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Super Bowl by the odds: Vegas pick and perspective on Patriots vs. Seahawks

Superbowl Betting at Westgate Las Vegas

L.E. Baskow

Friends Jim Zabrowski of Minneapolis and Bob Rowe of Des Moines confer on their Superbowl sports bets at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on Saturday, January 31, 2015. The two try and come every year for the game and have hopes this one will be closer than last years.

Super Bowl Betting at Westgate

Lines continue to grow for Superbowl sports betting at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on Saturday, January 31, 2015. Launch slideshow »

Two hundred and sixty-six games down, one to go. One big one to go.

Super Bowl 49

What's the bet in Super Bowl 49?
Seahawks plus-1 — 53.9%
Patriots minus-1 — 46.1%

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.

Super Bowl 49 finishes off Talking Points’ inaugural season-long undertaking of analyzing and picking every NFL game from a betting perspective. It’s gone better than expected, with my against the spread record resting at 137-125-4 despite an up-and-down 5-5 showing in the playoffs.

If you’ve followed our Super Bowl coverage, the pick at the bottom of the page is already apparent. If the prop picks didn’t give it away, then the betting preview from the last issue of The Sunday should have done the trick. But in a game where the betting handle should exceed $100 million, there’s more than enough room to keep exploring.

Find the last Super Bowl salvo and final betting breakdown of the year below.

The line: New England minus-1. It’s déjà-blue and green for the Seahawks and the betting market. This year’s Super Bowl point spread followed a near-identical arc to the last year’s number. Much like oddsmakers opening Seattle as a 1- to 2-point favorite over Denver before Super Bowl 48, they posted Seahawks minus-2.5 over the Patriots two Sundays ago. The line lasted about as long as a Marshawn Lynch media session. Bettors wagered on New England immediately, to the tune of about $40,000 in an hour at one sports book, as it was wrapping up a 45-7 stomping of Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game. Seattle’s iffy 28-22 comeback win and non-cover against Green Bay also likely influenced the initial action. It was the second straight year the Seahawks narrowly escaped in the NFC Championship Game while their Super Bowl opponent cruised to an easy win and cash in the AFC. Denver decreased to a 2.5-point favorite before Monday morning in 2014. After spending a few fleeting moments at pick’em, where William Hill sports books still stand, New England went to minus-1 and stayed there for the next week and a half. It’s currently tied for the shortest betting line in Super Bowl history. The 1981-82 San Francisco 49ers and 1972-73 Miami Dolphins were the other two teams to lay a point. They both won, beating Cincinnati 26-21 and Washington 14-7, respectively.

The matchup: Now that the Super Bowl 49 line is established as a twin of the Super Bowl 48 odds, the duplicity begs a question: Could the game play out the same way?

For a refersher on how the Seahawks big-brothered the Broncos at the Meadowlands last year, they were up 29-0 12 seconds into the second half with one offensive touchdown. It was all defense for Seattle, which pressured Peyton Manning mostly with its front four and smothered his receiving options with the characteristically tight coverage by Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. The memory must at least give New England backers pause considering this year’s Patriots aren’t close to last year’s Broncos on offense. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola are not congruent to Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. New England’s offensive line isn’t as stout as the one Denver fielded, especially not with rookie-savior center Bryan Stork battling a knee injury. The Broncos scored an NFL record 606 points in the 2014 regular season. The Patriots didn’t even lead the league in 2015, finishing third with 468 points. They also gained .8 yards per play less than the 2014 Broncos on the year.

So that means Seattle will have its way again, right? Well, not entirely. A key fact has been glossed over with all the gabble regarding the Seahawks leading the league in every meaningful defensive category in back-to-back years: They’re not quite as devastating this season. The Seahawks’ defense went from being historically dominant last year to just plain dominant this year, dropping a full 10 percentage points in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. The difference comes against the pass, where the Seahawks give up 5.8 yards per attempt this season as opposed to 5.4 a year ago. The aforementioned secondary remains intact and as successful as ever, so it comes down to pressure. While the Seahawks still start two feared edge-rushers in Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, perhaps the defection of Chris Clemons and Red Bryant to Jacksonville this year was more impactful than recognized. Quarterbacks are more comfortable this season against Seattle, which has dropped from sixth to 17th in the league in sack percentage.

Give Tom Brady too much time and he’s capable of reminding why he’s the all-time leading Super Bowl passer at 1,277 yards on 127-for-197 passing. Brady’s best target, Rob Gronkowski, figures to get open. Seattle has a troublesome weakness against tight ends. New England’s offense quietly hit another gear after reuniting with running back LeGarrette Blount, whom Pittsburgh dropped in November. Blount is averaging 5.7 yards per carry with the Patriots, but the Seahawks are stronger than ever against the run. And New England coach Bill Belichick isn’t afraid of riling up the traditionalists and abandoning the run, as seen in the divisional-round win over the Ravens where Blount received all of three rushing attempts.

The running game might not be the only place New England has hit its stride. The Patriots’ defense is the most underrated factor of the game. They’ve crept into the top 10 of defensive DVOA, and have conceivable advantages all over the field against the Seahawks. New England cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner versus Seattle receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse is a pure mismatch. The Patriots effectively used linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins as spies on the likes of Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers earlier in the year. They could do the same against Russell Wilson and limit arguably the most explosive part of Seattle’s offense as the quarterback averages better than 7 yards per scramble. Lynch is where New England could find trouble. Physical, bruising backs and/or ones that pound the middle have hurt the Patriots all year. They’ve given up more than 100 yards to the likes of Chris Ivory earlier in the year, and Justin Forsett two weeks ago. Both are nice backs. Neither are in Lynch’s class.

The perception is that the Patriots have played like the better team late in the season. There are some numbers to support the notion, including New England squeaking past Seattle in weighted DVOA which deemphasizes early-season performance. But using strictly point spreads, the gap between the two teams is negligible if not nonexistent. The Seahawks are 7-2-1 against the spread, covering by an average of 6.5 points per game since the start of the second half of the year. The Patriots are 6-4 against the spread, covering by an average of 7 points per game. Fitting with last year’s Super Bowl matchup, sports books agree with conventional wisdom that these are the two strongest teams in the league. It just wasn’t as unanimous all season with both teams particularly taking a tumble down the betting board coincidentally after losses to the Kansas City Chiefs. Seattle was 12-to-1 to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook after falling to 6-4 with a 24-20 loss at Kansas City. New England rose to 14-to-1 — behind the likes of Cincinnati and San Francisco — after dropping to 2-2 following a 41-14 stomping at Kansas City.

They’re both practically even money now with hopes that the Super Bowl can do the numbers justice and produce a classic. The odds on enjoying one of the best Super Bowls in history far outweigh the possibility of a blowout repeat from last year.

Pick: Seahawks plus-1

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

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