Super Bowl Bets Against the Spread

Super Bowl bets against the spread are the most popular form of betting in the NFL. Many gamblers don't like getting odds on a straight up bet, because that means they have to pick the underdog to get a major return on their gamble. If they choose the favorite, they often have to wager a lot more money than they'll ever receive. That's why bets against the point spread are so popular.

I've heard gambling novices complain about having to bet against a line. Football purists complain against the same thing, because they just want to cheer for a team regardless of the odds or who wins by how many. Whether it's the "too complicated" argument or the "purity of the game" argument, these people don't get what taking the points or betting against the line is all about--getting an even-money chance to win a bet. Besides, sports gamblers like to imagine they know better than the handicappers, so they like to put their money up as proof they're right.

Super Bowl Betting Trends

To make Super Bowl bets against the spread these days, you have to be a brave man or woman. In the past few years, several famous upsets have occurred in the Super Bowl. Just in the last five years, the New Orleans Saints upset the Indianpolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV and the New York Giants have twice beaten a favored New England Patriots team. This doesn't even account for the favorites which have won, but didn't cover the spread.

Super Bowl Pointspread Betting History

To illustrate the history of Super Bowl betting and help you spot the trends over the years, I made a list of the years where betting against the pointspread would work and the years when taking the points would have won. I combined the years when the underdog won outright with the years that the underdog lost, but would have won the bet with the points being given. This underlines how close to a 50/50 proposition the point spread wagers can be.

Years the Super Bowl Favorite Covered: 1968, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2011

Years the Super Bowl Underdog Won the Bet: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012

Inconclusive Years: 1967 (No Line), 1997 (Push), 2000 (Push)

While I presented the total list of winners for/against the line, this method may help some spot a little better how the trends read over the years. Once you see the years set out before you, you start to realize how bad betting against the spread has been for gamblers these last few years. Note on this list that I'm listing the year the Super Bowl took place and not the year in which the bulk of the NFL season took place. For instance, the famous 1985 Chicago Bears team is accounted for under the 1986 designation, since that's the year they appeared in the Super Bowl.

Worst Team Versus the Spread

The New England Patriots are the worst team in Super Bowl history against the point spread with an 0-4 record. In 2003, 2004, 2008, and 2012, the Patriots entered as the betting favorite, but all four times they either failed to cover or failed to win outright. The lesson everyone should learn: Tom Brady is a clutch quarterback and Bill Belichick knows defense, but these guys were made to win close ballgames. Despite the big offensive stats, expect the Patriots to be in close ballgames in the Super Bowl.

Best Bets against the Spread

The San Francisco 49ers are the best ever at covering Super Bowl spreads. The Niners' teams from the 1980s and 1990s, which were led by Joe Montana and Steve Young, were 5-0 against the spread in those years. The 1982 Super Bowl may or may not be considered in these stats, because the Niners were a 1-point favorite in some instances, while the game was a push in many more gambling venues. In either case, the 49ers are the only team to have been favored 4-5 times and never covered.

Next among teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have been the best Super Bowl favorites. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the favorites in the Super Bowl 5 different times and have covered the point spread 4 of those times. The Dallas Cowboys have been the favorites on 5 occasions and are 4-1 against the spread. I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock on a franchise's past Super Bowl covers, since most of these covers were decades ago. If you happen to believe that pride, prestige, and franchise history plays a role in a team's makeup and intangibles, you might want to know who is best historically.

Something Else to Consider

For the last 10 to 12 years, the American Football Conference has seemed stronger than the National Football Conference. With top quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger (with 6 combined Super Bowl titles in 10 appearances), the AFC has seemed deeper and better. Last year, it struck me how much that's changed. The NFC has top quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning now. On the other side of the ball, the AFC suddenly didn't look so tough. AFC playoff teams were led by Joe Flacco, Tim Tebow, Andy Dalton, and T.J. Yates. Those young passers might turn into legends one day (or might not), but they hardly have the same stature as Manning and Brady right now.

One reason the Patriots were favored in the Super Bowl was the fact they looked so good against a lesser brand of opponent. When deciding whether to bet for the favorite in the Super Bowl, try to gauge the relative strengths of the conferences in 2012. If you get the calculation right, you might be able to determine one of the competitors was given several points they didn't deserve by the oddsmakers--or better put, by the assumptions oddsmakers make about the public's betting mood.