Sunday, November 28, 2010

Super Bowl Wagering Guide

Everything you know is wrong. Or, more accurately, everything you know every other day of the year is wrong. On Super Bowl Sunday, the bet that every sharp bettor has avoided like the plague is actually the best wager on the card.

Take the favorite on the money line.

Let the rest of the world push and pull for hours, while you take the play that has had its price deflated by every 10, 50, and 100-dollar wager placed on this fine planet during the two weeks leading up to the fateful Sunday.

The story is simple, but it is worth exploring. Fundamentally, books move lines based on a few key factors. If you are reading this article you likely already know the main ones, but for posterity, a line generally shifts based on either key news (such as injuries, weather, and other notes), or money. Large quantities of money being bet on one side of a line will force the bookmaker to move the line in the direction of the money, so as to induce action on the opposite side, and balance the ledger. Equal action on both sides of a line means a guaranteed win for the books, and that is, obviously, the optimal situation. Most weeks, and even right down to most days, this is perfectly achievable.

The Super Bowl is different, though. Thanks to the wild increase in the number of bettors worldwide, the lines can often behave differently, and thanks to the magic of mid-week adjustments, the sportsbooks remain fairly well protected. Sure, the line will move where the money dictates, but because of less predictable betting patterns and outrageous betting volume, books and lines can be subject to more moves, and that is where you can take advantage.

In no place is that imbalance more evident than the Super Bowl moneylines. Studying money lines year round can be helpful to some degree, but this particular strategy is actually easier than that. For our purposes, the only important research is determining how a particular spread matches up with a moneyline price. Fortunately, certain sportsbooks will list the common spread-to-moneyline conversion rates on football wagers! For instance, a 3-point favorite often corresponds to a moneyline price of roughly -155, while the underdog will settle in the neighborhood of +135. In contrast, a 10-point favorite would likely run you a pretty steep fee of -450 on the moneyline, and net you just +325 on the underdog.

Because of that 20-cent (or larger) window, and because the moneyline betting volume (and the split, thereof) of most standard regular season games is fairly predictable, trying to find value in moneylines without multiple painstaking hours of strict handicapping is difficult. The focus of this strategy, however, is on the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl alone, where everything, as noted above, gets turned on its head.

Take a moment and think back to each of the last ten Super Bowl Sundays. Do not focus on the sheer quantity of guacamole you wedged into your gullet, or where those jalapeƱo poppers disappeared to; do not waste your brainpower trying to recall how the game played out or even what teams played in the actual game; instead, think about the conversations you had with the three people at your party that care the absolute least about sports. Your glasses are working, and you read that correctly. They could be a 16-year old niece, your buddy that works the evening shift in an art gallery, or even your spouse, depending on the relationship - whoever! Think about the messy roll of bills they rifled through to see how much they were willing to bet, and what they said when you tried to explain the different ways that a person can wager on the Super Bowl. What made their eyebrows rise? It probably was not the idea that you can bet on the two teams to play stout defense, play for field position, and get a low-scoring game. It probably was not a bet on the spread, either, since only a seasoned bettor can get truly excited about an underdog only losing by 2 points when that bettor is catching 3.

With a few exceptions, those one-shot gamblers said one of the two following phrases:

"You mean I can put 50 dollars on that team in silver, and if they win, I get 100?" or, "What's a Prop Bet?"

When you consider that the thousands of people that make one bet a year each have 50 dollars to blow, and half of those people uttered phrase number one above in the exact same scenario, that is a boatload of money blasting the underdog on the moneyline that normally would not exist. The most amazing part is that little niece Angie, gallery-employee Todd, and Mrs. Your-Surname will do it each and every year. And who can blame them? They are not in this to invest and make money over a longer haul, they want a quick return to get that electric juicer, and what better way than to try to triple that 50 on one wager? One single 50 dollar bet is not going to have an impact on the line, but a hundred-thousand will.

However, sportsbooks are not going to adjust the spread based on large quantities of money being bet on the moneyline. Instead, those moneyline prices will start to shift. It will not likely be a quick strike, but slowly, over time, the number will move, 5 cents by 5 cents. If the Super Bowl opened with the favorite listed as 4.5-points superior, and the moneyline priced around -200, the spread might stay at 4.5 points (ignoring, for now, money being waged on the spread), but over the course of those two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the moneyline will drop, bit by beautiful bit, until you can likely buy the favorite to win straight up for a price far cheaper than -200. For the sake of argument, assume the moneyline dropped to -155 on the favorite. Thanks to the aforementioned conversion charts, you are aware that the 155-dollar price on the favorite should normally match up with a 3-point spread. You are also fully aware that oddsmakers believe the favorite is 4.5-points better than the inferior club.

Without even knowing the teams involved, you can bet the favorite on the moneyline in this hypothetical scenario, and know you are getting 1.5-points completely free - here, too, you would be nuzzling against the hugely important fall number of "3"! In practice, the move could be any number of points (or dollars); it will vary by year, and could differ depending on your preferred sportsbook, as well. Regardless, the underdog will always get pounded by recreational bettors, and if you consistently grab a favorite at a price off by the spread-equivalent of two-to-three points, you are going to be a winning Super Bowl bettor without putting in more than 5 minutes of work.

There are very few guarantees in wagering, but when a glaring discrepancy in your favor reaches out and slaps you in the face (like you have always wanted to do to that dastardly green on a Roulette wheel), you absolutely must exploit it, and you will take home money over the course of multiple years. Math does not lie. Remember, too, if you are planning to follow this strategy, you must let those novice bettors take whatever time they need to get their tickets printed! It takes four days of pulling apart couch cushions, 2 days to turn over the mattress, 3 days to reach under the seats in the car, 4 more days to round up ten bucks from the receptionists at the office, and one day to place the bet. Have patience, wait for all those bets to drive down the line, and then make your move.

On a year-to-year basis, you are not confined to only grabbing the favorite on the moneyline, though taking at least a small stance annually on that position is certainly wise. It still remains a good idea to break down the game from as many angles as possible, since there are, in fact, other ways to beat the Super Bowl.

Beyond the not-so-subtle value built into betting on inflated money lines and skewed Prop Bets, the Super Bowl remains the most talked-about sporting event of the year from match-up and strategy standpoints. The beauty of all that talk is that it is exploitable!

Year after year bettors are subjected to two weeks of non-stop jabbering by everyone that ever played the game of football at any level, and even a solid handful of those who have not. Sure, some of those egos will be correct, since 14 consecutive days of talking will eventually lend itself to a couple key points, but the absolute biggest thing to take away from those 336 consecutive hours of media coverage is that the oddsmakers already know everything you are hearing. That is an extremely important note, so it bears repeating: the oddsmakers are aware of every not-so-earth-shattering point that your television feeds you.

That thought can be an intimidating one, if you're reacting late. Instead, be proactive, and be ready to take a stance.

The best way to attack the above note is fairly simple - fade the obvious.

Take an example from the recent past. In the 2010 Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts by the final score of 31-17. Forgetting for a moment that a late interception returned for a touchdown made the final score look a tad more lopsided than it truly was, fading the obvious would have put you in prime position regardless of how the final drive of the game turned out, since you would have been on the Saints, and if you took the spread, catching points.

To fully understand, one must retreat a month to the start of the NFL Playoffs, and break down not only the two teams that successfully navigated their way to the Super Bowl, but also the clubs that they defeated along the way. Last year, the Saints knocked off the Cardinals and Vikings, and the Colts took care of the Ravens and Jets.

Why is this important? Tracking the ebb and flow (or just the flow, in the case of Indianapolis) can help us understand how the Super Bowl line is what it is.

For the Saints, a blowout win over the Cardinals did little to impress bettors, since Arizona's 51-45 Wild Card game victory over Green Bay exposed Arizona as a team without defense. The Saints were expected to win that game, and when they did, even in its lopsided result, it drew little fanfare. Football fans chalked up that final score to one team out-classing the other. Then, eight days later, the Saints played host to the Vikings. New Orleans squeezed past Brett Favre and company in a back-and-forth game that left bettors once again wondering if the Saints were born winners, or just lucky.

The exact opposite is true of Indianapolis. The Colts' Playoff opener came against the Ravens, a team that had just throttled Tom Brady's Patriots in a Wild Card battle of their own. The Ravens came into that contest as a scary underdog, featuring a defense that had been getting a remarkable level of publicity for forcing turnovers. Surely, they had a shot to upend the Colts, who sleepwalked into the Playoffs after locking up a spot early. Or not. Indianapolis manhandled Baltimore, 20-3, and even though the Colts couldn't run the ball, Joe Flacco never stood a chance. This was Peyton Manning, for goodness sakes.

Indy's next obstacle came in the form of another vaunted defense, and, according to the media, had the perfect recipe to rain on the Colts' parade. The Jets hadn't allowed more than 15 points in 8 straight games, including a late-season 29-15 win over these very same Colts. New York was fresh off holding the high-flying Chargers to just 14 points in San Diego, so they were viewed as a worthy competitor. They weren't. The Jets got out to a quick start, but Indianapolis outscored New York 17-0 in the second half, and went on to a 30-17 win.

The stage was set. The Colts had disposed of the two scariest defenses in the NFL by double digits, and the Saints had beat up on one team without a defense and had to fight a war that most people would probably agree was decided by home field adrenaline. Just by analyzing the route to the Super Bowl, we can already get a firm grasp on how the betting world is viewing these two teams. The Saints, who at one point were 13-0 in the regular season, were now the clear-cut underdog heading into the Super Bowl, largely because of the previous two games. Pretty amazing, right?

It gets better. Those 336 hours of banter only solidified the side of greatest betting value in this showdown! Every day, another bettor turned on his television to hear an expert utter the following phrase: "Nothing can stop Peyton Manning." And every day, another bettor ran to put money on Peyton Manning. Just think of how many times that simple phrase made the airwaves between January 24 and February 7. The number is stratospheric.

The Colts were the obvious choice.

That sentence brings the entire discussion full-circle. The Colts had won their previous two games by an average of 15 points, so the average bettor simply assumed another 10-point win was in the cards against the weakest of the 3 defenses Indy would face in the post-season.

We all know how that turned out.

So, this season, when you are strategizing and breaking down your Super Bowl wager, remember these key points.

First, the traditional sports media outlets only care about what is best for traditional sports media. What this means is that you are going to be given heaping doses of whatever polls indicate you want to hear. They do not know who is going to win, nor do they know the final score - what they do know, however, is that rock music and circus-catch-crushing-hit montages are going to keep TV sets tuned to their network. They also understand that religiously hyping the biggest-name players is like steroids for ratings.

This is when you, as a sharp bettor, need to remember to take a step back, and understand what every other sports fan and sports bettor is hearing and digesting. You are not a sucker.

Second, the linesmakers are not stupid. If you bet on the Colts last year because Peyton Manning is a great quarterback, you have already lost. Manning's prowess was built into the line, and you are not getting the best of the number. Far too many times a bettor explains his logic by vehemently asserting, "I'm betting the better team," flagrantly ignoring the fact that the spread accounts for just that fact. It is very easy to look at a game and only worry about picking the so-called better team. Where you can separate yourself from the pack and take home a big winning ticket this Super Bowl season is by looking at the game and not just selecting the team you think is better, but the team that is getting value against the number.

Finally, third, keep fading the obvious. Do your homework, and dig deep. Do not just look at the final scores of the games leading up to the Super Bowl; rather, understand them. Watch the games and takes notes on how the offenses and defenses are playing. Study how teams make adjustments at half-time, and learn the personalities of the coaches. Dig deeper. If you are making a play based on statistics, make sure those numbers are not the superficial notes you can find on the front page of any gaming portal. Hunt for details on spots where an offensive or defensive line can have an edge; find a match-up on the outside that the offense might try to exploit; read up on how a particular quarterback handles blitzes and hot reads. Keep digging deeper, because those setting the line already know the obvious.

And just like that, you are ready to bet (with confidence) on the Super Bowl!

You set your alarms for Sunday morning to wake up and snatch the juiciest possible moneyline price, and you watched the major sports networks for two straight weeks, waiting for all the suckers to bet what they were told to by analysts reading off a teleprompter. You furiously researched the Wild Card games, the Divisional showdowns, and the Conference Championship grudge matches to make sure no stone was left unturned, and you refused to get lured in by simple and obvious solutions to difficult match-up questions. You properly budgeted those smaller bets on the length of the National Anthem and how many years the halftime act has been performing (hint: too many), and you set up your lounge chair and high-definition television in just the perfect spots.

The only things left to do are leaving time during the week to pick up your winnings, and console everyone else that lost, yet again.

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