Super Bowl 2013 Odds: 3 Reasons to Take Ravens Against the Spread in Harbowl

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 20:  Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after defeating the New England Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on January 20, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the New England Patriots 28-13.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Christmas comes but once a year...unless you enjoy betting on sports. In that case, Dec. 25th is merely an appetizer, a watered-down amuse-gueule, for the thrilling decadence of Super Bowl Sunday. 

There are plenty of ways to wager on the Super Bowl, box pools and prop bets among the most popular. But at the end of the day, nothing says pure, unadulterated, NFL betting like a straight-up wager on the spread.

As with any big game, my opinion on the line is sure to change countless times before kickoff. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I'd be lying.

Either way, my early money is squarely on the Ravens getting 4.5 points. Here are three big reasons why:


Super Bowl Underdogs

Underdogs receive points for a reason; they're typically worse than their opponent. So it can be understandably agitating to pick one on the world's biggest stage.

Lately, however, underdogs have done incredibly well against the spread:

Year Underdog Opponent Score ATS Result
2012 Giants (+2.5) Patriots 21-17 W
2011 Steelers (+3) Packers 25-31 L
2010 Saints (+5) Colts 31-17 W
2009 Cardinals (+7) Steelers 23-27 W
2008 Giants (+12) Patriots 17-14 W
2007 Bears (+7) Colts 17-29 L
2006 Seahawks (+4) Steelers 10-21 L
2005 Eagles (+7) Patriots 21-24 W
2004 Panthers (+7) Patriots 29-32 W
2003 Buccaneers (+4) Raiders 48-21 W
2002 Patriots (+14) Rams 20-17 W
      Total: 8-3


Eleven games may not be an ideal sample size, but it's almost 25 percent of Super Bowl history. At the very least that's enough to indicate a slight trend toward Super Bowl underdogs, right?

Even so: What Baltimore did, as underdogs, against Denver and New England discouraged me from laying points to them for a long, long time. 


Hot at the Right Time

By virtue of its NFC North crown, Baltimore hasn't followed the recent Super Bowl blueprint to a tee. But by underachieving all season then peaking at the right time, they're pretty darn close.

Teams like the Giants and Packers made the trend more graphic, but in reality, this has been going on for quite some time. Per Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the conference champion that fared worse in the regular season has been quite successful in recent Super Bowls:

Year ATS Winner (DVOA) ATS Loser (DVOA) DVOA Diff.
2012 Giants (8.5%) Patriots (22.8%) -14.3%
2011 Packers (23.0%) Steelers (35.4%) -12.4%
2010 Saints (21.3%) Colts (16.5%) 4.8%
2009 Cardinals (-5.0%) Steelers (26.0%) -29.0%
2008 Giants (1.9%) Patriots (52.9) -51.0%
2007 Colts (16.3%) Bears (23.9%) -7.6%
2006 Steelers (27.2%) Seahawks (28.4%) -1.2%

In the past seven Super Bowls, only one team that rated better in the regular season was able to cover the spread (the 2009 Saints). What's more, the average covering team was a full 15.8 percent worse in DVOA than its opponent—a fairly significant number.

This year's Ravens are 20.1 percent worse than this year's 49ers. 

As alluded to earlier, it's scary to pick a team that, when viewed in a large sample size, has performed much worse than it's opponent. But if recent history is any indication, those who are brave enough to roll the dice should be rewarded.


Intangible Ray Lewis Farewell Tour Advantage

Sick of all the numerics hashed out above? Fine. Let's conclude with something much more abstract, but no less important.

I prefer doing analysis through numbers, but if I've learned anything, it's that facts and figures only take you so far. Sometimes forces exist in the metaphysical, beyond the realm of algorithms and arithmetic, that are too great to be denied.

That is, there's no way to quantify the impact Ray Lewis's goodbye will have on the game, but there's no way to ignore it either.

He's lost a step or two (or five) since his last Super Bowl appearance, but he hasn't lost a modicum of heart. And if the same beast I saw grace the field in 2000 comes out to play in New Orleans, there's no way I'll be holding his opponent's ticket.


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