it before regaining its perch atop the NFL totem pole.
Conference totalitarianism seems to be a direct contradiction to what has become the crux of the league's stability and popularity - parity. The historical data doesn't lie, but recent statistics actually indicate that the disparity in the championship game is shrinking. Between 1987-1996 the average margin of victory in the championship game was a coma-inducing 19.4 points. But from 1997 to 2006 that margin slimmed to 10.7 points. Further, three of the past five games were decided by a field goal, with four underdogs covering and two winning outright.
5. Defense wins championships.
Everyone knows this - it's Gambling 101 - but it's worth repeating. Since 1990, defensive units ranked in the top three overall during the regular season are a perfect 9-0 in the Super Bowl. Five of those nine victories were by a top-ranked unit, who were a pristine 5-0. Teams boasting the league's No. 1 offense went 6-3 in the championship game, but not of the half dozen victors had a defense ranked lower than No. 6 during the year.
Over the past six years we've seen a dominating defense take the title and finish in the money. Pittsburgh (2006), New England (2005, 2004, 2002), Tampa Bay (2003) and Baltimore (2001) were all rough and rugged units that featured whiplash-wielding, concussion-causing, bone-breaking defense. The result was that they went a combined 4-2 ATS.
Keep all of these suggestions in mind when you are betting the Super Bowl and remember: go for it all. It's what being an American is all about.
Carpe diem, my friend. And good luck.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com or check out his Insider Page here.