Super Bowl Over & Under
The Super Bowl Over & Under bet receives the second most amount of money wagered every year, only behind the bet against the pointspread. When you see an Over/Under set 5 to 10 points higher or lower than you could expect, this often seems a better gamble than betting on the outcome of a tightly contested football game in which emotions runs high and momentum is likely to swing back and forth. Strange things can happen in a Superbowl, so it often seems easier to bet on the total points scored in a game.
How to Bet the Over/Under
Over/under wagers are the easiest to understand, at least in theory. The oddsmaker chooses a point total. If the combined score of the two teams playing is greater than that point total, the over bet wins. If the total points scored by the two competing teams are under that point total, then the gamblers on "under" win. Betting the over/under is therefore a wager on whether you think the game is going to be an offensive shootout or a defensive struggle, relatively speaking. Gamblers don't have to choose sides and bet on a team to win--they end up cheering for all-time offense or all-time defense.
Choosing whether to bet high or low is not as easy as it looks. The Las Vegas bookmakers are brilliant at setting the points on these bets. Of the 46 Superbowls which have been played, 22 have finished under and 23 have finished over (Super Bowl I had no Over/Under line). That being said, you can find anomalies when you start to look. Take this last NFL world championship game, Super Bowl XVI back in early 2012, as an example.
Superbowl 46 Over/Under
The New York Giants and the New England Patriots had a hard-fought game and the Giants won, 21-17. In many ways, the game played out a lot like the Super Bowl XLII four years earlier, when the Giants won the game, 17-14. In both instances, the game was lower scoring than you would expect. Both times, the Patriots came into the game with an offense that seemed unstoppable, only to have the Giants' fierce pass rush hold Tom Brady and the Pats to under 20 points. Could this have been predicted, though? Was a 38-point total to be expected?
No, but a more recent game should have pointed the way for betters. In the 2011 regular season leading up to last year's Super Bowl game, the Patriots and Giants had faced one another. In that game, the Giants had beaten the Patriots, 24-20, with a late Eli Manning touchdown. Tom Brady had hit Rob Gronkowski for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:36 remaining in the game. That means the regular season match-up had been at 17-13 at the two-minute warning--a defensive struggle. But the Super Bowl over/under was set at 54, which is an extremely high point total for most playoff games. The public had grown used to seeing the Patriots and Giants reel off big numbers in the games leading up to the Super Bowl. I'd say the 54-point O/U was a sucker bet, though. It was 10 points higher than the regular season game, when both offenses would be expected to play looser and neither team's defense was playing at the level it was entering the Superbowl.
Super Bowl Over and Under Trends
Super Bowl 1 had no line over-under line, while Super Bowl 2 went over the oddsmaker's line. From Super Bowl 3 to Super Bowl 10, all 8 games went under the o/u betting line. These early Super Bowls reflect a low-scoring era where good defense dominated the ballgame at its highest levels. The over/under was set at 33 three different times, 34 once, and 36 once. Super Bowl 3 had a 40-point line, but that's the only time the wagering line reached the 40 point mark--and the games went under every time in this stretch. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, no clear pattern emerged involving the over/under: 5 games went over and 4 games went under the line. From 1985 to 2004, the Super Bowl over/under went over some 14 out of 20 times.
Under Bets Rule in the 2000s
The last eight years have seen that trend reversed. Of the last 8 Super Bowl games, 6 of the games went under the line set for over or under. This corresponds almost perfectly with the tightening of the pass coverage rules, making it easier for offenses to throw the ball and increasing scoring. This makes for an odd dynamic where the public expects to see a higher scoring game, but the game ends up being a bit more of a defensive struggle.
I would argue these are sucker bets by the Las Vegas oddsmakers, in many ways. The last three games to go under had betting lines of 55, 57, and 53, which are the three highest lines set in Super Bowl history (53 points in a tie). Because of the higher scoring throughout the regular season, fans are used to seeing games where 60 combined points scored are common. They come to expect that amount. But when the playoffs roll around and championship-level defenses tend to clamp down on opposing offenses (at least somewhat), the scores go down. Your average gambler, or at least your average fan (many of whom gamble on the Super Bowl), doesn't pick up on this. Sportsbooks almost have to set the line that high, to get action, but that means the over/under is way too high in this new era of passing. In other words, if you want advice on whether to bet the over/under in the Super Bowl, I'd say bet the under, at least if the line is set at 53 or more points.
Super Bowl Over & Under through the Years
We've come a long way from the time when 33-point over/unders were being set in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Now you get a 57 point line and fans are happy to bet the over. In either case, you have to remember that top defense wins championships and the game usually becomes a grind for the teams. Think about it. Except for that 20 year stretch from 1985-2004 when blowouts were common and 14 over bets won, the Super Bowl has seen the under win 17 bets and the over win 8 bet (with one a NL). You can't discount those twenty years, but I tend to believe those years were a fluke when the NFC was much stronger than the AFC. In an age of parity and a time when the betting public expects offensive explosions, the under tends to be the better's bet.