Super Bowl Pointspread

Favorite Versus Underdog in Super Bowl History

The favorite has won the Super Bowl straight out 27 out of 46 times, while the underdog has won the game straight out 16 of 46 picks. Super Bowl XVI in 1982 between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals was a pick-em game, with the Niners coming out the 26-21 winner. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 between the Green Bay Packers saw the Cheeseheads installed as a 14 point favorite over Drew Bledsoe and the New England Patriots. That game finished at 35-21 in the Packers favor, so it was a push. In the Rams-Titans matchup in 2000 (Super Bowl XXXIV), the Rams were a 7 point favorite in that game. The Rams defeated the Titans in a highly competitive game which involved Kevin Dyson a foot away from a tying touchdown as time ran out, but the Titans came up short at 23-16, thus causing a push for betters. Thus the favorite has won the Super Bowl straight-up 29 out of 46 times, while the underdog has won straight-up 16 times, with the one pickem game.

Super Bowl Favorites Covering the Spread

In 22 out of those 27 wins by the favored team, the favorite covered. This means over 80% of the time, if favorite wins, they covers. At the same time, the expected winner has covered and won slightly under half of the times in Super Bowl history at 22-24.

Superpowl Pointspreads: The Early Years

The early years saw the Green Bay Packers dominate in the first two Super Bowls, inflating in the minds of the leaders of the NFL and AFL, as well as the public, the idea that the NFL was dominant. When two straight AFL underdogs won the Super Bowl, opinions radically shifted. The Baltimore Colts represented the NFL/NFC in Super Bowl 3, but the leagues had merged by the time of their reappearance in the big time only two years later. By Super Bowl 5, the Colts were the underdog from the AFL/AFC, but they became the third straight team from that league/conference to win as an underdog. This would usher in a decade when the AFC won 8 of 10 Super Bowl games, with the Dallas Cowboys as the only NFC team to win the world championship of football.

Super Bowl Favorite Underdog Outcome Won/Lost vs Pointspread
Super Bowl I Green Bay Packers (-14) Kansas City Chiefs Packers won by 25 Favorite covered the spread.
Super Bowl II Green Bay Packers (-13.5) Oakland Raiders Packers won by 19 Favorite covered the spread.
Super Bowl III Baltimore Colts (-18) New York Jets Jets won by 9 Underdog won the bet.
Super Bowl IV Minnesota Vikings (-12) Kansas City Chiefs Chiefs won by 16 Underdog won the bet.
Super Bowl V Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) Baltimore Colts Colts won by 3 Underdog won the bet.

Super Bowls in the 1970s

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, and Dallas Cowboys won all the Super Bowls over a 10-year stretch in the 1970s. The Steelers won four while the other three teams won 2 apiece. In an era with several football dynasties, the favorite won 8 out of 10 wagers against the pointspread. I would suggest this should tell you that it's good to bet with a dynasty and that's been the traditional wisdom. People who bet for the 60s Packers, 70s Steelers, 80s Niners, and 90s Cowboys would have cleaned up betting against the pointspread in most cases. That trend did not continue into the 2000s, when the New England Patriots became 1 of 2 teams to win three out of four Super Bowls. In all three of those games (including one where the Patriots were the underdogs), the underdog won against the pointspread.

Super Bowl Favorite Underdog Outcome Won/Lost vs Pointspread
Super Bowl VI Dallas Cowboys (-6) Miami Dolphins Cowboys won by 17 Favorite won the bet.
Super Bowl VII Washington Redskins (-1.5) Miami Dolphins Dolphins won by 7 Underdog won.
Super Bowl VIII Miami Dolphins (-6.5) Minnesota Vikings Dolphins won by 17 Favorite won.
Super Bowl IX Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) Minnesota Vikings Steelers won by 16 Favorite won
Super Bowl X Pittsburgh Steelers (-7) Dallas Cowboys Steelers won by 4 Underdog won against line.
Super Bowl XI Oakland Raiders (-4) Minnesota Vikings Raiders won by 19 Favorite covered
Super Bowl XII Dallas Cowboys (-6) Denver Broncos Cowboys won by 17 Favorite covered.
Super Bowl XIII Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5) Dallas Cowboys Steelers won by 4 Favorite barely covered
Super Bowl XIV Pittsburgh Steelers (-10.5) LA Rams Steelers won by 12 Favorite covered the spread.
Super Bowl XV Oakland Raiders (-3) Philadelphia Eagles Raiders won by 17 Favorite covered.

NFC Dominance in the 1980s and 1990s

Over a 15 year stretch from the 1982 until 1996, the NFC won all but one Super Bowl over their AFC opponent. This was an era famous for its blowouts. At a point, the Super Bowls became boring for all but the championship teams' fans, because everyone knew the NFC team was going to win--and probably in a laugher. When you review the numbers, the reality for those betting against the pointspread wasn't nearly as clear-cut. The underdog was 7-7 with the pointspread between Super Bowls 16 and 30, with one pickem game. A few years sprinkled in there, the team from the AFC was favored, only to lose ignominiously.

That's the lesson you should learn from this era: try to look for the trends. The trend in this era was the National Football Conference was much stronger than the American Football Conference. It didn't matter what teams looked like in the regular season, because the AFC teams were often boosted in the odds because they were playing against weaker competition. The AFC teams had excellent quarterbacks with top passing games. The NFC teams had excellent defenses and often equally excellent offensive units. Even when Hall of Fame QBs like Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and Steve Young weren't leading their teams, the strength of the NFC showed in the NFL title game. Quarterbacks who weren't quite of the same historical stature, such as Joe Theismann, Jim McMahon, Doug Williams, Phil Sims, Jeff Hostetler, and Mark Rypien all won Super Bowls--usually with excellent running games and defensive units (and career years).

This can be overstated in the new NFL post-2004, when the passing game was loosened up even more than before. These days, it's good to keep in mind which conference is stronger and which team has the better defense, but in the era of the passing game, some of these old lessons can be overstated.

Super Bowl Favorite Underdog Outcome Won/Lost vs Pointspread
Super Bowl XVI San Francisco 49ers (PK) Cincinnati Bengals Niners won by 5 To win a pick'em game.
Super Bowl XVII Miami Dolphins (-3) Washington Redskins Redskins won by 10 Underdog won the bet.
Super Bowl XVIII Washington Redskins (-3) Los Angeles Raiders Raiders won by 29 Underdog won outright.
Super Bowl IX Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) Minnesota Vikings Steelers won by 16 Favorite won
Super Bowl XIX San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) Miami Dolphins 9ers won by 22 Favorite covered the line
Super Bowl XX Chicago Bears (-10) New England Patriots Bears won by 35 Favorite easily covered.
Super Bowl XXI New York Giants (-9.5) Denver Broncos Giants won by 17 Favorite covered.
Super Bowl XXII Denver Broncos (-3) Washington Redskins Redskins won by 32 Underdog won outright.
Super Bowl XXIII San Francisco 49ers (-7) Cincinnati Bengals Niners won by 4 Underdog won the bet.
Super Bowl XXIV San Francisco 49ers (-12) Denver Broncos Niners won by 45 Favorite easily covers
Super Bowl XXV Buffalo Bills (-7) New York Giants Giants won by 2 Underdog won outright.
Super Bowl XXVI Washington Redskins (-7) Buffalo Bills Redskins won by 17 Underdog wins bet.
Super Bowl XXVII Dallas Cowboys (-6.5) Buffalo Bills Cowboys won by 35 Favorite easily covers
Super Bowl XXVIII Dallas Cowboys (-10.5) Bufallo Bills Cowboys won by 17 Favorite covers in the 2nd half.
Super Bowl XXIX San Francisco 49ers (-18.5) San Diego Chargers Niners won by 23 Favorite easily covers.
Super Bowl XXX Dallas Cowboys (-13.5) Pittsburgh Steelers Cowboys won by 10 Underdog wins with the spread

Recent Super Bowl Trends

The last decade and a half has not been kind to those who bet on the favorites in the Super Bowl. After a solid 15-year stretch where the NFC trounced the AFC and the favorite almost always covered (or NFC underdogs won), the favorite has only covered in 5 of the last 16 Super Bowls. It could be worse. The five teams to cover were the Green Bay Packers in 2011, the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and the Denver Broncos in 1999. That does mean that 3 of the last 6 favorites have covered.

New England Patriots as Super Bowl Favorites

In particular, history has not been kind to fans of the New England Patriots who bet on them when they were favorites, since the Patriots are 0-4 lifetime as Super Bowl favorites. Besides their two famous losses to the New York Giants in 2008 and 2012, the Pats also failed to cover in beating the Panthers in 2004 and the Eagles in 2004. Those close wins are key reasons why Adam Viniateri might one day be the only field goal kicker in the Hall of Fame. He holds the distinction of being the only kicker with 3 game-winning field goals in Super Bowl history, though the Eagles field goal (8:43 remaining) was a great deal less pressure packed than his boots against the Rams (time expired) and the Panthers (0:04), which came with little time in the game. Vinatieri also won a Super Bowl with the Colts.

Super Bowl Favorite Underdog Outcome Won/Lost vs Pointspread
Super Bowl XXXI Green Bay Packers (-14) New England Patriots Packers won by 14 Bet is a push.
Super Bowl XXXII Green Bay Packers (-11) Denver Broncos Broncos won by 7 Underdog wins straight out.
Super Bowl XXXIII Denver Broncos (-7.5) Atlanta Falcons Broncos won by 15 Favorite covers.
Super Bowl XXXIV St. Louis Rams (-7) Tennessee Titans Rams won by 7 Bet is a push.
Super Bowl XXXV Baltimore Ravens (-3) New York Giants Ravens won by 27 Favorite easily covers.
Super Bowl XXXVI St. Louis Rams (-14) New England Patriots Patriots won by 3 Underdog wins straight out.
Super Bowl XXXVII Oakland Raiders (-4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buccaneers won by 27 Underdog wins easily.
Super Bowl XXXVIII New England Patriots (-7) Carolina Panthers Patriots won by 3 Underdog loses, but wins bet.
Super Bowl XXXIX New England Patriots (-7) Philadelphia Eagles Patriots won by 3 Underdog wins bet with late TD.
Super Bowl XL Pittsburgh Steelers (-4) Seattle Seahawks Steelers won by 11 Favorite covers the line.
Super Bowl XLI Indianapolis Colts (-7) Chicago Bears Colts won by 12 Favorite covers the spread
Super Bowl XLII New England Patriots (-13.5) New York Giants Giants won by 3 Underdog wins outright.
Super Bowl XLIII Pittsburgh Steelers (-7) Arizona Cardinals Steelers won by 4 Favorite wins game, underdog wins bet.
Super Bowl XLIV Indianapolis Colts (-4.5) New Orleans Saints Saints won by 14 Underdog wins outright.
Super Bowl XLV Green Bay Packers (-1.5) Pittsburgh Steelers Packers won by 6 Favorite covers the spread.
Super Bowl XLVI New England Patriots (-3) New York Giants Giants won by 4 Underdog wins outright.

Betting on Super Bowl 47 - 2014 Super Bowl Pointspread

People hoping to make winning bets on Super Bowl XLVV should therefore either bet the favorite on a moneyline (but only if it's close) or take the points and bet the underdog against the point spread.