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Walking the Super Bowl LIV line

They will come to Iowa casinos’ sports betting windows with angels on their shoulders, good luck charms in their pockets and can’t miss hunches in their heads—laying down what they hope will be lucky money. Priests and painters, construction workers and Wall Street whizzes, teachers and truck drivers. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus and Muslims.

There’s only one event on Planet Earth that can draw such a diverse field of prognosticators:

Super Bowl LIV: the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Gardens in Florida on Sun., Feb. 2—02/02/2020.

The National Football League’s 54th championship game between the National and American conferences is a convention of professional gamblers, out-of-their-league amateurs and bettors going on faith, statistics and gut feelings. There’s no sports wagering event in the world like it and no single sporting event with more money on the table.

In Las Vegas last year, gamblers wagered a nearly $146 million handle. All told, Americans wagered over $6 billion (mostly illegally) on the big game. With Iowa among a legion of new states making their legal sports wagering debut this season, analysts expect the amount of money legally wagered on the game to skyrocket. An American Gaming Association survey last year found that one in ten American adults planned to bet on the game.

“The handle, or amount wagered on the (Super Bowl) has grown pretty steadily over the past decade, breaking records in Nevada for each of the past three years,” VSiN CEO Brian Musburger said last year. “Between that momentum and the addition of new states taking regulated bets, we’re expecting the amount wagered this year to dwarf everything we’ve seen in the past.”

Some bettors will become rich. Some will lose a small fortune. Case in point: “Bettor X,” who took a $3.8 million bath while betting the ill-fated Los Angeles Rams would cover the +120 money line.

“Misery loves company, however, and thankfully Better X will have plenty of company (this Super Bowl),” wrote Golf Digest betting analyst Coleman Bentley.

A Super ‘Patriot-less’ bet

One fact has many a sports book manager nationwide exclaiming, “Hallelujah.” For the first time in four years, six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the polarizing New England Patriots—the Evil Empire of the NFL for most betters residing outside of the greater Boston area—will watch from their couches.

“People are tired of the Patriots,” Westgate Las Vegas sportsbook manager Ed Salmons told Forbes.

Especially after New England delivered what is considered the most boring Super Bowl ever last year in a sleep-inducing victory over the offensively-lifeless Los Angeles Rams.

“Super Bowl 53 was a complete dud for anyone who wasn’t a New England Patriots fan,” USA Today’s Charles Curtis wrote, “a defensive snooze fest that ended with a 13-3 score.”

Call New England’s playoff eviction this year The Music City Miracle, Part II. In the wake of the Patriots’ stunning crash-and-burn to coach Mike Vrabel’s Cinderella Tennessee Titans in the AFC Wild Card round, 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs—a team that hasn’t been Super Bowl-bound since the Nixon Administration—emerged as the Super Bowl favorite. Following a stunning climb out of a 24-0 hole against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, the Chiefs hit the odds board at Caesars Sportsbook as an 11-10 favorite Jan. 13.

Meanwhile, Tennessee, which was a 400-1 mega Super Bowl longshot in October and a triple-digit odds bet in December, continued its improbable run to the doorstep of pro football’s castle with a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not-like 28-12 dissection of likely NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded, 14-2 Baltimore Ravens.

“Once the Ravens were eliminated, that changed the script,” wrote DraftKings.com’s David Fucillo.

Ultimately, the AFC super script reverted to its first draft as Mahomes and the Chiefs, who entered the season as Las Vegas’ odds-on Super Bowl favorite, iced a 50-year Super Bowl drought behind the other-worldly play of the fabulous Mahones (who delivered 294 yards and three touchdowns of passing offense and broke-and-eluded five tackles on a wowing 27-yard TD run).

Kansas City solved Tennessee’s smash-mouth defense with a 35-24 victory that finally brought the Lamar Hunt Trophy (named for KC’s longtime owner and the man who coined pro sports’ richest term “Super Bowl) home to the City of Fountains.

The Pack is back, for a while

In the NFC, a storied, legendary power player rose from the ashes and the spoiled cheese of a disastrous 6-9-1 2018 campaign. Aaron Rodgers’ trademark steady and flashy quarterbacking and first-year coach Matt LeFleur’s surprisingly potent defense has led the Green Bay Packers back to Super Bowl glory, much to the chagrin of many Chicago Bears fans. The 13-time NFL kings have got their cheesehead championship mojo back.

But Green Bay lost is groove and its playoff heart in San Francisco. The 49ers, the NFL’s biggest surprise of its centennial season, roared back to life after a lousy 4-12 record in the 2018 season behind the league’s best defense and a throwback power running game anchored by Raheem Mostert.

Mostert turned the Green Bay defense into confetti while galloping for 220 yards and four touchdowns in San Francisco’s no-doubt 37-20 NFC Championship game beatdown of Green Bay.

San Francisco, a team that won just 10 games over 2018-19 and entered the season a 40-to-1 Super Bowl super longshot at Caesars Sportsbook, has mined the most stunning of its seven Super Bowl berths.

Pick ‘em, folks

The early betting word on Super Bowl LIV is flip a coin. Early betting lines have the game closer than the closest shave Gillette can offer.

“The consensus opening line at sportsbooks around the nation was pick ’em,” wrote ESPN’s David Purdum.

The Chiefs currently are a slimmer-than-a-Slim Jim 1.5-point favorite over the Niners, a sign that oddsmakers see the game as an extremely tough call. Chances of scoring a monster payday are extremely low. Early straight-up betters would need to wager $125 to win $100 on the Chiefs. Niner fans are looking at even money (plus-105) wagers.

“We had the Chiefs a little higher than the 49ers in our power rankings,” Alan Berg, senior oddsmaker for Caesars Sportsbook, told ESPN.

No Super Bowl has ever closed with an even point spread, which leads seasoned gamblers to believe Kansas City may open up its favored status by a point or two in the hype days to come. But having the Super Bowl favorite status is hardly a guarantee of victory. Favorites have won 34 of the 53 previous Super Bowls.

But Vegas is predicting heavy action on a game predicted to deliver big-time offense. The game’s current over-under is 53 points.

“It’s a reminder we’re looking at a 49ers team that scored 27 points against the Minnesota Vikings and put up a 37 spot against the Green Bay Packers, and the Chiefs scored a combined 86 in their two playoff contests,” Curtis notes. “So that (SB 33) 13-3 score seems like a real long shot. Thank goodness!”

One thing’s for certain: bettors will need more than a hunch to win big on the thus-far unpredictable Super Bowl LIV.

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