A complicated look at uncomplicated topics to ameliorate your day.
The Superbowl is the most heavily bet upon sporting event in the United States of America, trumping even the World Series and NBA Finals. There is a significant amount of public money and one off bets made on the game, and with almost $100 million wagered on the game last year, the impact of this type of betting has to be part of our strategy when looking for value and a true reflection of where the teams stand. With so much public money invested, it is important to remember that the points spread reflects the public money spent on the game more than the influence of any other on or off-field factors.
The bookmakers will be looking to balance the amount of money they take on each side rather than predict the winner through the points spread. The bookmakers opened Seattle as favourite anywhere from -2 to -1 after the conference championship games were completed. This alone shows they believe that Seattle is the better team. As soon as this happened the public and some sharp bettors, looking to jump on a favourable number, bet on the Broncos. The ticket count was something like 80% to 20% for Peyton Manning and the Broncos which led to the line moving all the way to -3 at some places and settle at -2.
The main reason for this is that the public bettors who have one bet for the season or maybe a wager once per week will see Peyton Manning and the high scoring Broncos team getting a couple of points and want to take that side. Given that is the case, looking for value on the game may point us in the direction of Seattle.
Best of the Best vs Best of the Best
This Superbowl is the match up that every unbiased NFL fan wants to see. The best offence in the league against the best defence in the league. Both teams are chock full of game breakers and the winner of Superbowl XLVIII will need these players to have an impact on the game.
Denver is number 1 in scoring offence and total offence whilst Seattle are number 1 in scoring defence and total defence. They are both number 1 seeds and come into the game having both played and won at the Meadowlands this season against the New York Football Giants (Denver week 2 and Seattle week 15).
The Broncos lead the league this season in yards after catch (YAC) with 2,583. The Seahawks gave up the fewest YAC with only 1,275 on the season. The Broncos average 37.9 points per game whilst the Seahawks on allow 14.4 points per game. Any way the teams are dissected they come out on top in most categories.
The New Broncos?
Right from week 1 when Manning threw for 7 touchdowns (TD) against the Baltimore Ravens it looked like it was going to be a historic season for the Broncos. They ended up with 5 players with 10 or more TD (Thomas, Welker, Moreno, Thomas and Decker). No other team in NFL history has had more than 3. Manning is going to be a unanimous NFL MVP choice and the record for most passing TDs in a season now belongs to the Master.
Having said that, the Broncos seem to have altered their game plan over the last two playoff games. 3 of Denver’s 5 post season TDs have taken more than 7 minutes. In the regular season, 0 of 71 TDs took greater than 7 minutes. Manning and the Broncos have played far slower to combat the Chargers and Patriots. Both of those teams were able to beat the Broncos in the regular season and this shift has been orchestrated to keep possession of the ball far longer and not allow the opposing offence to control the clock. It has proved successful as both wins have been comfortable and the opposing team not able to play with a winning strategy that they used in their previous encounter.
I think the Broncos will keep this strategy to breakdown the Seattle defence. If they can move the chains with regularity and not allow the Legion of Boom to stay rested on the sideline it has to be in their favour. They wont allow the Seahawks to give Lynch carries and they will be embarking on long scoring drives themselves. It will reduce the amount of possessions each team has in the game and the ability for either team to score as we saw in the two previous playoff games which fell way below the under/over.
Much has been made of this defence over the year and a few comparisons with the ’85 Bears defence given the numbers they have put up. I think the most significant factor in this game is the venue for this defence. They are obviously far better at home with the 12th man roaring. There is little doubt about that but the Meadowlands may not be as detrimental as first thought. The game will be outside in the elements. It could be snowing and blustery conditions which will favour the Seattle defence. They can be aggressive and go after the plethora of Bronco offensive weapons. They will be able to try and pressure Manning and force takeaways which they have done so well all season.
Peyton Manning has only been under pressure or sacked on 14% of dropbacks this season. The Seahawks are number 1 in the NFL at forcing pressure and sacks at 32%. Coupled with the amazingly low 31.8 Quarterback Rating (QBR) they allow when rushing 4 or fewer, Manning will try and maintain his 87.0 QBR when the opposition sends 4 or fewer to rush the passer.
There may not be a clear advantage on most of these league leading statistics. It is likely that the Seahawks will continue to prove elite in some areas and Manning will be wise enough to be able to manufacture plenty of positive plays for his team. It is hard to single out that either the defence will smother the Broncos or that the offence will blow holes in this Seahawks team.
Wilson/Lynch and Denver Defence
Believe it or not there is another offence and defence in this game. Seattle have been doing enough on offence to win games. With Marshawn Lynch going into #BeastMode and Wilson escaping pressure to make downfield throws they have done what has been required week to week. The biggest strength that Seattle has is the running game. This is countered by a solid run defence for Denver. They have been able to stop Blount and Matthews the past two games and been very solid all season.
If Lynch can be stopped and the game is on the shoulders of Wilson to make throws we will really see if he can be a pocket passer. No QB since Rex Grossman in 2006 has made the Superbowl with a QBR under 40 in both divisional and conference playoff games. Wilson is here on the back of below par games but seems like the big stage will not phase him. The Denver secondary has been average to say the least and injury has not helped. If the Seahawks can use Harvin and Baldwin deep they could easily make an impact on the scoreboard.
Perhaps most recent Superbowls are not overly helpful given this year we are faced with an outdoor Superbowl in the elements. 9 of the last 12 underdogs have covered the spread. This may point out that the public bets the favourite at the points spread because they are the better team. Unfortunately for the favourite bettors, the better team doesn’t always cover the spread and sometimes will not even win the game. Tom Brady led the Patriots to a Superbowl in 2002 against 14 point favourites, St. Louis.
What may be enlightening is that when the team who allows the fewest points in the NFL makes the Superbowl, they are 12-3. That old saying that offence wins games and defence wins championships has been right in past Superbowls.
Points Spread – (Denver -2 / Seattle +2 $1.90)
Only a brave person will stand up and say that Manning will not be able to score points. That is what they are going to have to do to overcome these Seahawks.
Seattle has been able to dismantle Drew Brees twice, Colin Kaepernick and Eli Manning in recent wins. They have allowed more than 24 points just once all season (at Indianapolis in week 5) and are 17-3-1 against the spread when an underdog since 2011.
Even if Manning comes out blazing and puts a couple of quick scores on the board the Seahawks are 3-0 when down by 10+ this season. They won’t panic, Wilson won’t panic and the defence is likely to step up and get a takeaway or what is required.
This line may jump to +3 (Seahawks) and if it does it would represent great value. If not the +2.5 or +2 will be the way to look as a starting point or maybe just take $2.10 for Seattle head to head.
If you really like the Broncos, perhaps look to take Superbowl MVP – Peyton Manning at $2.10 because there are very few scenarios where the Broncos win and Manning misses out on the MVP.
Over/Under 47.0 Points
As aforementioned, the Broncos seem to be playing a bit of a different game style. They have been able to slow down their drives and not only keep possession of the ball away from the opposing offence but put up scores themselves. It has been successful against the Chargers and the Patriots and I expect it to be their strategy on offence, knowing that if they need to play hurry up at anytime they have done that all season also.
Given the Seahawks are the leagues best at stopping teams and that the Broncos may continue to slow down the speed of their drives it could play out as a good under bet. The Seattle offence have not been prolific on offence and will not risk big plays and big mistakes unless they have to. Look for them to use Lynch, which will allow the clock to run.
Russell Wilson passing yards – Over 199.5
– Wilson and the Seahawks will rely heavily on the running game of Lynch but they will no doubt test the Denver secondary too. A few early screen passes to get Harvin his hands on the ball and Wilson should be able to turn things around from recent weeks and go over 200 passing yards.
Knowshon Moreno rushing yards – Under 65.5
– The Seattle defence is not going to make it easy for Moreno. Manning may prefer short passes to running the ball, especially late in games where he has gone to Julius Thomas for crucial late game 1st downs. This will take away carries and yards away from Moreno as will the use of Montee Ball a bit more (he may be worth a look at ‘over’). Denver will rely on Peyton to win or lose this game.
Wes Welker receiving yards – Under 57.5
– 38 receiving yards in previous 2 games since coming back from a concussion. Thomas x 2 preferred by Manning at this stage. Can expect 4 or 5 catches for 40 yards only.
Marshawn Lynch rushing attempts – Over 21.5
– This should be a hard fought, low scoring game and if the weather turns for the worst the Seattle workhorse may just keep getting carries. I am unsure how successful he will be but they wont stop giving it to Beast Mode.
How many times will Peyton Manning say Omaha during the game – Under/Over 27.5
How many times will Eli Manning be shown on TV during the game – Under/Over 3.5
Enjoy Superbowl XLVIII and good luck!