The 2011 Super Bowl was not a good one for the sportsbooks here in Las Vegas and offshore. They underestimated the groundswell of support for Green Bay and the Over. Money poured in on the favorite, driving the line up as high as -3 from a -1 opener. And money poured in on the Over; the closing total was as high as 55 at several key locations. When the Packers won 31-25, bettors cashed in on both the side and total. It was the worst Super Bowl result for the books since the infamous Super Bowl XIII, back in January 1979 when the Steelers beat the Raiders 35-31 in a game that bounced between -3.5 and -4.5 all week – a dreaded “middle” for the biggest game of the year.
The books will have a definite rooting interest in the Super Bowl again this year, because for the second consecutive season, the books underestimated the support for the hot team down the stretch. New England opened as a 3.5-point favorite over the New York Giants in many key locations, with one influential sportsbook – the Wynn – even hanging a -4 on the Patriots.
-3.5 or -4 was not the correct line, as determined by the betting markets. The books spent the first week of the two-week NFL hiatus between the championship games and the Super Bowl getting besieged with one bet on the Giants plus the points after the next. A -160/+140 moneyline split has been bet down as low as -130/+110. The -3.5’s were all gone within 24 hours of their arrival, and there has been enormous downward pressure on the line even at New England -3.
Numerous sportsbooks have dropped the line down to New England -2.5, hoping to balance their books with some Patriots money. The books that are more risk averse – not willing to risk a potentially disastrous result for the house if New England won the Super Bowl by exactly three points – have adjusted the vig on the Giants +3 so bettors have to lay -120 or -125 to support the more popular team plus the points. Talking with sportsbook directors around Vegas, it’s very clear that they expect to be rooting hard for the Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday.
In conversations with other sportsbettors over the past week, it’s easy to understand why so many wiseguys have gone to the betting window in support of Tom Coughlin’s Giants. And most of the analysis that the bettors are looking at has nothing to do with the one strong prevailing trend that supports New York this weekend – the trend of the lower seeded team dominating the Super Bowl ATS.
Over the past 15 years, the higher seeded team has covered a grand total of one Super Bowl pointspread, while the lower seeded team has covered 12, with a pair of pushes where neither side covered. That 12-1-2 ATS angle comes into play supporting the Giants this year; a No. 4 seed compared to the No. 1 Patriots. But it’s certainly not the primary reason bettors are flocking towards the G-men on Super Bowl Sunday.
Rather, bettors are pounding the Giants because they think the Giants are the better of these two teams. There’s a lot of anti-Patriots sentiment, starting with the Patriots dismal track record in big games; just 1-7 ATS in their last eight playoff games, dating back to 2006. New England faced only three teams all year that finished the season with winning records (Pittsburgh, the Giants and Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game). The Patriots went 1-2 SU, 0-3 ATS in those games. Had Lee Evans been able to hang on to the football in the end zone in the final seconds against the Patriots last Sunday, that record would be 0-3 SU and ATS.
Bettors rank the Giants defense well ahead of New England’s stop unit. The Patriots defense finished near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every statistical category, including 31st out of 32 teams in both total defense and pass defense. Meanwhile, the Giants defense – riddled with injuries for a good portion of the season – is fully healthy right now. Key defensive contributors like Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley and Kenny Phillips are all healthy and productive after missing time during the regular season.
Bettors also look at the road the Giants took to get here, ranking that well above New England’s weak schedule (only four teams in the NFL played a weaker slate than the Patriots). New York finished the regular season with the second ranked schedule. In their last dozen games, they’ve faced virtually every elite team in the league – these same Patriots along with the Eagles, Saints, Packers (twice), Cowboys (twice), Jets, Falcons and 49ers (twice).
Bettors certainly haven’t forgotten how the Giants went to Foxboro back in November and came away with the straight up win as 9-point underdogs against New England, despite playing without big play offensive weapons Ahmad Bradshaw or Hakeem Nicks. Nor have bettors forgotten their straight up playoff wins away from home against the Packers and 49ers in their last two games; two opponents that rank ahead of the Broncos-Ravens duo that the Patriots beat at home in most bettors’ power ratings.
There is no real revenge angle here to speak of; certainly not if we’re talking about the last meeting between these two teams four years ago. Of the 106 players currently on the two teams active rosters, only 22 of them suited up for Super Bowl XLII. But if you’re building a case for New England, this revenge angle certainly stands out. In the Belichick-Brady era, the Pats are 43-13 SU, 36-17-3 ATS when avenging a loss, including an 18-3 SU, 16-4-1 ATS mark when playoff off three or more wins in a row. Clearly, this team makes good adjustments and uses their extra time to prepare wisely.
Another case can be made for the Patriots with some anti-Giants arguments. New York’s secondary was not an area of strength at any point this season; a major reason why this defense was ranked 23rd in ypg allowed and 22nd in scoring this year. If the Giants pass rush doesn’t reach Tom Brady on a consistent basis, one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the history of the NFL could have a field day. Let’s not forget that Brady is coming off a subpar showing against Baltimore, and he’s a quarterback with a long history of strong bounce-back efforts.
The Super Bowl winning Giants from four years ago also had a dominant running game behind Brandon Jacobs (5.0 yards per carry) and Derrick Ward (4.8 ypc), as the duo gained more than 1,600 rushing yards for the season and carried the team in the playoffs. This year, Jacobs averaged 3.8 yards per carry and his complement, Ahmad Bradshaw, averaged only 3.9. The duo combined for only 1,130 rushing yards for the entirety of the season. There’s much more pressure on Eli Manning in this game than there was the last time these two teams met for the title.
The Giants are also getting all kinds of credit for beating Green Bay and San Francisco on the road over the last two weeks. If you watched those games closely, you know that the Packers and 49ers both beat themselves as much if not more than the Giants beat them. Green Bay allowed that Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the half, a defensive play calling mistake from Dom Capers. Aaron Rodgers and the passing game looked completely out of sync following Rodgers’ three week lay-off, with a half dozen drops, numerous missed connections with wide open receivers and four ugly turnovers. Meanwhile, the Giants were well on their way to a loss at San Francisco before a pair of key punt return fumbles led to 10 fourth quarter and OT points, allowing the G-men to sneak away with the victory.
As with any Super Bowl, there’s a case to be made for both teams. So far, at least, bettors have been making a much stronger case for the Giants, leading to one-sided action and a potentially ugly result for the sportsbooks if the G-men pull off the minor upset.