Las Vegas Bets on Super Bowl XLVII - Odds to Win the 2015 NFL

Most of the Las Vegas casinos have set betting lines for Super Bowl XLVII bets. The odds to win the 2015 NFL championship have been set before the National Football League season begins. I've written plenty about those scenarios. But what about once the NFL season starts and new data starts to roll in?

This article is about betting on who is going to win the league title once the regular season begins, at the beginning of the playoffs, or even when the final showdown has been set. Which historical trends are worth noting and what kind of statistics have predicted NFL dominance in recent seasons? These are the questions we'll answer today.

History of NFL Super Bowl Favorites

Since the seeding system was installed in the playoffs in the 1975-1976 NFL Playoffs, there have been 37 playoff seasons. In that time, 20 of the 37 playoff brackets have been won by one of the two #1 seeds. The first 4 playoffs after seeding was installed saw an odds on favorite win the Super Bowl, while the same thing happened over a 5-year stretch in the 1980s. In 7 out of 9 years from 1991 to 1999, a #1 seed won the NFL title.

That's a pretty good record for the #1 seed. In retrospect, it all makes perfect sense. The 1970s and the 1990s saw a handful of dynasties dominate the game, so the best team in those regular seasons tended to be head and shoulders over the opposition. In the Eighties, the San Francisco 49ers were tremendous front runners, winning as the #1 seed three separate times. Otherwise, teams like the '85 Bears and the '86 Giants would go 15-1 in the regular season and waltz (or shuffle) to easy Super Bowl wins. I'm going to show you the list of #1 seed who've won the NFL since the 1975 Super Bowl, then look a little closer at a recent trend.

  • 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 1977 Oakland Raiders
  • 1978 Dallas Cowboys
  • 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 1980 San Francisco 49ers
  • 1983 Washington Redskins
  • 1984 Los Angeles Raiders
  • 1985 San Francisco 49ers
  • 1986 Chicago Bears
  • 1987 New York Giants
  • 1990 San Francisco 49ers
  • 1992 Washington Redskins
  • 1994 Dallas Cowboys
  • 1995 San Francisco 49ers
  • 1996 Dallas Cowboys
  • 1997 Green Bay Packers
  • 1999 Denver Broncos
  • 2000 St. Louis Rams
  • 2004 New England Patriots
  • 2009 New Orleans Saints

Notice what the record looks like over the past ten years, though. A whole new era seems to have started. Since the Patriots won the NFL as the #1 seed in the 2004 Super Bowl, only once in the past 8 years has a #1 seed won the championship: the 2008-2009 Saints. What's makes this remarkable is how many teams had dominant regular seasons, only to fade in the playoffs.

The 2007-2008 New England Patriots went 18-0 and were one game from completely only the 2nd perfect season in the Super Bowl era, but they lost in the Super Bowl. The 2005-2006 Indianapolis Colts started the season 13-0, only to lose their first playoff game. The 2011-2012 Green Bay Packers also began the season 13-0, bowing out of the playoffs in their first game with a loss to the eventual champion New York Giants.

Some of the results aren't so remarkable in light of the opposition. The 2004-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers went 15-1 in the regular season, only to be defeated by the 14-2 New England Patriots. The 2009-2010 Indianapolis Colts team which went 14-0 and gained the AFC's #1 (with a 14-2 record), but lost in the Super Bowl. Of course, they lost to the New Orleans Saints squad which had gone 13-0 in the regular season, who also happen to have been the only #1 seed to win the Super Bowl in the last 8 years.

Super Bowl Bets in the 2000s

So what conclusions are we to draw from these events? What has been different over the past 8 years? What you need to know is the NFL changed its passing officiating after the 2003-2004. Notice I didn't say "rules", because the official rules are the same as they had been for 20 years. The interpretation of the rules changed when the NFL Front Office told officials to strictly enforce illegal contact, pass interference, and defensive holding. This stemmed from several incidents in the 2003-04 playoffs, where defenders were thought to have an unfair advantage holding onto receivers (the Pats-Colts championship game was a key moment).

What the new officiating did was restrict all touching beyond 5 yards. Before 2004-2005, defenders got penalized for interfering and holding beyond 5 yards, but "incidental contact" was allowed to happen. From 2004 and beyond, any touching downfield was penalized, making it much harder for NFL defenses to play pass defense. Since 2004, the NFL single-season passing record has been broken twice. Peyton Manning threw for 49 touchdowns the first year the rules were enforced differently, while Tom Brady broke Manning's record in the 4th year after the new policies went into effect. This past season saw 3 different quarterbacks pass for more than 5,000 yards, something which was considered near-impossible before the new policies were announced.

Don't Believe the NFL Regular Season

This has done strange things to the NFL. This allows the best teams with the best quarterbacks to dominate in the regular season, when they play defenses which are ill-prepared to stop high powered squads. The NFL regular season tends to produce more teams that go 10-0 or 12-0 or even 14-0. These teams before huge betting favorites when the NFL playoffs start, because they look unstoppable. That isn't the case, though.

NFL Postseason Play - Defense Returns

When the bad teams are eliminated in the playoffs, defense returns to NFL football. To win the Super Bowl, you have to maintain a balance of good offense and good defense. The Green Bay Packers destroyed opponents through the 2011 regular season, but this masked the fact their own pass defense was one of the worst in the NFL. Part of that was the fact teams got down early and had to throw the ball a lot to get back into games. Another part of their lowly defensive stats was the Packers seemed to lose their pass rush. The Pack's pass rush should have been emboldened protecting leads, racking up gaudy sack stats. Instead, they had average sack stats and game up tremendous amounts of yardage. The Green Bay Packers were due to lose to a more balanced team in the 2012 playoffs, which is exactly what happened when they ran up against the New York Giants, who had regained their fierce pass rush.

Trends in Las Vegas Super Bowl Bets

So when it's time to make a wager on the outcome of next year's playoffs, don't just look at the gaudy offensive stats throughout the regular season. Don't even look at which team is seeded highest or which seemed most "dominant" throughout the season. Find the most balanced teams, which have a top quarterback, but also a top pass rush unit. It doesn't hurt if they have a viable running game, but run statistics become a factor again in the playoffs. Find the teams which are relatively healthy, but mostly, see which teams have built a complete team or complete game throughout the latter stages of the playoffs. Then bet on those teams, regardless of seeding.

One Final Tip

The 2011-2012 New England Patriots flouted my theory last year, because the combined a dominant passing offense with a below average pass defense. I argue their appearance in the Super Bowl was a bit of a fluke. The Patriots would have had trouble beating teams with better passers in the AFC playoffs, if they had been forced to play Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (doomed by injuries) or a Houston Texans team led by Matt Schaub (again, injuries). Instead, the Patriots got the best possible playoff match-ups, as their pass defense only had to face Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco. The match-ups favored the Patriots, until they reached the Super Bowl. I should say that logic might not apply in the 2015 playoffs, since it looked like Bill Belichick's young defensive unit was figuring things out in the Super Bowl--and they appear to have had a good offseason on the defensive side of the ball.

Each season is different in the NFL. When the NFL playoffs start, it's like a new season unto itself. So if you make Vegas bets late next year, be sure to revaluate everything once again and know what to ignore about what you've seen in the regular season.