We’ve put together a few tips, tricks, and trends for betting on Super Bowl 52 to help you win money on the last game of the year.
If you are completely new to football betting, we suggest you start by reading this explanation of the different bet-types that exist and this guide to betting on NFL games, specifically. If you already know the ropes, carry on to learn about …
- the main considerations for OVER/UNDER betting in the Super Bowl,
- middling your Super Bowl bet,
- some curious Super Bowl betting trends that may just be your bounty, and
- which of the boatload of Super Bowl side props are for serious bettors.
Betting the OVER/UNDER
A number of different factors go into betting the game total; it’s an inexact science. What you really want to know is: how do the conditions of the game affect the scoring potential of the two teams, and how does each team’s offense matchup with the opposing defense?
If the game features two defense-first teams playing in a typhoon, the score is likely to be very low. If it’s two pass-happy, West-Coast offenses playing indoors, you will usually see a lot of points scored. For everything between those two scenarios, there are myriad stats you can look to in order to gauge how the game is likely to play out.
Bettors should not just rely on crude traditional stats like total offense/defense and scoring offense/defense. They are a good place to start, but they don’t tell the whole story, not by a wide margin. Advanced stats, like play-by-play efficiency (a.k.a. DVOA), supplement the raw numbers. A 16-game season is a small sample size, and bad luck can seriously inflate or deflate traditional statistics. Factoring in the advanced stats help eliminate luck from the equation and gives you a better sense of how strong/weak the teams — and their individual units — really are.
Weather affects total scoring in a litany of ways. Precipitation is not the only — or even the biggest — variable when it comes to affecting the game total. Wind is arguably paramount. Not only does wind wreak more havoc on kickers than rain, it can also send deep passes way off the mark. As Brian Burke illustrated, teams that play their home games indoors or in warmer climates are uniquely affected by wind. If/when a game features a dome team playing in gusty conditions, expect them to struggle to score points and take a long look at the under.
One last obvious, though often overlooked, consideration for totals betting is player injuries. Bettors are great at factoring in key injuries when it comes to wagering against the spread or on the moneyline, but are much less conscious of injuries when betting on the total. As the Patriots have showed in recent years, that’s a mistake. When forced to play without injury-prone tight end Rob Gronkowski, New England was a great bet to stay under the game total. When he was in the lineup, they tended to put up points and hit the over. This wasn’t just because the Patriot offense was less potent without Gronk. His absence often changed their style of play, opting to run the ball more, which shortens the game and keeps the score down.
Middling Your Bet
The Super Bowl is the most-bet-on single sporting event in the United States. All that volume can create some pretty fast and dramatic point-spread movement, as a slightly wonky spread can create seriously lopsided action for sportsbooks very quickly. This makes the Super Bowl particularly ripe for middling, a practice in which wily sports bettors place seemingly contradictory bets to create positive expected value.
How does it work? The math can seem difficult at first, but it’s actually quite simple. As you know, sportsbooks will set an “opening”point-spread for the game, say New England -1.5. As the money rolls in from bettors, that line will move if more money is being bet on one side. When the line moves — say to New England -3.5 — it creates a narrow range of outcomes that are hits for bets on both sides. In our New England example, a 2-point or 3-point Patriot victory is a win for those who bet the underdog +3.5 and the favorite at -1.5. Any outcome outside that window results in winning one bet and losing the other, so the bettor gets his/her money back, less whatever vigorish the sportsbook charges. Any outcome inside that window results in winning both bets!
There are two important things to consider when middling. The first is the sportsbook’s vig, which affects the profitability of this practise more than anything. Shop around for books that charge at or below 10% (i.e. in a pick’em game, the moneyline for each team would be -110). The second is the outcomes within the window: because of football’s unique scoring system, certain outcomes are much more likely than others. For example, 16% of NFL games are decided by exactly three points, and 10% are decided by seven. Middling either of these outcomes offers strong positive expected value.
After the Super Bowl point-spread is first posted, keep an eye on the lines, and have a second betting account ready if the opportunity arises. The reason to have multiple accounts is two-fold: (1) different sportsbooks can and will have different point-spreads available, so in order to middle effectively, you may need to place your bets at two different sites, even if you’re signed-up at one of the highest-quality sportsbooks; and (2) some sportsbooks effectively prohibit the practise of middling by not allowing users to make two wagers on the same point spread.
Weird Super Bowl Trends
There are some weird trends at play in the Super Bowl, and while we don’t ordinarily advise blindly following any trend, some of these are so pronounced and so well-known that we, as a society, may have spoken their impact into existence.
The team wearing white will probably win
The weirdest trend, by a considerable distance, is the fact that the team wearing white has won in 11 of the last 12 games heading into 2018. No one has a suitable explanation for this. The home team chooses what color to wear, and at the Super Bowl, the “home team” alternates between the AFC and NFC each year, so it’s not like there’s even a vague connection to performance in the regular season. It’s just weird. But it gets brought up year after year, and the players are all well aware of it. Does that give the team wearing white a mental advantage? Quite possibly, if the players are superstitious.
Underdogs are all the rage
Getting away from costumery, there are some other trends at play on Super Bowl Sunday. A few years back, FiveThirtyEight put together an article about the bizarre history of the Super Bowl’s point spread, and how the favorite’s reign of terror into the mid-1990s reversed and has become a dominant era for the underdog. What powers these trends, and whether they’ll persist, is not well established. Is it the officials, who are (nominally) the best in the league? Is it that both teams have a bye week before the game, and nothing to play for after? Is it the longer half-time? No comprehensive explanation has been developed, but know that the underdog has been cashing tickets with regularity of late.
Back the team with the worse record in the regular season
In keeping with the underdog trend, the team that finished with a worse record in the regular season has won 10 of the last 12 Super Bowls. Perhaps that says something about momentum. Perhaps it says something about needing to learn how to lose before you can learn how to win. Whatever aphorism backs the trend, it should give you pause before betting big on that team that looked better over the first 17 weeks of the season.
Betting On Fun Super Bowl Props
Everyone even moderately acquainted with football knows that the Super Bowl is the foundation for some of the weirdest, wildest, and straight-up strange prop bets. Sportsbooks offer these props as a marketing tool. They list “odds the halftime show includes nudity” and other things to that effect, the press reports on it (and includes a link), and everyone on the sportsbook’s marketing team pats themselves on the back for standing out from the crowd on the biggest day of the year. Most are not for serious bettors, and they are not intended to be. Generally speaking, this is not where you should be looking to make a profit.
Take, for example, what I think is the ultimate prop: betting on the coin flip. The sportsbook knows exactly what the odds are — as does everyone else — and there’s exactly zero value available, yet there’s a 10% vig. This is the ideal scenario for the sportsbook, collecting money from the simplest and dumbest bet possible.
There are some prop bets that break from the general rule, though. The Super Bowl will have the largest list of player props available for any game during the year. Bettors will be able to wager over/under on a statistical outcome for every significant position player, like Tom Brady passing yards, Von Miller sacks, and Cam Newton concussions (too soon?). This is where serious sports bettors can actually make some hay.
With diligent and sound analysis into the matchups and likely game-script, you can find value in one or two. The vig is usually upped to around 15 or 20%, however, so you need to be a little more confident in your analysis than when you bet on the spread.