Super Bowl Subtlety: Totals and Props
by Scott Spreitzer
The Colts against the Saints! Certainly television executives are delighted with this Super Bowl matchup, as offense sells tickets and excites ratings. This Super Bowl finds both teams with dynamic quarterbacks and a slew of skill position talent on offense.
The numbers alone can hint at a potentially fun contest: The Colts have the No. 2 passing offense behind 4-time MVP QB Peyton Manning (33 TDs, 16 INTs), WR Reggie Wayne (1,264 yards) and TE Dallas Clark. Manning finished 30-of-44 for 246 yards against the Ravens, then completed 26-of-39 passes for 377 yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions against the NFL's No. 1 defense in a 30-17 win over the NY Jets. He faces a New Orleans defense ranked 25th.
The Saints counterpunch with QB Drew Brees, who has an incredible array of targets with WRs Marques Colston (1,074 yds), Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, plus TE Jeremy Shockey, while the ground game has a three-headed attack with Pierre Thomas (793, 5.4 ypc), Mike Bell and Reggie Bush. Brees (34 TDs, 11 picks, 4,388 yards) leads the top offense in football and set an NFL record with 70.6% completions.
While folks around the country are trying to weigh the edges with the point spread, don't overlook other wagering avenues such as the total and the hundreds of proposition bets that will be available leading up to Super Sunday.
Totals can offer just as much value as sides, and many times even more so. I had my Playoff Total of the Year on the Over in the AFC Championship between the Colts and Jets and cashed early in the fourth quarter when the Colts scored on a 15-yard TD pass. That's one edge with totals: You can win your wager long before the game ends and not have to sweat out a close cover in the final minute.
One thing I looked at was that the previous week Chargers QB Philip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates were eating up the Jets' defense, jumping out to a 7-0 lead, and seemingly controlling things up front. But the Chargers abandoned the advantage for some reason and tried to run more on first down, which didn't make much sense. Since the Colts didn't run particularly well and had road the golden right arm of Manning all season, I figured they would not make the mistake San Diego made. In addition, the NY secondary is short in the middle, with strong safety 5-foot-8 Jim Leonhard, and TE Dallas Clark would be a terrible matchup over the middle against him and the Jet linebackers.
Manning has so many weapons at his disposal, with five players grabbing at least 47 receptions this season. Two have 100 grabs on the season (Wayne and Clark) and four receivers have caught between four and 10 TD passes.
The over has a 20-14 edge the last 34 Super Bowls, even though four of the last five went under the total. What often happens is that since it's the last game of the season, coaches are less likely to play ball control and kill the clock if they have a 10-14 point lead. No coach wants to be remembered for blowing a double digits lead in the biggest game of the year, so they often try to put as many points up as possible. Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys was like this, rolling up 34 and 52 points in consecutive Super Bowls, as was Bill Walsh and Mike Shanahan.
In addition, since it's the last game of the season, the trailing team often has to open up the playbook and even call on trick plays to try and get back in the game.
Two factors to keep a close eye on for this year's Super Bowl are the playing field and the weather. The weather is obvious, as the game is outdoors in Miami. We won't know the weather until the week of the game, but remember that three years ago when the Colts played the Bears on this same field, it was in a drizzle and the game stayed under the total.
The playing surface is natural grass, which can help slow down fast offenses and give a bit of an edge to defenses. Remember the Greatest Show on Turf, the Rams of 1999-2004? They were built for the artificial turf of their home surface giving them an edge. But when they went on the road and had to play on grass, the Rams were a different team, many times far from the offensive machine they were at home.
For this Super Bowl, the Colts and Saints both play their home games on artificial turf but now have to play on grass. The Colts played four games on grass in 2009 and three were close, a 27-23 win at Miami (on this field), a 17-15 win at Baltimore and a 35-31 win at Jacksonville. The Saints had mixed results on grass, losing 23-10 at Carolina, were fortunate to win in OT at Washington (33-30), and won 46-34 at Miami (also on this field). Astute handicappers look at all the angles, as subtle factors are just as important to examine when studying totals and props as overall stats and trends.
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