Super Bowl 2013: Predicting Each Potential Matchup Against Current Spread

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 16:  Tight end Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown thrown by quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Every day is a new adventure for those who enjoy betting on sports, but nothing compares to Super Bowl Sunday—the Christmas of each and every handicapping year.

Per Michael McCarthy of USA Today, last year's game saw gamblers wager $93,889,840 across the State of Nevada's 184 legal sportsbooks.

There are hundreds of thousands of ways to bet on the game—box pools, prop bets, etc.—but the most common, and most analytically captivating, still remains a straight bet against the spread.

Even with two games to play this weekend, has posted early lines for all four potential Super Bowl matchups. Here's a quick primer on how to find value in each one.

Atlanta Falcons (-1.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens

Both teams have struggled at times and both teams have glaring deficiencies, but if this matchup does indeed transpire, both teams will be playing (by far) their best football of the season.

The early line, a meager 1.5 points, reflects all of those glaring similarities.

With such a low number, you're essentially just picking a team to win the Super Bowl. That's a harrowing task in this particular contest since, again, you never know which Ravens or Falcons team you're gonna get. 

The Falcons are 1-1-1 ATS in games where they've received between one and two points. They lost outright at New Orleans, eked out a one-point win (which pushed) against Tampa Bay, and demolished the Giants 34-0. Baltimore, meanwhile, never received between one and two points this season.

A lot of help that did, right?

At the end of the day, trends numbers and stats—normally a handicapper's greatest ally—would need to be thrown out the window in this one. Personally, I'd suggest staying away and finding some tasty prop bets.

But gun to my head, I take the quarterback I trust most on a big stage. It feels weird saying this, but for me, that's gotta be Joe Flacco.

The Pick: Baltimore (+1.5)

Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots (-6)

Jump on this one quickly if you like New England; public bettors will eat up the Pats by less than a touchdown, pushing this line to (at least) seven in a heartbeat.

But does that necessarily make Pats minus-6 a smart investment?

History says no. New England has been favored in four of their five Belichick-Brady Super Bowls, and failed to cover all four times. Most relevantly, they got a similar amount of points—seven—against Carolina and Philly, but only won by a field goal each time. 

We know what history says, but what about the numbers? Here's how New England's DVOA compared to those three similarly handicapped teams (h/t Football Outsiders):

Opponent Opponent DVOA New England DVOA Difference
2003 Panthers 0.6% 20.6% -20.0%
2004 Eagles 23.7% 34.2% -10.5%
2012 Falcons 9.1% 34.9% -25.8%

A similarly good Patriots team beat a much-better-than-Atlanta Eagles team by three in Super Bowl XXXIX. But a considerably worse Patriots team slogged to a three-point win against the much-worse-than-Atlanta Panthers.

Which makes this a matter of perception. This is the biggest DVOA discrepancy New England will have seen in a game where they get six-to-seven points—but not by much. Do you think they would learn from letting Carolina hang around in Super Bowl XXXVIII, or would they repeat the same mistake?

I probably skew toward the latter. New England doesn't always win Super Bowls, but when they do, they prefer doing so on late-game field goals. Wait for Atlanta to reach plus-7, but even at six, feel okay taking the points.

The Pick: Atlanta (+6)

San Francisco 49ers (-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens

Younger brother Jim opens up giving four in the hypothetical "Harbowl," but will he be able to cover?

Something in my gut tells me yes.

I like how the Niners looked when they played at the Superdome this season (a 31-21 win over the Saints), and I think the dome provides an even bigger advantage against the old, slow Ravens defense. How that unit keeps up with Colin Kaepernick, I cannot even begin to fathom.

Baltimore is faster on offense than they are on defense, but the Niners still best them on that side of the ball. Patrick Willis is a nightmare matchup for sneaky running back Ray Rice, the Niners' secondary is too disciplined for Torrey Smith, and lumbering tackle Bryant McKinnie could have tons of trouble against speedy Aldon Smith.

I don't have as much numbers to back me up on this one, and I don't like betting on the wrong side of three. But sometimes you gotta go with your gut.

The Pick: San Francisco (-4)

San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots (-2)

There's an old football maxim that says "it's hard to beat a team twice in the same season." That rings doubly true when that team is the New England Patriots.

San Francisco's 41-34 win in Foxborough probably colors this spread a tiny bit toward the Niners. My numbers say they should probably be giving a field goal, but instead, they fall below the key number of three.

I think that's enough to make New England a good value play. As alluded to earlier, Tom Brady has won all three of his Super Bowls by exactly three points. If you subscribe to the theory of "Bill Belichick won't lose to the same team twice in one season," which I do, you've gotta feel good about giving less than a field goal.

Plus there's also the whole "when in doubt, take the quarterback you trust more in big games" theory that I discussed back at Baltimore-Atlanta. I don't need to tell you how fabulous Kaepernick has been, but likewise, I shouldn't have to tell you how easily I answered that question.

The Pick: New England (-2)


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