With yet half the final quarter of the Seahawks vs. Panthers NFC championship game still to be played, bookmakers had already posted the opening number for Super Bowl XV to be held in the toasty confines of Ford Field on February 5th.
Unlike early Championship games, when the betting options were limited to the game line and/or over/under, the proliferation of proposition wagers has revolutionized the face of Super Bowl wagering. Betting options are now seemingly endless.
Spawned in the early 1980’s, proposition wagers provide an array of betting options as they relate to individual players and team performance, in addition to offering variations of the posted spread and total. For example, while the Steelers have been installed a 4 point favorite, a gambler that anticipates a Pittsburgh blowout would be afforded the option to lay more points in exchange for better odds.
In recent years, ‘prop’ wagers have taken on such a creative flavor, that they now link other sporting events, taking place in and around the big game, to players, stats, and events in the game itself.
When the clock strikes noon on Super Bowl Sunday, the NBA will showcase the Tracy McGrady led Houston Rockets versus a New York Knicks team that has suddenly began playing a better brand of basketball under well traveled coach Larry Brown . Count on at least a few props that incorporate player stats from that contest as they relate to the big game and its’ participants.
Last year, there were some 500 prop bets offered on Super Bowl XXXIX between the Patriots and the Eagles. While novice bettors, who come out in force on this day, focus in on the straight line or the over/under, savvy betters will look towards capturing edges that are bound to present themselves given the sheer size of the prop menu, which is likely to be even larger this year . The more betting options that the lines maker must address, the more prone he is to an oversight or miscalculation.
Case in point. In Super Bowl XXXVI, an over/under prop wager involving total receiving yards for Ram’s receiver Ricky Proehl opened at 14.5. That year, Proehl played in all 16 regular season games, and tallied 563 yards, an average of some 35 yards per contest. I can only assume that this was a lines maker error given the wide disparity between the two numbers. Gradually, the total moved up to 16.5, as did ‘the money’. By game time, one had to lay 150 to win 100 on the over 16.5 yards. In the end, any number was a bargain as Proehl pulled in 3 Kurt Warner passes totaling 71 yards.
I cite several keys to enjoying success in proposition betting, aside from finding those very rare miscalculations. In addition to being aware of any injuries that may have an effect, it is essential to understand as many aspects of the coach’s game plan as possible. If, in the above example, it was known that Ricky Proehl had a lingering injury, or had a diminished role, even a minimal amount of yards could have proved to be insurmountable. Situations such as this often change from game to game, depending upon the opposition as well as the health of the team, which may increase or decrease playing time of the player involved in the prop.
Another recommendation is to try to put yourself in a position whereby you will not be eliminated on the strength of one play. Two years ago, in Super Bowl XXXVIII, those that took the under 15.5 yards for Deion Branch’s longest pass reception, were sent for a cold shower on the games’ fifth snap when he snagged a 16 yard Brady aerial.
Looking beyond the obvious is also critical. Prop lines are often times set without regard to special circumstances that may be in place. Last year, in evaluating the strength of the Eagle’s vertical passing attack, one would be foolish to ignore the diminished potency of their aerial game as a result of the Terrell Owens injury. Such an injury would likely be taken into account by an oddsmaker, however other issues such as Michael Westbrook’s midseason rib problem may be overlooked in setting a proposition line.
For several games, the Eagle’s all-purpose superstar played at less than 100%, which resulted in a diminished role, hence, less touches. Situations like these will negatively affect a player’s game average, which is the basis for setting the line. In this years’ contest, look for Jerome Bettis to exceed his average carries per game, thus increasing his chances of eclipsing any yardage milestones that are established. Bettis hails from Detroit, so I expect Cowher to favor Bettis over Willie Parker, particularly if the Steelers gain a comfortable lead, even though Parker is clearly the more effective runner and handled the lions’ share of the workload during the regular season.
If you take your props seriously, and are in it for profit, avoid those props are determined by nothing other than luck, a classic example being that of the coin flip. Sure, you can have a little fun with that, but that is no more than a 50/50 propositon on which you must lay ‘juice, thus putting the odds against your success. Additionally, other props such as ‘which player will score the first touchdown’, or ‘whether the QB’s first pass will be complete’, are also based on luck and thus should be no more than a fraction of your bankroll.
Another vital factor of handicapping prop bets is to understand every element of what may affect your wager. In last years’ AFC Championship game, the Patriots pasted the Steelers by a score of 41-27 en route to their Super Bowl victory over the Eagles. Judging by the final score, one would think that Tom Brady easily outgunned Ben Roethslisberger head up in passing yardage. Not so fast. Brady tallied a very efficient 207 yards in the air, but was eclipsed by Ben’s 226 with much of that coming on the last drive with the Patriots' defense lining up in prevent mode. It is not at all uncommon for a losing QB to pass for more yardage than their victorious counterpart, which will almost certainly be the case this year if the Steelers happen to build a sizable lead as Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher is known to completely abandon the passing game under those circumstances.
Finally, as with any betting endeavor, lines vary, and it is always wise to shop around. Many bookmakers, in an attempt to shift the odds in their favor, widen the conventional 20-cent spread between favorite and underdog, to 30 cents, and even 40 cents. Betting into unfavorable lines makes winning a more formidable task. In the game of props, as with all forms of gambling, you need every edge you can get
Along with my Super Bowl selection, I will post at least eight, and upwards of 12 props on this year’s game. Good Luck to all!