Bet on the Better Conference to Win the SB

The Super Bowl is still a few weeks away, but there are just three games left in the NFL season. Getting a shade over 4/1 on Arizona or Denver to win the big game may still have value, but it’s a little bit late in the day to be betting on futures.

Instead, consider betting on the stronger conference (even before you know the Super Bowl matchup).

Sportsbooks have posted a pick’em spread for the AFC versus the NFC. In other words, you can choose the winner of New England/Denver to beat the winner of Arizona/Carolina, or vice versa. If your conference hoists the Lombardi Trophy, you win your bet.

As the numbers (which we’ll go through) show, the NFC has slightly better teams, so you may want to jump on this opportunity.

The statisticians over at fivethirtyeight.com evaluate NFL teams by crunching numbers; they then use those number to simulate games and make predictions. They have correctly picked the winning team in seven of eight playoff games thus far. Their data suggests the Panthers have a 33-percent chance to win the Super Bowl, with Denver at 26-percent, the Cardinals at 22-percent, and New England at 19-percent.

That gives the NFC winner a 55-percent overall shot.

The time tested Sagarin Ratings, whose top team has won the Super Bowl each of the last two years, suggest something similar. While the AFC has more decent teams in the Sagarin Ratings, the NFC is top heavy; the three top teams are all from the NFC: Seattle, Arizona, and Carolina. Again, this says there’s value in playing the Cardinals/Panthers in the Super Bowl.

If you prefer pure stats to advanced metrics, Carolina and Arizona were the top two scoring teams in the NFL during the regular season, while New England was third and Denver was 19th. On defense, the Broncos allowed the fourth fewest points in the league, with Carolina sixth, Arizona seventh, and New England tenth. Take all of those numbers in tandem, with the lowest cumulative score being the best, and the two NFC teams rank ahead of the AFC squads.

Betting to win is all about percentages. If you cash six out of ten wagers with a standard vig, you’re making money. The margins on the NFC against the AFC aren’t overwhelming, but however you evaluate teams, the Panthers and Cardinals look better than the Patriots and Broncos. What is being built into the line that we’re not factoring is big names and star players. You can have the decaying carcass of Peyton Manning, or the one-dimensional Patriots. I’ll take the complete teams from the NFC.

(Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)

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