January 29, 2009
By Paul Bovi
Editor's note: Don't miss out on Paul Bovi's Super Bowl pick pack that will also contain his suggestions for prop bets.
If it’s action you crave, and the seven-point spread for this Sunday’s Super Bowl match up does not tickle your fancy, help has arrived.
The vast majority of Las Vegas and offshore book makers spent the better part of last week concocting a virtual smorgasbord of proposition wagers which have now been made available to the betting public, as the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the upstart Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, a city hosting their fourth NFL Championship Game.
Long gone are the days in which the betting action was confined to strictly the point-spread and over/under. Today the proliferation of proposition wagering options has turned the Super Bowl into a gamblers’ dream, with enough options to make Pacman Jones' rap sheet read like Cat in the Hat.
‘Prop’ bets originated in the early 1980’s as a whim and now provide an expansive wagering menu which ties in to individual players, team performance, and specific events that occur within the game, or in the case of the coin toss or duration of the national anthem, ones immediately preceding it. Variations of the point spread and total are also available.
For example, while the Steelers have settled in as 7 point favorites, a bettor that anticipates a Pittsburgh blowout could opt 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 Super Bowl to players, stats, and events in the big game itself.
Two years ago, one casino went so far as to offer props that pitted players of the then present day Bears against those of the Mike Ditka coached 1985 team that ran off 46 consecutive points en route to their annihilation of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
Immediately preceding the Super Bowl, LeBron James and company will make the 169-mile trek across I-80 to take on Allen Iverson and the Pistons in a nationally televised NBA contest. Creative betting shops have hung a 1 1/2-point number favoring LeBron to score more points than Mike Tomlin’s Steelers, in addition to a few other game-related wagers to stir your competitive juices.
As props vary from venue to venue, and are often times created by innovative managers striving to set their book apart from the competition, the number of props that are available has grown to mammoth proportions safely exceeding 500 in number when accounting for Nevada and offshore outlets.
The sheer size of the prop menu will create betting opportunities, as the more options that the lines makers make available, the more prone he is to an oversight or miscalculation.
A classic example of that occurred in Super Bowl XXXVI as an ‘over/under’ prop for then Rams receiver Ricky Proehl, opened at 14.5 yards, which was inexplicably low based on the numbers which he compiled during the regular season.
Proehl played in all 16 regular season games that season and rang up 563 yards, an average of some 35 per contest and more than twice what the ‘over/under’ opened. Gradually the yardage moved up, eventually closing at 16 ½, as did the ‘money’. By game time, one had to lay 150 to win 100, or 3 to 2, to wager that Proehl would exceed 16 ½ in terms of receiving yards . In the end, Proehl proved to be a bargain at any number. Kurt Warner found the recently retired 16-year veteran three times for 71 yards to deliver ‘over’ bettors some easy cash.
Those rare miscalculations are just that, rare, but there are other keys to enjoying success in proposition wagering.
Honing in on any lingering injuries is obviously essential, but not to be overlooked is dissecting a coaches’ game plan, which often times can spell the difference between cashing a ticket and doing your best impersonation of T.O. when he is not getting the ball thrown in his direction.
That knowledge may provide insight as to how a player is utilized, for example, in the case of a tight end, whether for blocking purposes, or for going out on pass patterns.
The last time the Steelers ended up in the ‘Big Dance’, TE Heath Millers’ over/under for catches stood at 3, which certainly seemed achievable for a stud receiver that caught 37 balls over his last 11 regular season games. Pittsburgh went on to win Super Bowl XL in defeating the Seahawks 21-10 but Miller had not even one ball thrown in his direction as Cowher used the then rookie out of Virginia for blocking purposes. Miller stands at 3 and a half catches for this go around
Three years ago in that very same Super Bowl, the impending retirement of Jerome Bettis had oddsmakers in a tizzy, as it stood to reason that head coach Bill Cowher would spoon feed the ‘Bus’ in an attempt to send the 13-year veteran out a high note, especially if the Steelers opened up a comfortable lead, which is exactly what took place.
Those supporting that theory were rewarded as Bettis finished with 43 yards on 14 carries, in each case roughly twice his season average. However, those that wagered that ‘the Bus’ would reach the end zone were frustrated as he was stuffed short of the goal line on a pair of attempts, as Vegas bookmakers breathed a collective sigh of relief. On the injury front, Hines Ward’s sprained MCL, suffered in the AFC Championship game, will force him to wear a brace on his right knee Sunday which has dissuaded many bookmakers from posting props on the 10 year pro out of Georgia. Ward, who incidentally is missing an ACL in his left knee, the result of a childhood bicycle accident, was the MVP of Super Bowl XL having caught 5 passes for 123 yards. Ward’s physical condition should merit consideration as those are murky waters given the possibility of an early exit or a limited amount playing time.
As Devin Hester high tailed it into the end zone after running back the opening kickoff 92 yards in Super Bowl XLI, won by the Colts by a score of 29-17, groans of pain and screams of pleasure was the order of the moment as no less than five props were decided, including a 20-1 payoff to those that correctly wagered Hester would score the games’ first touchdown.
Exposing yourself to elimination on the strength of one play can be dicey to say the least, and may result in an early cold shower, as was the case for those that wagered the longest touchdown during that impending Colt victory would be less than 43 yards.
Five years ago, in Super Bowl XXXVII, those that chose to go under 15 ½ yards on Deion Branch’s longest pass reception found themselves doing just that, as Tom Brady found the then Patriot receiver for a 16-yard reception on the games fifth play from scrimmage..
It’s easy to overlook all of the factors that may affect your wager. When the Steelers grounded the Seahawks by a count of 21-10 three years ago, the final score might lead one to believe that Ben Roethlisberger easily out gunned Matt Hasselbeck in terms of passing yards. Not so fast.
The Seattle signal caller more than doubled the productivity of Big Ben, who managed only 9 completions in 21 attempts in tallying a meager 123 yards. Hasselbeck, in a losing effort, generated 273 yards while completing 26-of-49 passes.
Nothing unusual here as it is common for a losing QB to pass for more yards than their victorious counterpart, as coaches tend to sit on leads on top of going into prevent defenses, both of which will statistically benefit the signal caller of the team that is trailing. In this spot, should the Steelers open up a double digit lead, Cardinal QB Kurt Warner could surpass 50 attempts which should make for big yardage and an ‘over’ on the 23 completions set by odds makers.
If your motivation is merely to enhance your viewing pleasure, then finding a choice amongst the bountiful buffet of options should be fun. If your goals are more financially driven, you will want to dismiss 80-90 percent of these prop bets as merely a flip of the coin, and seek out the best lines, which vary a great deal from shop to shop on these types of wagers.
Speaking of the flip of the coin, the prior 42 Super Bowls reflects a 22-20 edge to tails though heads has been known to play well from behind. And if that is too long a wait to decide your fate, there is always the National Anthem, this year to be sung by Jennifer Hudson which sports an over and under of 1 minute and 54 seconds. Good Luck and navigate wisely.