Football is the ultimate team game. No other sport requires so many players to do their jobs well in order to win. That's what makes it such a great sport. Sometimes, though, it is very interesting to look beyond the team aspect and consider the head-to-head showdowns. Looking at the individuals over the team is what has made fantasy football the runaway hit that it is. And during the Super Bowl the matchup props, which allow us to compare two players and bet on which will have the better individual play, is a pleasing and potentially-profitable diversion from everything else we have to bet on and handicap.
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Here is a look at a few of the most interesting matchup props this year in the Super Bowl ( odds are from BetOnline ):
Passing yards - Matt Ryan -1.5 yards (-130), Tom Brady +1.5 yards (+100): Ryan had a solid regular-season edge here, with a margin of 309 to 296 yards. Both have been more prolific in the postseason, with the clear edge again going to Ryan - 365 yards to 336. On the surface, then, Ryan is the clear choice. You need to at least go a little deeper, though. We know that DC Matt Patricia and the Patriots defense generally operates by focusing on minimizing an aspect of the opposing offense. Will it be some element of the passing game? That seems reasonable since the Falcons are much more dangerous in the air than on the ground. Will they succeed? That's harder to determine. I'll say this, though - I have dramatically more respect for the New England defense than the Atlanta one at this moment. That could warrant taking a shot with Brady on this one, though neither side is hugely attractive.
Most TD passes (Brady -150, Ryan +120): This is an interesting price. Brady is favored to win the game, but not by a full touchdown. The imbalance in this price - a significant one - suggests that people are very optimistic about the favorites. I, too, think Brady is going to have a big day and win. I could make an argument at this price to take a shot at Ryan, though. The Patriots have been more diverse in their attack lately. For Atlanta it has been pass, pass and more pass. And so it should be with Ryan in such a groove. I don't trust Atlanta to establish the run well from the start, so if Ryan is going to score it is going to be through the air. Brady has a few more tools at this moment, and he has shown more recent willingness to use them. There is some small value on the underdog.
Most rushing yards - LeGarrette Blount -1.5 yards (-125), Devonta Freeman +1.5 yards (-105): This is an interesting one. Both guys put up decent numbers this season, with Blount having a slight edge in total yards, but Freeman having a big edge in yards per carry (4.8 to 3.9). Neither guy has done much of anything in the postseason. My gut tells me that we are going to see a bigger role for Blount this week. The Patriots have been mixing up who gets the attention in the playoffs, and he seems due. I think he will be able to run against Atlanta, and they will find ways to get him yards. I am less optimistic about Freeman. That puts me solidly on the favorite.
Player to get first catch - Julio Jones +100 or Julian Edelman -130: I don't have a particularly strong feeling about this prop one way or another. What is interesting, though, is that this would be one to look at if, for some ridiculous reason, you were looking to bet the coin flip prop and you liked the Falcons. I suspect that Ryan will look to make a statement against the New England defense and find his star early. So, if they win the toss Jones is likely to get the catch and pay off this prop, and the price is better than what you can get on the coin flip. The reason I don't think it is playable for any other purpose, though, is that it is also likely that Brady will look for his top receiver early on as well, so it really comes down to who gets the ball first. I hate betting on a guess, so I can't play this one.
Most receptions - Martellus Bennett -0.5 (+120) or Taylor Gabriel +0.5 (-150): Despite the injury concerns, I am very bullish on Bennett in this game. He is a comfortable weapon for Brady, and he provides a strong matchup against the Falcons. He had just one catch last game, but he had five in the game before that and has had five or more in six of his last 11. I think he will be a big factor here. Gabriel, meanwhile, had four last game, but he was averaging less than two in his seven prior games. He's not a primary option, and I don't see that changing all of a sudden here. I really like Bennett - even with the possibility that he will be limited by knee and ankle injuries.
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