2014 Super Bowl Odds & Lines
Super Bowl 2014 betting odds are trickier than you might think, even though gamblers have a lot of information to go on. Both the NFC and AFC champions have played 4-5 preseason games, 16 regular season games, and 2-3 playoff games by the time betting starts. Beyond that, the current teams, players, and coaches often have had careers in which people can gauge how they stand up to pressure and whether they can succeed on the highest level of competition. One would think the Super Bowl lines would reflect a comprehensive body of knowledge and most people, if they took the time to study it, could figure out who would win. Seeing how close Las Vegas bookmakers' pointspreads often get to the final score, you might think one group of people have it figured out.
In reality, professional football is a whole lot harder to figure out than you might assume. For one, the 45-man NFL football squad active on a Sunday has a lot more working parts than its counterparts in other leagues. Baseball has a 25 man roster. Hockey has a 20 man roster. Basketball has a 12 man roster, but only 7 or 8 of these players really matter. In pro football, most of the 45 active players get on the field and participate. Given that football truly is a game of inches (and lucky bounces), it's almost impossible to account for all the momentum swings and strange twists a football game can have--especially when it's played in a supercharged, highly emotional ballgame which has had 2 full weeks of build-up. Football is just harder to predict than basketball or even baseball.
Super Bowl Odds and Injuries
Injuries add to the complexity. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a stickler about team's reporting injuries on their Wednesday injury report, but reporting an injury doesn't always explain the full impact of that health news. We all know that "Doubtful" is supposed to mean 25% chance of playing, "Questionable" means a 50/50 chance of playing, and "Probable" means a 75% chance of playing, but what does those terms say about a player's effectiveness?
What if a player has an injury which means he's almost certain to play in the game, but that injury keeps him from playing to his potential? A recent example of that happened in Superbowl 46, when Rob Gronkowski received a high ankle sprain in the championship game versus the Baltimore Ravens. It was almost certain Gronkowski would be able to suit up, but no one knew how long he could play, how much mobility he would have, or whether he'd have the explosion to run patterns and beat coverage. People who've been betting on football know that high ankle sprains usually limit a player for 4 weeks and Gronk only had 2 weeks to heal. That's why some NFL games never have a betting line, or at least don't have them until after the Wednesday injury reports--one injury completely throws off the calculations.
NFL Injury News
That's for the oddsmakers, who tend to have a better pipeline to information than most of us in the public. Imagine how much harder it is to account for injuries when you don't have sources of information with the teams you're betting on. I don't know how many times I've seen players struggle throughout the year, denying all the time they have an injury situation, only to reveal in the offseason they were playing through major conditions. I remember Tom Brady having a strangely unproductive December in the 2009 season and a first-round playoff drubbing at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, only to find out later he had a broken fingers and three fractured ribs throughout that stretch. These are facts that don't get talked about a lot, even if they show up on an injury report, because Brady certainly didn't want to tell the Ravens, "Hey, I have this messed up finger and these bad ribs you should target."
So you end up making bets in the dark sometimes. All I can say is you should check all the medical news you can find, paying attention to local and national sports news and having several online sources for NFL injury news. As sad as it is to say, looking at fantasy football news sites like KFFL and RotoNews is often one of the best sources of up-to-date information, because those fans obsess about player injuries. Even during the Super Bowl betting period when the ff seasons are already over, the news sources continue to churn out updates, almost out of habit.
2014 Super Bowl Lines
Because the Super Bowl gets more bets than any other game all year, the pointspread or betting lines are more likely to move a significant amount than in other games. This is often to your advantage, because the Super Bowl draws in more casual betters than any other game, too.
Media outlets hype the smallest and most insignificant news during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. This creates several betting dynamics which can lead to a lot of betting steam. The odds get warped in all directions. When betting against a line that's moved, it's best to assume Las Vegas knows better than your next-door neighbor and bet against the trends.
Skewed Super Bowl History
I've gone over the history of Super Bowl betting on this website and showed trends, but I wouldn't read too much into those trends. With only 46 Super Bowls played, that's not a large enough statistical sample to draw any real conclusions, though it's still information worth having. While a little information can be dangerous sometimes, I'd still rather have a little info than no information at all. Let me give an example of what I'm speaking about, though.
Super Bowl history shows that 14 underdogs have won outright, while another 5-7 times (depending on the lines you look at), a favorite has won but not covered. When you consider 2 pushes have happened, that means the statistics show it's about 50% for the underdogs and 50% for the favorites, with the favorites holding a slight edge. The conclusion I draw from that is Vegas bookmakers are really good at what they do and you need to look elsewhere for an edge. Judge each new Super Bowl match-up on its own merits.
Super Bowl Odds and Match-Ups
That's where you need to look when predicting the outcome of a Super Bowl: how the teams match up and the super bowl odds that are given. At times in 2011, Tom Brady and the Patriots Offense looked like it could do no wrong. Only a few times did it get slowed down (20 points or less) in the regular season, against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What did those three teams have in common? The answer is "a pass rush". If a team can't rush Tom Brady with 4 down linemen (or 3 linemen and an OLB), then that team really has no chance of stopping the Pats offense. If you blitz, Tom Brady has a high likelihood of finding the single coverage. If you drop back, you give Patriots receivers more time to get open and Tom Brady more time to find an open target. A team has to be able to pressure Brady with its base defense, so it has enough people in coverage to limit Brady's opportunities. That's why the Giants keep beating the Patriots, because they have some of the best pass rushing specialists in the NFL.
More Match-Up Examples
Another example from last year was the Kansas City Chiefs upset of the Green Bay Packers, who were 13-0, riding a 19-gaming winning streak, and scoring over 35 points a game coming into their game versus the Chiefs. Kansas City had just fired its head coach, Todd Haley, that week after a 37-10 loss to the New York Jets. Yet the Chiefs held the Packers scoreless in the first half and eventually defeated the Pack, 19-14. How did this happen?
They did it with an underrated secondary, who blanketed Packers receivers all day and frustrated Aaron Rodgers--which is no easy task. That's why a team like the Dallas Cowboys spent $50 million to sign little-known cornerback, Brandon Carr, because of a game where Carr and teammates shut down the likes of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
So how did the Jets score 35 on the Chiefs they week before? They did it with Mark Sanchez running for 2 touchdowns, tossing the ball to Ladainian Tomlinson for another, and getting big help from a Tyler Palko-to-Jim Leonhard interception at another point. They did it with penalties, with the Chiefs giving up 80+ in penalties on one series alone. The Chiefs got down early, then their offense was completely overmatched by the Jets Defense. They had 21 plays for 4 total yards in the 1st half, production on offense that's certain to get any defensive unit (on the same team) tired.
The fact is, the Jets matched up well with the Chiefs, pitting their strongest unit (blitzing defense) against the Chiefs weakest unit (pass offense). But the next week, the Chiefs matched up better with a better Packers team, because their d-backs could cover and the Packers didn't have the pass rush to expose the Chiefs' weaknesses (though Kyle Orton is a better QB than Tyler Palko--which helped). Just like in boxing, baseball, and every other sport, match-ups are key.
Super Bowl Lines, Matchups, and Injuries
When you decide to look at the odds and betting lines on the Super Bowl, analyze the key match ups and decide how injuries to both teams might affect those match ups. If an underdog's strength match the favorite's strengths, there's a chance for an upset. When an underdog's weaknesses are only exposed by the favorite's strengths, then the longshot may have no shot at winning the game (even with the spread). Injuries are the great equalizer, though, so always make certain to double-check the latest injury news before putting down your money on a Super Bowl bet.