The Super Bowl is, simply and obviously, as big as it can possibly get. No sporting spectacle on this continent gets close to this much attention. People who don't bet all year wager on this game, and people who normally bet a little often bet a lot here. For casual public bettors this is by far the biggest day of the year. Whenever the public is betting in big numbers they can have a very big impact on how lines are set and how they move. The public tends to have tightly held biases that they use to guide their bets - often the favorite and the "over", for example. The more we can understand what those biases are likely to be in a game, the more effectively we can adjust our handicapping to maximize our chances of taking advantage of those biases. Here are four major public biases at play in the Super Bowl this year:
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Tom Brady: Love/hate. That's really what it is with Brady. Either people think, like I do, that he is the best quarterback we have seen and he is the reason this team has been so good for so long. Or they hate him and everything about him. There is no middle ground here. When it comes to Brady you likely have a strong opinion. And it likely has emotion attached to it.
Whenever strong opinions are involved, they are going to have a big impact on how a game is bet - especially a game as high profile as this one. That impact is far greater when the public bets in high numbers, and there is no game that grabs the attention of relatively uninformed public bettors more than this one.
Brady is a guy who has been the MVP of the Super Bowl three times, so he can play big games when it matters. He's the biggest star in this game by far and therefore the biggest story from a betting perspective. Whether you think he will ultimately determine the outcome or not, you need to be very aware of his impact on the betting shape of this game.
Bill and the Pats: This is really an extension of the last point, but it's significant enough to deserve attention on its own. People love or hate the Patriots. They respect Bill Belichick as the best coach the NFL has seen or hate him as the worst kind of pure evil. The Patriots are either the model of exactly how a sports franchise should be run or a ruthless band of cheaters that will do anything to win.
There isn't a more divisive team in the NFL, and few in all of sports - they are the Yankees of the gridiron. With such strong and emotionally-driven opinions, a lot of betting decisions on this game are made before a person looks at a single stat or analyzes a single matchup. They will already have decided if they are betting with the glorious empire or against the evil force.
When a game involves a team like this - especially against one that is dramatically lower profile and well known by the public as the Falcons are - you have to be sure that you aren't valuing logic too highly when you are considering how other people will be betting.
Inexperience: The Patriots are appearing in their seventh Super Bowl in the last 17 years and second in the last three years. Atlanta has played in the Super Bowl just once before. That was in 1999 in what proved to be John Elway's last game. The Broncos won handily, and the biggest story leading up to that game was Falcons safety Eugene Robinson, on the day he won an award from the league for his moral character, being arrested for soliciting prostitution.
Institutionally, these teams are in very different places. It goes deeper than that, too. New England has 23 players on the roster who won a Super Bowl two years ago. The Falcons have just three who have won one with another team. The Patriots have a very loyal, experienced coaching staff - Josh McDaniels has been with the team for all four Belichick Super Bowls, for example. The Falcons have some experience - head coach Dan Quinn won with the Seahawks when he was defensive coordinator - but far less.
People have strong feelings about whether experience matters or not. If people feel it does - and I tend to - then the Pats have a clear edge.
Offense: The betting public loves nothing more than they love offense. All things being equal, they will always opt for the more offensive team, and the more public a bettor is the more likely they are to bet the over. We have a total in this game that will set a record for the highest ever in a Super Bowl - and perhaps even eclipse last week's newly-set record for the highest ever in the playoffs. People will assume that both teams will score early and often - and there is certainly evidence to support that view.
If you are bullish on the offense here then you need to be very aware of the impact the public betting has on sides and especially totals and props. If you don't think that we will see the expected offense, though, then you might as well be patient and let the total get as high as it will go before you bet against it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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