Let's recap what we know as we sit here just three days after the championship games have been played and just short of two weeks from when the Super Bowl kicks off. We know which teams will be playing in Super Bowl LI. We know that no way you turn it this is a tight contest that has the chance to be an offensive shootout. And we know that one team gets much more public attention, and draws much more positive and negative emotion, than the other one does.
Over the next two weeks we will have plenty of time to break this game down from a hundred different angles and really look at what could happen and what team has the edge. Before we roll our sleeves up and do that, though, I want to take the opportunity to just react. Let's look at the odds as they have been posted , and after they have been bet lightly and not nearly as much as they will be, and see where instincts say we should be playing.
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Here, then, are the first free Super Bowl picks of 2017:
1. The Line
New England currently sits at -3 . Basically it comes down to this question in my mind - do you trust the Atlanta offense, which has been extremely impressive lately, more than you trust the experience and grit of the Patriots? I'll take the Patriots in that equation any time.
Matt Ryan is having a great, MVP-caliber year, but he has never seen this game before, and I don't trust him to be at his best. I don't trust his as much as I trust his counterpart in this spot. Similarly, the coach and coordinators combo in New England has won a Super Bowl together, so I trust them more than the very talented but less-experienced one on the other side. Atlanta is good, but New England is more experienced and grittier, and that is what matters most here in my mind.
When I can take the smarter, more-seasoned team on a neutral field, and I only have to give up a field goal to do so, in a game in which a field goal is likely to be only a small fraction of the points scored, I will always do so.
It could change with deeper analysis and any news, but at this point I am on the side of the favorite. Admittedly, that isn't a bold stance - more than two-thirds of early bets have been on the Patriots, and they are by far the strong choice of the casual betting public. I like to be contrary and go against the public when I can, but at this point at least I am not convinced that I can.
2. The Total
The total sits in record territory at 58.5 and is actually showing slight pressure to go down. I don't expect it to go down much if at all once the public really hits this number, and I can easily imagine it going even higher. It helps that the Falcons faced an even higher - historically higher - total last week and found a way to go over it despite limited help from their opponent.
Frankly, I just don't like this number very much. What I can't do, though, is find a good reason to go "under" with any enthusiasm. Both teams like to score and are good at it. They can both pass a lot, and you can be sure that both will be trying to set the offensive tone out of the gate. The Patriots have allowed the fewest points in the league, but that is against a true band of loser quarterbacks, so there is an asterisk. Atlanta will find ways to score - Kyle Shanahan has scored at least 27 in the only two times he has faced the Patriots, and both were with far worse quarterbacks than Ryan. The Patriots will score - Atlanta's defense is better than it was earlier, but it still allowed at least 28 points in half their regular-season games.
I don't love the "over", but I hate the under. My early instinct is to pass on this one.
3. The MVP
Bookmakers are being slow, as always, in posting a lot of the more interesting props for this game. The MVP numbers are up, though, and they are somewhat interesting - though not as interesting as they could be.
What makes them less interesting is the fact that, more than even is usual, it feels very likely that the winning quarterback will win the MVP. Both guys have had MVP-caliber years and have stepped their games up even further in the playoffs. Both are playing with massive confidence and doing whatever they want through the air - they both had a 180-yard receiver last week, for example. One has already won the Super Bowl MVP three times, and because of his suspension this year the voters will happily give him his fourth if he earns it just to see the trophy presentation. The other is in his first Super Bowl but is emerging as one of the truly elite passers in the league.
The game is all but certain to be pass-heavy given these arms and guaranteed perfect conditions. Receivers will have big days, but so will the guys finding those receivers. Quarterbacks win the award more than anyone else, and it's a good bet that they will again.
That doesn't mean that the MVP odds aren't interesting, though. If you like New England as I do, for example, then they could be a nice way to increase your payoff without assuming massive amounts of additional risk. Right now the moneyline on the game sits at -159 at BetOnline . Tom Brady is at -115 to win the MVP there, and I have seen better prices elsewhere. If you believe, like I do, that Brady is very likely to win the MVP if New England wins the game then you could bet the MVP instead of the moneyline to get a much better return.
Right now the point spread sits at -3 with a price of -115, so you could bet the MVP at the same cost as the spread, but you don't have to give up three points and risk a push if the key number of three is hit. Similarly, Ryan is at +175 to win the MVP, but Atlanta is at just +139 on the moneyline, so you could increase your payout while only taking on a bit more risk.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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