OK, a disclaimer first: This post is not pro-gambling. Gambling is hard. I had to pick every NFL game against the spread at PFW for three years, and I finished over .500 once – and only by a few games. I picked big games against a buddy this year for fun (not money, thankfully) and hovered around 40 percent. So I’m not endorsing wagering, and I’m certainly not endorsing wagering based on these picks.
That said, some of the prop bets for the Super Bowl are pretty interesting. (If you’ve played ESPN’s Streak for the Cash, you get a feeling for some of the major prop bets that are out there.) So I thought it might be interesting to play relativity with 10 of the bets this year. We’ll use a 10-point scale, with 10 being most interesting and 1 being who cares?
10 – The line. This, of course, is the biggest bet. Pittsburgh is a 7-point favorite in the game. I went back in the post-dynasty era (basically the 12 Super Bowls since Dallas’ last win) to chart results of the lines. They are:
Favorites are 8-4 straight up but only 4-6-2 against the spread. (Pittsburgh won and covered a 4-point spread vs. Seattle three years ago.)
Favorites of 7 points or more are 6-3 straight up but only 2-5-2 against the spread. New England beat Philly and Carolina but failed to cover in those games; the Broncos +11 (over Packers), Patriots +14 (over Rams), and Giants +12 (over Patriots) all won as double-digit underdogs; the Rams (-7 vs. Titans) and Packers (-14 vs. Patriots) won but tied the spread. Only the Broncos (-7.5 vs. Falcons) and Colts (-7 vs. Bears) covered a touchdown-plus spread.
Those numbers tell me 2 things: first of all, be very nervous about laying a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Second, if you’re going to pick the Cardinals to cover, you might as well pick them to win outright. These factors are making my Super Bowl pick (coming later this week) harder than usual.
9- Over/under. The total for the game right now is 47 points. The trend here is that the total has been at least 46.5 points in each of the last 4 Super Bowls, and all four games have gone under the total. I kind of see a bit of a shootout in this game, but a shootout could be 28-20 and go under. Common sense and Super Bowl recent history both say take the under, but do you really want to go against Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner going nuts?
(The history for these 2 items is from this page, which has history of all Super Bowl spread and total results, if you’re interested.)
8- Kurt Warner passing yards. The over under on this is 265 1/2, and I’m thinking the over sounds good. Warner had 414 yards vs. the Titans and 365 vs. the Patriots even though his Rams lost that game. Those are the top 2 passing games in Super Bowl history. When you consider that Warner will have to have a big game for the Cardinals to win and that if the Cardinals are losing he’ll likely be flinging it around, the over seems like the good bet here.
7- Kurt Warner history. Warner needs 364 yards to pass Joe Montana for the all-time lead in Super Bowl passing yards. You can get about 3-1 odds on this, but it’s a stretch, despite Warner’s history.
6- MVP. Ben Roethlisberger and Warner are 2-1, Larry Fitzgerald is 5-1, Willie Parker is 6-1. Everyone else is 10-1 or more. The only individual I would endorse as a pick is Fitzgerald. The quarterbacks are more likely, but the odds you would get on that long-shot wager aren’t really worth it.
5- Larry Fitzgerald’s yards. The over/under for yards for Larry Fitzgerald is at 95 1/2. He’s been over 100 in all three playoff games and will most likely have to do it again if the Cardinals are going to have a chance. As with Warner, the fact that the Cardinals will be throwing a lot if they get behind gives you a little insurance on this pick. Throw in the fact that the Steelers’ cornerbacks aren’t world beaters, and the over looks like a good pick here.
4- The postgame interview. Here are the odds for who the MVP of the game will thank first: God: 1/1; Teammates: 2/1; Family: 4/1; Coach: 7/1; Doesn’t thank anyone: 3/1. Yes, you can bet on this. No, I wouldn’t feel comfortable betting for or against God in any prop-bet situation. Make your own peace with your maker here.
3- Madden/Michaels. There’s actually a line on how many times NBC announcers John Madden and Al Michaels refer to Ben Roethlisberger as “Big Ben.” The line is 7 1/2, and I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.
2- The Dr. Z special. Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman (currently recovering from a series of strokes) is legendary for recording the length of national anthems. There’s actually an over-under on how long the anthem, sung this year by Jennifer Hudson, will last. The number is at 1 minute 54 seconds, which sounds low to me. The more diva-like the singer, the longer the anthem normally is, with the biggest divas going over 2 minutes. If you’re desperate, take the over in this one.
1- Coin Toss. This is a 50/50 proposition, of course, so why would you bet on it? (Yes, this is a real bet; in fact, people have tracked that tails has won 9 of the last 11 Super Bowls. I only know that because Google is good.) Listing this prop does give me a chance to tell one of my favorite stories. Jackie Slater, a Hall of Fame tackle for the Rams, once lost at least 12 straight coin tosses – he claims it was 17. He called heads every time he was the road team, and it came up tails every time. Plus, he lost when the other team called in all road games. That’s an amazing streak.