The Muffed Punt: ‘Over’-whelming Super Bowl trends make you wonder about the Under

The Carolina Panthers may want to consider a name change to another big jungle cat after doing the lion’s share of the work when it came to topping totals this NFL season.

Carolina has played Over the total in 12 of its 18 games, including both playoffs game in the Divisional and Championship rounds. And, while it should be no surprise that the highest-scoring club in football (31.2 ppg) make up the majority of the points in those contests, the Panthers – much like the nerdy kid doing a group project – have done almost all the work for Over backers.

In those dozen Over paydays by Carolina, it has scored 431 total points of the 533 projected points, according to the oddsmakers totals. That’s almost 81 percent of the scoring load.

The Panthers have twice matched or eclipsed the total on their own – scoring 44 points against a 44-point number versus Washington in Week 11 and put up 49 points against a total of 47 points versus Arizona in the conference title game two weeks ago – and have never scored fewer than 64 percent of the expected points in any of those 12 Overs.

So, with that out there, and the fact that the Denver Broncos – Carolina’s Super Bowl 50 opposition – score on average just 22.2 points per game, it would seem that if Sunday’s final tally is going to surpass the current 44-point total, it will again all hinge on Cam Newton and the Panthers offense to hand out some footballs. That could be a tall task considering Denver is the NFL’s top defense in yards allowed, budging for just over 283 yards per game, while limiting foes to an average of only 18.5 points.

Well (cracks knuckles, leans back in office chair)… let me tell you a little something about the NFL’s top defenses…

Since the 1996-97 NFL season, the team that ranked tops in yards allowed per game has made the Super Bowl five times. And in each of those championship clashes, the game has played Over: a perfect 5-0 Over/Under. Those defensive stalwarts have limited the five Super Bowl opponents to an average of just 20.2 points and have exploded on the other side of the ball for an average of 35.4 points of their own, leading to an average of 55.6 combined points scored versus an average betting Over/Under of 46.7.

Some other historical trends pointing to a high-scoring Super Bowl – or at least a final finishing above the betting total – is the fact that Super Bowls with totals of 45 points or fewer have gone 5-2 Over/Under since 1985-86 and in that same 30-year time frame, Super Bowls with spreads of six points or less have produced an 8-3 Over/Under mark.

The Over has been the hot bet in recent Super Bowls, with the last three topping the total and the “Big Game” posting a 5-2 O/U mark in the past seven seasons. And in the Broncos’ past seven Super Bowl showings, the game has gone beyond the expected total six times – six straight actually – with Super Bowl XII posting the only Under. As for Carolina, it also played Over the number in its lone Super Bowl appearance before Sunday, losing 32-29 to New England against a total of 37.5 points.

With all those one-sided numbers it seems pretty cut and dry on the Over in Super Bowl 50, right? If you’ve been betting sports for a while, you know that if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck – and you bet on the duck – you’re likely to get goosed.

So, before you click “submit bet” or stand in line for 15 minutes at the sportsbook to make that Over wager, check this out…

Case for the Under

Obviously, above we ignored the fact that Carolina has a pretty great defense as well, sitting sixth in both yards allowed (323 ypg) and points against (19.2 ppg). But it’s that the Panthers boast the NFL’s most productive offense which should worry those looking to bet Over the total. Say WHAAAAAT?

I know it doesn’t make sense, like watching the first hour and 50 minutes of Memento, but bear with me. It pays off in the end.

Since the 1999-2000 NFL season, the NFL’s top-scoring team has qualified for the Super Bowl seven times, and in those games those offensive powerhouses have popped and fizzled like every M. Night Shyamalan flick after the Sixth Sense.

They finished just 2-5 Over/Under in those Super Bowls, scoring an average of only 17.7 points (including just eight points from Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII) while giving up an average of 26 points against – that’s a combined 43.7 points per game, which sits just below the number on Super Bowl 50.

As well, those top-scoring teams went just 2-5 SU and 1-5-1 ATS in the Super Bowl since 1999-2000.

Blowout blues

The Panthers cracked the Cardinals by 34 points in the NFC Championship Game, which was the fourth biggest margin of victory in a conference championship game since 1985-86. That blowout is a big reason why so much of the early action is on Carolina, pushing this spread from -4.5 to -6 at some books.

But beware the blowout. In that 30-year sample, teams coming off a win of 19 points or more in their respective conference title game are just 5-6 SU and 4-6-1 ATS in the Super Bowl. They’ve managed just 24.72 points for and allowed 23.9 points against versus an average spread of -1.5.

Dueling defenses

During Championship Sunday, we looked at the postseason results when two teams ranked in the Top 10 in yards allowed clashed (with all four contenders in this field), finding that favorites had a big edge at the sportsbook.

With the conference title games going 1-1 ATS according to this trend, favorites are now 12-3 ATS in when two Top-10 defenses meet in the postseason since the 2010-11 schedule. This trend has gone a profitable 4-1 ATS so far in the 2015-16 playoffs and has one more chance to cash in with Denver sitting No. 1 and Carolina at No. 6 in average yards allowed.

Super Bowl Bacon

One last time, Rob Cressy from BaconSports.com and myself talk shop about NFL betting and compare how gross our beards are getting. Granted, Rob can actually grow a mean growler. My beard looks more like your neighbor’s lawn after he burns his grass in the spring.

Sharps like…

There are no shortages when it comes to wagering options for Super Bowl 50, but according to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, the sharpest play on the board is an alternative pointspread for Super Bowl 50, offering Denver at +7.5.

Wiseguys jumped on this prop not because they felt it held the most value, but because the pricing was off. With the spread bouncing between Broncos +5 and +6 around town, sharps realized it was cheaper to play this alternative spread, which opened Denver +7.5 (-140), than pay for the extra points. That shrewd strategy forced a quick move to -165.

“You would easily pay more than 30 cents to get the spread past the key number,” says Simbal, who admits it was a bit of a bumble on their behalf offering Denver +5.5 (-110) and the extra two points just a touch higher. “It’s more a bet made on pricing more than anything. You learn and adjust.”

Worst-case scenario…

With the Super Bowl 50 spread jumping between Carolina -3.5 and -6, books are dreading a five-point finish Sunday night. There was a ton of money on Carolina early, with some books seeing almost 90 percent of their total handle on the favorite, but that has since trimmed considerably with bigger, smarter wagers betting the Broncos at the high end of that line move.

“Five is no good for us,” says Simbal. “Everyone laid the -3.5, -4, -4.5 and -5, then we took a pretty substantial mid six-figure bet back on the Broncos +5.5, and that made five a really bad number. Looking at it now, we’d rather have Carolina win by one, two, three, or four.”

Simbal and other bookies sweating the possibly of a 5-point finish to the game shouldn’t get too worked up. This season, just 3.33 percent of NFL games landed on five – one of the deadest numbers in terms of NFL betting. However, with the new extra-point distance and more teams going for two-point conversions – and that the always dreaded Super Bowl safety – the chances of one of those dead digits showing up in the Super Bowl increases a touch.

Popular props…

If you factor in all the props offered by Nevada sportsbooks and offshore online bookmakers (who can take action on those crazy-ass bets like Gatorade color and Beyonce’s cleavage, which is a -1,400 fave), you’ve got to be getting close to 1,000 different ways to bet the “Big Game”. That’s absolutely insane.

As for those props garnering the most attention as we head into the weekend, pretty much everything “Yes” or “Over” when it comes to Cam Newton, including his number of rushing attempts which have jumped from 8.5 to 10 before settling at 9.5 due to heavy action on the Over.

Another alternative market picking up steam is Peyton Manning number of pass attempts, which people wagered Under 35.5, which doesn’t make much sense to Simbal since the bulk of the action – sides and props – have been pro Carolina.

“That one’s funny, because if your among those that think Carolina wins in a blowout, then Manning is going to have to throw the ball a lot more to get the Broncos back into it,” laughs Simbal. “The same people betting the Panthers and the Cam props are the ones betting Manning Under, kind of contradicting themselves. It’s funny.”

Other props taking in one-sided money are “Yes” on a missed extra point, “Yes” on a made 2-point conversion, and “Yes” on a safety.

MVP odds…

When betting Super Bowl MVP futures, it’s pretty safe to go with either quarterback since a QB has won the award 27 times in the past 49 Super Bowls. That has been the plan for the majority of sports bettors at William Hill books in Nevada, who have taken 40 percent of the total money wagered on Super Bowl MVP on Newton (fun note: first year Nevada books could offer this prop).

However, the most interesting lean in MVP voting has been toward some big-name defensive players. Carolina LB Luke Kuechly has been bet down from 25/1 to 16/1, Denver LB Von Miller dropped from 40/1 to 20/1, and veteran LB and former Cowboys great DeMarcus Ware has moved from 75/1 to 30/1 to win MVP honors Sunday.

Only nine defensive players have won the Super Bowl MVP, and just three of them were linebackers.

We know how to pick’em

All season, this spot was reserved for the game with the pick’em spread (or closest thing to it), asking you to get off the fence by rating which team’s cheerleaders you thought were the hottest. The Super Bowl 50 spread is anything but a pick’em, but we can still offer visual stimulation to help those of you who remain undecided about your “Big Game” bets.

Sunday’s menu

Each year, we get together with friends for a small – yet boisterous – Super Bowl party. My buddy is a Patriots fan, so it was fun to watch him during last year’s finish. Me, on the other hand, am a Cowboys fan. So I just look forward to the food and beer.

This Sunday, I bought two fat-assed roasting chickens and plan to do the usual trimmings: mashed potatoes, veggies, stuffing, and the works. It’ll kinda be like a Christmas dinner. And when you’re a sports bettors, Super Bowl Sunday is your Xmas morning.

What did you think I was going to serve up, some Rice-A-Roni?

Song for Sunday

The Super Bowl is in San Francisco this year… well it’s in Santa Clara, which is an hour away from the City by the Bay. That hasn’t stopped the NFL from branding as much San Francisco culture as it could over the past two weeks.

But for all the shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, and street cars, and Lombard Street, how come I can’t get no Journey round here?! Next to Barry Bonds’ giant melon and some kick-ass parades, the 70’s/80’s cock-rock band is the first thing that pops in my head when I think San Francisco.

This song seems fitting for our season finale. Thanks for reading along each week, it was an absolute privilege to write this during the NFL season. Kill’em softly Steve….

Follow Covers’ Senior Managing Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns, including his NFL’s biggest betting mismatches for Super Bowl Sunday.

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