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:
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.