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Superbowl XLII: A Technical Handicapping Perspective...By Jay Graziani

The Superbowl represents the biggest sports wagering day of the year. Millions of dollars will change hands on Sunday, not just on the typical spread and total (over/under) wagering, but on literally thousands of unique proposition bets. Throw in your office pools and the party staple "Superbowl squares", and nearly everyone in the civilized world will have something riding on this game one way or another.

Most power ratings predict a line in this game in the vicinity of 10 to 12. The opener of 13.5 was a bit high in that regard, and it was quickly bet down after action was opened. The send-out number likely anticipated "square money" to pour in on the Patriots. That sentiment was misguided, however, as the gambling money thus far has come in on the underdog Giants. Most sportsbooks are reporting betting on the underdog at about a 2-to-1 clip. With all the talk of the Giants' momentum and Eli Manning suddenly being called a top 5 quarterback, the mainstream media is making a strong case for the underdog in the public eye. Based on his Superbowl "system", well-known handicapper Dr. Bob will join the public in backing the Giants.

The Giants have been generally undervalued this year, posting an ATS record of 13-6, including an impressive 8-2 ATS record in the underdog role. Meanwhile, the Patriots are 10-8 ATS this year, including a terrible 2-8 ATS run to end the season. To get a perspective on historical results of similar teams, I took a look at an NFL database going back to 1994 (3618 games).

If you've been worried about timing the line movement, don't bother. Between the key numbers of 10 and 14, the other numbers are essentially dead. Games lined from 10.5 through 13.5 have landed on 11,12, and 13 combined less than 4% of the time, meaning it is not even worth paying 10 cents to buy through all of those numbers together, let alone just one of them. Surprisingly, the 12 has been the most valuable of those three numbers, but the difference between laying -11 and -13.5 (or vice versa) is fairly minimal. Obviously, you should always strive to get the best possible line, but don't let all the "line movement" scare you - it has been more small ripples than big splashes.

Combining all the games lined 10.5 through 13.5 gives us 257 games. Ignoring 4 pushes, the favorites won 112 of these, for a miserable 44% against the spread suggesting the value side is the underdog, as per usual in the NFL. The heavy favorites did manage to win over 80% outright, suggesting a fair moneyline of around -400, in-line with current offerings. Not surprisingly, most sportsbooks also have a glut of bets on the Giants to win outright.

Approximate "fair value" lines for some alternate point spreads according to historical results is as follows:

Patriots -21.5 +315
Patriots -17.5 +205
Patriots -14.5 +150
Patriots -10.5 +115
Patriots -7.5 -115
Patriots -3.5 -230
Patriots PK -400
Patriots +3.5 -730
Patriots +7.5 -1250
Patriots +10.5 -2250

Unfortunately, alternate point spread offerings are lacking this year due to the perceived mismatch with the Pats being 2-TD favorites to begin with. Keep in mind that favorites in this subset only covered at a 44% clip, so that means the favorite in general is overvalued, both on the game line as well as the alternate lines. Determining which of the potential alternate lines to bet depends on the numbers offered at your "outs" and their relation to the fair value numbers above.

The total in Superbowl XLII has bounced around between 53 and 55 after opening 55.5. Surprisingly, most betting thus far has come on the under, a rare move by public gamblers, especially for the Superbowl. Or perhaps not so surprising considering the last 3 Superbowls have gone under, and "trend players" will use that, as well as the seemingly high total, to justify a play on the under..Buying points on the total is a sucker bet, particularly at such a high line; numbers up in this range are essentially dead. And the relatively volatile line movement should again be taken with a grain of salt - the difference between 55 and 53 is minimal.

With such a high total, it is difficult to make any meaningful conclusions from past data, simply since the sample size is much too small. Looking at all games lined 52 through 56 only gives about 46 games. These games did favor the under at a 27-19 (59%) clip. However, if the game line was 10 points or more, unders went only 3-7. Expanding on that, all games with a total of more than 50 and a spread more than 10 were 8-15 (35%) for the under. This is a limited sample size, but history would appear to favor the over in this type of game.

To the dismay of the day-in and day-out grinders, "basic strategy" bets are dead in this game. The spread and total are terrible for teasers, and the total is far too high to allow for correlated side-total parlays, that is if you can even find a bookie brain-dead enough to take them nowadays. As usual, prop bets will hold the most value for the Superbowl. The sheer quantity of prop wagers to choose from means there must be some edges to exploit out there if one looks hard enough. As usual, make sure to shop extra hard on prop bets, whose lines can vary widely.

Though most power ratings would peg this line as mostly correct, past results would suggest the line value lies with the underdog and betting over the total. Going against public opinion, an often-profitable strategy in the Superbowl, seems to point to a Patriots blowout in a high-scoring game. Above all else, remember it is just another football game, so don't blow your whole bankroll on one night where anything can happen.

Jay Graziani

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