Britain’s No.1 American Football handicapper and Lindy’s Sports columnist Simon Milham ties down the trends, stares at the stats and offers some cool, calculated analysis for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX, which takes place at the University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona.
Underdogs have been a great Super Bowl bet in the last 13 seasons, going 13-3 Against The Handicap/Spread (ATS). Underdogs have won outright in the past three Super Bowls and in five of the last seven. Seattle was a 1.5-point dog last year and defeated Denver 43-8.
Seattle has won five straight postseason games and is seeking to become the ninth team to repeat as Super Bowl champion.
Teams that allowed fewer points in the regular season are 30-17 in the Super Bowl (in 2004 the Patriots and Eagles allowed the same number of points). The Seattle Seahawks conceded 254 points to New England’s 313.
Since 1995, the higher-seeded team has covered the handicap just twice in the last 17 Super Bowls. This is only the third time in 21 seasons that the number one seed from each Conference will meet in the final.
The team whose metropolitan area boasts the lower jobless rate has won 22 of the past 27 Super Bowls. Through November 2014, the unemployment rate for the Seattle metropolitan area was 5.3 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for the Boston metropolitan area.
The New England Patriots have covered the handicap just once in their previous seven Super Bowl appearances (1-5-1 ATS).
New England is 5-10 ATS in the last 15 playoff appearances, although they easily covered the spread in a 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.
The Patriots are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games against NFC West opponents.
Seattle is 4-2-1 ATS in the last seven playoff games, but failed to cover the handicap in a 28-22 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.
Backing the Underdog on the handicap and backing Over on the points total was a successful formula in the last two Super Bowls. However, that combination has never been successful in three straight season finales.
Favourites have a 33-15 record in the Super Bowl but are just 26-18-2 against the handicap. There have only been six instances where the favourite won the game but failed to cover the handicap. Those outcomes occurred in 1976, 1989, 1996, 2004, 2005 and 2009. So if you fancy the favourite, the trends favour also backing them to beat the handicap.
The NFC Champion Seahawks hope to extend a 6-1 ATS run for NFC teams in the Super Bowl.
The Points Total has gone Over the Vegas line in the last three games between the Seahawks and the Patriots.
The points total went Over the Vegas line five times in New England’s last six games against teams from the NFC West division.
Favourites have lost the last three straight Super Bowls and five of the last seven overall. If the line stays as it is (with New England +1.5 points), it will be the just the third time since 1980 that the Super Bowl spread was that small. It was Denver -2 vs. Seattle last year, and New England -2.5 vs. the New York Giants three years ago. The underdogs won both those games.
The points total has gone under the Vegas line in six of the last eight Super Bowls when the line was set at 47 points or higher.
In Super Bowl history, the points total has gone over the Vegas line 24 times, and gone under 24 times
The Seahawks have lost by more than a touchdown just once since the middle of the 2011 season – a 30-21 defeat at San Diego in Week 2 this season.
Since 1978, seven defending champions have returned to the Super Bowl the following year. Those teams went 5-2 straight-up and 4-3 against-the-spread
Teams playing in consecutive Super Bowls as an underdog are 0-5 SU & ATS.
Patriots are 1-4 ATS against Top 10 run defences and 1-6 ATS versus Top 10 run offenses this season.
Seattle’s defence ranked first in the NFL in fewest points allowed (254) and their offense was tied at first in rushing yards (2,762).
Favourites of 3 or fewer points are just 3-8 ATS in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots are 1-9 ATS in their last 10 games on natural grass. The Seahawks are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games on the real stuff.
Overall, the best team (as measured by regular season record) has won 25 and lost 15 Super Bowls. The other eight games involved teams with identical regular season records. Both Seattle and New England boast identical 12-4 records.
New England’s Tom Brady already owns a number of postseason records and can join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories. Brady has thrown a record 49 scoring passes in the postseason and is two shy of tying Montana (11) for the most Super Bowl TD passes.
In the last 19 Super Bowls, on only three occasions has the favoured team won and the points total gone over the Vegas line (Denver 1999, Baltimore 2000 and Green Bay 2012).
Designated away teams have won 28 of 48 Super Bowls to date. White-shirted teams have won 30 of 48 Super Bowls to date. New England is the designated ‘away’ team this time and they will also wear white jerseys.
Since 2000, the Patriots are 11-4 in season openers and 11-4 off a bye week in the regular season. They are 10-3 after a week’s rest in the playoffs.
Sleepless in Seattle? Rest is not so beneficial to the Seahawks. Since 1990, Seattle is 11-14 in season openers and 10-21 coming off their bye week in the regular season or after a week’s rest in the playoffs.
New England’s attack begins and ends on the arm of 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who is 3-2 in five Super Bowl appearances.
He has completed 127 of 197 passes for 1,277 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has a 93.8 quarterback rating and hasn’t had lower than a 86.2 quarterback rating in five Super Bowl starts.
Seattle ended the 2014 regular season with six consecutive victories, all coming by at least 10 points, and they topped the Carolina Panthers by 14 points in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The 22 points scored by Green Bay in the NFC Championship game were the most Seattle allowed in a game since Week 11. They have not conceded more than 30 points in any game this season.
Led by the “Legion of Boom,” the Seahawks’ defence has been the most dominant unit in all of football. They surrendered the fewest total points in the regular season.
However they have a few injury concerns, in particular to cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated a shoulder against the Packers. That is a serious issue when faced with one of the purest passers in history.
The key for Seattle is to take away the short and intermediate underneath passing routes and force Brady to air the ball out, because if Julian Edelman gets on a roll, that opens up the seams for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Take a look at the MVP markets, because if Kam Chancellor has a big night shackling Gronk, Seattle will win.
Seattle’s top-ranked ground attack, spearheaded by ‘Beast Mode’ Marshawn Lynch, takes on a New England defence that ranked 13th overall (344.1 yards per game) and ninth against the run (104.3 yards per game) during the regular season.
In nine career postseason games, Lynch has gained 100 or more yards five times and scored eight touchdowns.
Finding a way of bottling him up is the Patriots’ biggest key to slowing Seattle’s attack, because he actually leads the team with four touchdown receptions. Nine other Seahawks have caught a touchdown this season, but leading receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse combined for just 1,362 yards and four touchdowns. Their attack is hardly prolific.
And the Patriots’ defence is better than advertised. They’ve allowed 17 points and 327.4 yards in the last nine games, winning all but two. They also have the best man coverage in football and that is a massive problem for the Seahawks, who rely heavily on wheel routes, which the Patriots are very capable of nullifying.
Patriots will attack Seattle’s right tackle with their pass rush. Alvin Bailey or Justin Britt, neither of whom are great pass defenders when in isolation, will be faced with plenty of twists and stunts which worked effectively in the AFC Championship game.
The Patriots’ defence forced just 25 turnovers in the regular season (including eight forced fumbles and nine interceptions) and another five in playoff games against Baltimore and Indianapolis.
Seattle’s offensive line is not that brilliant. Russell Wilson has a great awareness and instinctiveness, an uncanny ability to know where his receivers are. The Seahawks were third in the NFL with 17 plays of 20 or more yards this season, and Wilson led all quarterbacks with 849 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Yet he may well be scrambling for his life, even against a tepid New England pass rush. Wilson is more aggressive with his legs when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter or in overtime, and with the Patriots generally utilising a four-man pass-rush, you can be siure Bill Belichick worries about a running lane for the quarterback.
New England’s linebacking corps of Rob Ninkovic, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower could have a big say in the outcome.
Even so, if there is a bet for multiple sacks on Wilson, take a good look.
New England’s Stephen Gostkowski (35-of-37 FG attempts) almost never misses, while Julian Edelman is a superb punt returner. Seattle recovered an onside kick and won in overtime against the Packers.
Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka made just 9-of-13 FG attempts from 40-to-49 yards this season and their return game has slipped a notch from last year.
Betting Market – There has been quite a swing since the opening lines were announced two weeks ago. Seattle were initially as big as 2.5-point favourites, but the money has since come for the Patriots, who are currently one-point favourites. That’s the equivalent of a field-goal swing, which is a significant move, particularly in a game of this magnitude.
The Stadium – It seems a little ridiculous that Wembley can sell over 83,000 tickets for three regular-season NFL games each year, yet for the big game itself, only 63,400 people will be inside the University of Phoenix Stadium. The NFL says it plans to keep the retractable roof open at the stadium, which goes against the grain. The Cardinals, who play their home games in the stadium, did not play a single game with the roof open this season. The Super Bowl host stadium has not only a retractable roof but a movable field – the only one of its kind in the US. The field slides inside and outside on a set of rails, motors and wheels. The natural grass field is frequently voted by players around the league as their favourite playing surface.
The Footballs – No advantage for New England, who have faced accusations that they cheated by using deflated footballs in the AFC Championship game. No doubt Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Sami Sosa, Ben Johnson and Mark Maguire will issue a joint statement defending Bill Belichick and Tom Brady shortly.
Turnovers – Out of 48 Super Bowl champions, only four of them lost the turnover battle in the big game. That’s just 8.3% of all Super Bowl winners: The 2005 Steelers lost it by one, the 1988 49ers lost it by one, the 1979 Steelers lost it by two, and the 1970 Baltimore Colts lost it by three.
Only eight of the 48 Super Bowl winners ended up tying the turnover battle, so overall, 75% of the teams that won the Super Bowl also won the turnover battle. The Patriots are currently +3 in the playoffs, having won the turnover battle in each of their two games. They were +12 in the regular season. The Seahawks are currently 0 in the playoffs, but are +10 in the regular season.
The Patriots’ aggressive run defence, which features linebacker blitzes is a boom-or-bust intangible. There is no guarantee it will work against a zone-blocking team like Seattle, who will patiently stick with the run even if they trail. One cut from Lynch and that run defence could give up a chunk of yards.
Injuries to Sherman and Thomas are significant hits for Seattle to overcome, especially against a well-oiled attack led by arguably the greatest quarterback in history. Still, if they play anywhere near the level they did last year against an equally talented Denver attack, then the Seahawks may repeat.
We will go with the favourite – whoever that may be on the day. We suspect New England.
VERDICT: New England 24 Seattle 20
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