Super Bowl 55 – Penalty Prop Breakdown
Super Bowl 55 – The GOAT and the Zebras
Watching the NFC Championship game, it didn't take long to pick up on two things.
One, Green Bay's defense couldn't get off the field on 3rd down early on as the Bucs converted a handful of 3rd downs in their first few drives, only one (that I can remember) being shorter than 3rd and 8.
You knew then that Green Bay was going to be tough (at least defensively).
Second, the referees were really letting the guys play on both sides, keeping the laundry in their pocket and hopefully (for their sake) letting the players decide it on the field.
Now the whole concept of referees “letting guys play” in the playoffs and when stakes are the highest is rather quite flawed in my opinion – a penalty is a penalty no matter what the stakes are.
But it's also something that is better to just accept as being the case, because it's just not going to change. As much as some officials want to make themselves the center of attention at times, when championships are on the line (conference, league title), the majority of them will keep that whistle in their pocket as much as they can.
The Green Bay pass interference penalty at the end of the game was definitely a penalty good enough for a 1st down to end the game (could have been called holding), but I understood the gripe of seeing the officials not call any of that all game and then decide on one of the biggest plays.
So it got me to thinking, in a one-and-done playoff format like the NFL, where not all penalties are created equal, and the timing of them (as well as the nature of the call) can have an enormous impact on the game, how much “help” has Brady and his teams gotten over the years in now getting to his 10th Super Bowl.
Not trying to take anything away from the remarkable career Tom Brady has had, but after going through plenty of past box scores, it turns out the GOAT and the Zebras have had a tendency to be at their friendly when the stakes are at their highest.
Now, predicting which team will end up getting flagged more in Super Bowl 55 is a near impossibility, but if the officials start to show a clear pattern early on – calling everything or calling nothing like I saw in the NFC Championship game - maybe this information can help those of you that prefer to get more action down via the live-betting route.
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Officials in the Super Bowl
Before the light shines down on just how frequent and subtle the help has been for Tom Brady in the NFL playoffs over the years, I thought it best to provide some context on the situation.
I took a look back at every one of the box scores for the previous 54 Super Bowls and honed in on penalties taken, and penalty yards assessed to every team in relation to the winner.
Super Bowl Penalty-Yard Comparison
|Super Bowl Penalty-Yard Comparison
Well in terms of the big picture, it's pretty much right what you'd want to see from the officials overall. There have been 26 Super Bowl winners that finished the game with fewer penalty yards than their opponent, and 26 Super Bowl winners that finished the game with more penalty yards than their opponent (two pushes in SB 19 and 20 on yardage totals.
In terms of number of penalties taken, 27 of 51 Super Bowl winners actually took fewer penalties than their opponent in the big game (three pushes), as the more disciplined team on a given day probably should have a slight edge there in the end.
However, as much as it looks like NFL refs have done a great job calling Super Bowls “right down the middle”, that doesn't exactly tell the whole story.
Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -6 or Higher)
|Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -6 or Higher)
Of the 26 Super Bowl winners to finish the game with more penalty yardage called on them rather than their opponent, 14 of them had the favorite lined at -7 or higher, while 17 of them had closing point spreads of -6 or greater.
Those 17 “big” favorites went on to post a 14-3 SU record in those 17 Super Bowls, as hindsight can only suggest that maybe the zebras didn't have a problem tossing a few calls to the 'underdog' early to see if they can hang around and make it a game.
The majority of these games did come in the 1990's where the Super Bowl was slowly garnering a reputation of lacking excitement as it was nothing but blowouts for the NFC forever, as many teams thought of the NFC Championship game as the defacto title game.
Any attempts to perhaps keep the game competitive early probably would have been welcomed by the NFL back then- a league who still values viewership over almost everything to this day – although the reason behind the zebras making those calls is nothing but pure speculation on my part.
What makes that interesting for this year is the fact that of the 19 Super Bowls we've had with a closing point spread of -3 or lower, 11 times the team with fewer penalty yardage has won the game compared to only 7 defeats (one push in SB 19).
Considering this angle (had you known penalty yardage beforehand) is a perfect 4-0 SU the last four times we've had a SB lined in this range.
- Super Bowl 54 - Chiefs 31 49ers 20
- Super Bowl 53 - Patriots 13 Rams 3
- Super Bowl 51 - Patriots 34 Falcons 28 (OT)
- Super Bowl 49 - Patriots 28 Seahawks 24
And wouldn't you know it, this year's QBs – Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady – account for all four of those recent wins.
Must be nice for Brady to virtually know his opponent is going to be affected by more penalty yards in the big game. Can't ever really hurt.
Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -3.5 or Lower)
|Penalty-Yard Comparison (Super Bowl Spread -3.5 or Lower)
Which now brings me to Tom Brady and the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Throughout this playoff run for Tampa it's been easy to see that the Bucs have been rather fortunate with the bounces and turnovers this postseason.
Green Bay could do next to nothing with Brady's 3 interceptions in the 2nd half of the NFC Championship game, while Tampa's gone on to force seven total turnovers these last two weeks when they've needed them the most.
But nobody in the entire NFL benefited from more penalty yardage calls than Tampa Bay did, as they were +300 yards in penalty yard margin (difference between penalty yards committed by Tampa Bay and their opponent.
Of the eight other NFL teams to finish the year +100 yards or better, only two others were +200 or more - Pittsburgh (+289) and Denver (+282) - and only two of them ended up being playoff teams (Pittsburgh, and Seattle +141).
NFL 2020 Penalty Stats Rankings
|NFL 2020 Penalty Stats Rankings
In this postseason run so far, Brady and the Bucs had 22 fewer penalty yards than Green Bay, had 28 more than New Orleans, and one fewer yard than Washington.
Not egregious by any means, but the first thing I noticed when seeing those numbers was that Tampa's biggest advantage came in the game with the most at stake – NFC Championship.
So that got me thinking, for a guy who's been to nine Super Bowls and now 14 Conference Championship games, I wonder if there has been a pattern there with the GOAT (Brady) and the Zebras leaning on one another ever so slightly when the stakes are at the highest.
Well, counting just those 23 games (14 Conference Championships, 9 Super Bowls), it was interesting to see that Brady's opponent had more penalty yards assessed to them in 15 of those contests.
Brady's team has gone 11-4 SU in those 15 games, while he's just 5-3 SU in the other ones where it was his team that actually had more penalty yardage assessed.
Again, not all penalties, or penalty yardage is equal, but by definition a “penalty” is always going to be some sort of disadvantage to that team, meaning it's some sort of advantage for the opponent.
Brady's definitely been “the opponent” in that equation more often than not in late-January, early February.
In terms of Super Bowls only, Brady's teams had less penalty yards called against them in seven of those nine contests, going 1-1 SU in the two that he and the Patriots actually were a little undisciplined.
The loss came to the Giants in early 2012, but the win came over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, back when Kansas City head coach Andy Reid was patrolling Philadelphia's sidelines.
Philadelphia get their revenge in 2017 though when they beat Brady and the Pats despite having more penalties and yards in that Super Bowl.
Oddly enough though, for all the times Brady's teams have actually been assessed fewer penalties and/or penalty yards in the playoffs, his three games against Andy Reid (2004 SB, 2015 and 2018 AFC playoff rounds) saw Reid's teams finish with fewer penalty yards each time.
Never seemed to help Andy Reid though, as his record is 0-3 SU in those games.
And if you ever needed an example of how not all penalties are created equal, that 2018-19 AFC Championship game between New England and KC saw the Chiefs finish with far fewer penalty yards yes (28 vs 61), but it was the offside penalty by KC on New England's final drive in regulation that negated a KC turnover that would have ended the game in favor of the Chiefs.
Penalty-Yard Comparison (Tom Brady Super Bowls)
|Penalty-Yard Comparison (Tom Brady Super Bowls)
For context's sake, I did go back and look at a few of the other QBs who have played in at least three Super Bowls.
Peyton Manning, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana all split the board at 2-2 in terms of being on the lower end of team penalty yardage in their four respective SB appearances each.
Manning's Colts teams were the ones that were more heavily penalized than his Broncos ones – makes you wonder about what the 2000's Colts could have really been had they been a touch more disciplined in big games – while the other two only played Super Bowls with one team.
Obviously a sample size of nine is much greater than four in relation to Super Bowls played, but for Brady to be 7-2 on the advantageous side of penalty yardage in nine Super Bowls is rather interesting, considering other HOF QBs who've made four Super Bowl appearances were never better than 50/50 in that regard.
Belichick's Patriots teams were always highly disciplined as a unit, but we've seen former Patriots leave to go to other teams and not show nearly the same amount of discipline as when they were in New England.
Why is that, in a sport you can seemingly call a (holding) penalty on every play if you really wanted too.
If Belichick is considered the “GOAT” of NFL coaches, and Brady's the “GOAT” of NFL QB's, have all those slight advantages over the years in just being more disciplined, or at least called by the refs that way, been what's actually behind a good chunk of the GOAT status for both of them?
I've got no idea, but it's at least something to consider.
SB 55 Chiefs vs. Bucs Penalty Breakdown
Finally, Tampa Bay comes into SB 55 averaging 42.6 penalty yards per game (13th in NFL), whereas KC is more than a full 1st down worse at 55.9 yards/game (28th in NFL).
So the precedent is already there to expect the Bucs (on their own field no less) to see less of the zebras' laundry come Tampa's way for this game.
Not to mention that Tampa was +300 in penalty yardage this year, while KC was near the bottom at -159.
That's the Brady effect though, as Bruce Arians' 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team was the third-most penalized team in the league last season (69.4 yards/game, 30th in NFL).
And during his time in Arizona, Arians' Cardinals teams finished with 55 penalty yards /game (11th) in 2017, 55.6 yards/game in 2016 (16th), 46.4 yards/game (1st) in 2015, 43.8 yards/game (5th) in 2014, and 46.4 yards/game in 2013.
Those numbers in Arizona are solid enough for sure, but in Brady's first year with Arians, it's the least penalized Arians team in terms of yardage EVER in his head coaching career.
Even after guiding his 2015 Arizona Cardinals to a league-best ranking in that regard. Flags were down across the entire league this year, but even still, it seems kind of strange that it happens for Arians and the Bucs in Year 1 of the Tom Brady era.
Brady's command of an offense at this level to avoid some of those pre snap penalties that other QBss can be at fault for can account for some of that difference, but when considered as just another piece of his whole historical puzzle, it's hard not to see a pattern of Brady's teams consistently getting the benefit of the zebra's whistle.
Considering goats and zebras are both herbivores (and Brady loves his plant-based diet) though, maybe it was meant to always be this way.
Does it end in a 7th Super Bowl ring for Brady?
Maybe, maybe not.
After all, the 52 Super Bowls that had a difference in penalty yards assessed have been split right down the middle 26-26 SU.
Super Bowl 55 Penalty Props
The SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas has plenty of props offered up on Super Bowl 55, which include penalty wagers too.
Super Bowl 55 Props
Notable Penalty Props are listed below on the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and after reading the above, you can see the oddsmakers are leaning to Tom's squad on Sunday.
Which Team will have the most penalty yards?
Chiefs -160 Buccaneers +140
FIRST PENALTY OF SB LV:
TOTAL PENALTIES BY KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Over 5.5 (-110)
Under 5.5 (-110)
TOTAL PENALTY YARDS BY KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Over 52.5 (-110)
Under 52.5 (-110)
TOTAL PENALTY YARDS BY TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Over 43.5 (-110)
Under 43.5 (-110)
TOTAL PENALTIES BY TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Over 4.5 (-140)
Under 4.5 (+120)
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