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September 17, 2014

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Super Bowl by the odds: Vegas perspective and pick

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Steve Marcus

A gambler checks his notes before betting after Super Bowl 48 proposition bets were posted at the Las Vegas Hotel Superbook on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.

We’ve documented and picked the props. We’ve chronicled the teams, revisited the past and monitored the line.

Super Bowl 48

What side do you like in Super Bowl 48?
Denver minus-2.5 — 53.7%
Seattle plus-2.5 — 46.3%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

The only thing left to do is analyze it all together from a betting perspective and make a selection on Super Bowl 48. The picks haven’t gone well in the postseason, as I’ve gone 3-5-2 against the spread for a year to date record of 54-54-2. Finishing below .500 is unacceptable, so it all comes down to the most anticipated Super Bowl in recent memory.

Check below for the final NFL betting breakdown of the year.

The line: Denver minus-2.5. Like every conceivable angle with the Super Bowl at this point, the line movement is well-chronicled. The spread resembled Seattle edge-rusher Michael Bennett on the first night, speeding off to a dangerous start. It’s stayed as unflinching as Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in the pocket ever since. There’s still a day left where a shift could occur, but 2.5 in favor of the Broncos has held strong for nearly two weeks in defiance of oddsmakers’ power ratings. Every sports book that immediately posted a line saw Seattle as a point or two better, but the market disagreed. Gamblers who bemoan Denver plus-2 being available for less than 30 minutes should realize they had ample opportunity to snag a good number if they liked the Broncos that much. Partly because of Seattle’s superiority, sports books had the NFC as a 2.5-point favorite over the AFC in the Super Bowl from week 16 through the conference championships.

The matchup: The hype for this year’s professional football championship makes it feel bigger than a typical Super Bowl. It’s more like the Superlative Bowl, as supported by the statistics. Most have probably heard by now that Super Bowl 48 marks only the second time in 20 years that both the AFC and NFC No. 1 seeds reached the game. It’s just the fifth time that the top scoring offense encounters the top scoring defense. More on both of those nuggets later, but the game also has a distinction more important to the blog’s interests: It’s the first time in the gambling-gods-know-how-long that the top two power-rated teams are squaring off for the Lombardi Trophy.

There’s no uniform set of ratings, but not a single oddsmaker in Las Vegas had any team other than Seattle and Denver at the top for the vast majority of the season. Neither the Seahawks nor the Broncos ever fell out of the top three, according to William Hill’s Nick Bogdanovich, and were chiseled into No. 1 and No. 2 for the final couple months. It’s difficult to discern the last time Vegas’ top two teams made the Super Bowl without any publicly available archives. The top two seeds made the game five years ago when Manning’s Colts lost to the New Orleans Saints. But the AFC was far superior to the NFC in the eyes of oddsmakers that year, so the 2010 game doesn’t qualify.

Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings is a somewhat comparable measure, and its top two teams last made the Super Bowl in 2003 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders. That’s as safe of a guess as any for the last time before this year that sports books were confident the big game had the two best teams. This is only the third time the top two DVOA teams have played in the Super Bowl, with the 1998 Denver vs. Green Bay matchup joining Tampa Bay vs. Oakland. The Broncos won as 11-point underdogs, meaning — good news, Seattle fans — the team taking points has quite possibly prevailed the last two instances Vegas’ best squared off in the Super Bowl.

The top-ranked defensive team, by total yards, has beaten the top-ranked offensive team in three of four previous Super Bowl meetings with the Buccaneers over the Broncos again being the most recent. But this is the first year that DVOA’s best-rated offense meets the best-rated defense in the Super Bowl. And it’s not close. Both ranked in the top 10 of all-time with significant separation from the team in second.

It’s truly strength vs. strength, as the two units’ best characteristics are tailor-made to combat each other. Denver has an above average run game at 10th in DVOA. Seattle is also decent stopping it at 8th in defensive DVOA against the run. But the Broncos and Seahawks are transcendent at throwing the ball and defending the pass, respectively.

Seattle’s secondary starring Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell is one of the best in the history of the NFL. Denver receiving corps of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas can claim supremacy in its own right, possibly getting overlooked to a degree because of Manning’s preposterously terrific season.

The Broncos’ offense and the Seahawks’ defense are so far ahead of what their opposition has seen that both will likely have their moments and the game might come down to the less-heralded units. Seattle’s offense, on the season, has been more efficient than Denver’s defense. The Seahawks rank seventh in offensive DVOA, while the Broncos come in at 15th in defense.

Despite leading his team to the Super Bowl in his second season, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson may somehow be underrated. He ranks in the top 10 signal callers, according to DVOA, without a surplus of weapons around him. Marshawn Lynch is one of the best running backs in the NFL, but passing is far more important in the modern NFL. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are effective, but not elite receivers. They’re all Wilson’s had to work with this season, however, and anything oft-injured Percy Harvin can contribute Sunday is a bonus.

The argument for Denver’s defense is that it’s playing its best at the right time. The Broncos held two of the best offenses in the NFL, the Chargers and Patriots, to less than 20 points each to reach the Super Bowl. The effect of losing five defensive starters to injury over the course of the season hasn’t killed them yet.

The weather is another area where it’s perceived the Seahawks have an advantage. Although recent forecasts call for manageable temperatures in the mid-40s, it could still dip to below freezing before kickoff. Concerns about Manning in cold weather are justified by betting history as he’s 7-14-1 against the spread in environments of less than 40 degrees, according to covers.com.

But several smart bettors couldn’t care less. They believe Denver is the right side. Just as many, if not more, would argue as adamantly for Seattle. It should make for a special Super Bowl.

The pick: Seattle plus-2.5

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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