Super Bowl Betting: First-Time Teams Have Struggled
by Trevor Whenham - 01/21/2009
As we have heard many, many times before, this is the first Super Bowl berth for the Arizona Cardinals, or for any other version of the Cardinals' franchise. We'll put aside the fact that Arizona is such an unlikely Super Bowl team to determine how to deal with them now that they are there. Being in the Super Bowl is a very big deal, and it can be overwhelming for a franchise that has never been there before. Arizona isn't totally devoid of Super Bowl experience - Kurt Warner has played in two, and Ken Whisenhunt and the coaches he brought with him from Pittsburgh have a ring - but they are largely covering new ground. To understand how Arizona might respond in this case, we can look back at how other first timers have done in past games.
Let's start with straight up results. The Cardinals are the 27th franchise to make the big game, leaving only the Saints, Texans, new Browns, Lions, and Jaguars as teams that have never had a date to the prom. In the 26 previous first-time games, the first-timer has won only eight games. That 8-18 record is obviously well below normal expectations, and could lead us to the obvious conclusion that the impact of playing in a Super Bowl is real. The NFC has done slightly better, but it's hardly worth writing home about - at 5-8 they still aren't particularly successful. Arizona is the last of the NFC West teams to lose their Super Bowl virginity. Only San Francisco was able to win in their first try.
Every sports bettor knows that a team doesn't have to win to pay off, so you are probably far more interested in what the first timers have done against the spread. The results there are better, but only slightly. They are still a long way from profitability. In fact, betting against first timers has proven to be very profitable over the years. First time teams are 9-16-1 ATS. On this front the NFC has been much better, though still not good - they are 6-7 ATS. Just like the 49ers were the only team in the NFC West to have a win, they were also the only team to cover the spread.
Things get even worse on both fronts when we make one necessary adjustment. Four different Super Bowl games, including, obviously, the first one, have been played between two first-timers. The teams in those games were obviously 4-4 both straight up and ATS. That means that outside those games the first timers are just 4-14 straight up, and 5-12-1 ATS. That's bleak.
The Cardinals are currently seven point underdogs, and are likely to be given at least a touchdown by kickoff time. That means that we might be able to learn something by looking at how other first-timers have done when they have been significant underdogs. Eight different first timers have been underdogs of seven points or more. Just one of those teams, the Jets in Super Bowl III who were 17 point underdogs, have won. Things are a bit better against the spread - the rookies are 2-5-1 ATS. Teams that are underdogs of between seven and 10 points, like the Cards are likely to be, are 0-3 straight up, but 1-1-1 ATS.
The Super Bowl has been an important event since the start, but it has grown into the worldwide mega-spectacle that it is over the last 20 years. The challenges teams have faced over the last 20 years, then, will more closely match what Arizona is going through than the whole sample. The results are better in this group. The eight teams are only 2-6 straight up, but their 3-4-1 ATS mark is verging on respectability.