Every time Super Bowl week rolls around, I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in the only state with legalized sports betting—and, boy, is that especially true this year. Because without the opportunity to place action on Super Bowl XLVI, I’d be left with the following quandary:
Root for the New England Patriots and their arrogant, condescending coach, their obnoxious fans and their smug, pretty-boy quarterback who gives new meaning to the phrase “poor sport” whenever he gets his ass kicked. Or pull for the New York Giants and their cantankerous, drill-sergeant coach, their egotistical fans and their entitled quarterback who, like a 3-year-old, went crying to daddy the day he was drafted to get out of playing in San Diego.
From where I sit, this Giants-Patriots Super Bowl rematch is Glee vs. American Idol, Backstreet Boys vs. N’Sync, pneumonia vs. food poisoning. You know, pure torture. I guess it could be worse: Madonna could be doing the halftime show. What’s that? Noooooo!
Somewhere, there’s a bottle of tequila with my name on it, so let’s move on to my Super Bowl picks before I crack that sucker open.
$600 (to win $500) on Giants +3 (-120) vs. Patriots: After 138 hours of in-depth research, I’ve found exactly one reason to play the Patriots in this contest: The money—both sharp and public—has been pouring in on New York, meaning New England is in the rare “nobody-is-giving-us-a-shot” situation, something the Pats have excelled in during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. That’s it.
What about New England’s 10-game winning streak, you ask? What about it, indeed. Six of the wins—including the last four in a row—came at home, and more importantly, only one was against a team that finished the season with a winning record (the lucky AFC title game victory over the Ravens).
New York, meanwhile, has been playing win-or-go-home football for more than a month, ripping off five straight victories over the Jets (road), Cowboys, Falcons, Packers (road) and 49ers (road). Combined record of those five squads: 54-26. Combined score: Giants 141, Foes 67.
Hold on, I’m just getting started. Chew on these three factoids:
1) The Giants are the last team to beat the Patriots, winning 24-20 in New England on Nov. 6—and New York was without four offensive starters that day. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was healthy (he won’t be in this contest), and even though Gronkowski put up big numbers in that game, Brady still posted his worst passer rating of the regular season (75.4). Also, if you look at the all-important yards-per-pass-attempt stat, you’ll find that four of Brady’s five worst passing days this year were against the Cowboys, Steelers, Ravens and Giants—four teams that put serious pressure on the quarterback.
2) Going back to its Super Bowl run four years ago—which culminated with the 17-14 upset of the unbeaten Patriots—the Giants have now won (and covered) seven of their last eight postseason games, going 6-0 straight up and against the spread away from home. Conversely, New England is 1-7 ATS in its last eight postseason contests.
3) The Patriots are 0-for-3 ATS as a Super Bowl favorite. In fact, the underdog has covered in all four Super Bowls of the Brady/Belichick era. Starting with the Patriots stunning upset of the Rams in 2002, the Super Bowl pup is on a 7-3 ATS run.
Look, I’m not going to lie: Squeezing onto an overcrowded Giants bandwagon—with Brady and Belichick shooting that “Really? Are you sure you want to do this?” glare from across the way—isn’t exactly comfortable. But I can only go by what I see, and what I see are significant mismatches that favor the Giants. Then again, I’m long overdue for an eye exam.
$330 (to win $300) on Giants-Patriots UNDER 27½, first half: Halftime score of the Giants-Patriots meeting in Super Bowl XLII: 7-3. Halftime score of the Giants-Patriots meeting in Week 9 this season: 0-0. Halftime score of the last seven Super Bowls, starting with Patriots-Eagles in 2005: 7-7, 7-3, 16-14, 7-3, 17-7, 10-6 and 21-10. Keep this in mind, too: The three highest-scoring games in that bunch featured a special teams or defensive touchdown in the first half. Take out those three scores, and over the past seven years, offenses have averaged a combined 16.3 first-half points.
The two-week layoff plus the pregame pomp and circumstance equals sputtering offenses in the first half.
$110 (to win $100) on Giants +1½ over Patriots, first half: Not only have the Giants won and covered five straight games, they’ve held a halftime lead (and covered the first-half number) in each contest. Additionally, during their 7-1 SU and ATS playoff run, the G-Men are 6-1-1 ATS in the first 30 minutes. What about New England? It has cashed a first-half ticket just twice in its last six games (both times against Denver), and if you’ve bet the Pats in the first half in their last seven postseason contests, you’ve put money in your pocket once (vs. Denver last month).
$130 (to win $100) on total kickoff returns by both teams UNDER 6½ (-130): Forget about this being The Year of the Quarterback; this was The Year of the Vanishing Kickoff Return, thanks to the NFL moving the kickoff from the 30- to the 35-yard line in hopes of reducing special-teams collisions. Mission accomplished, as there was a huge spike in touchbacks. Admittedly, both the Giants and Patriots ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of touchback percentage, but that’s a bit misleading. Here’s why: New England didn’t play a single game indoors all season; New York played indoors three times, and in those games kicker Lawrence Tynes had only six of 17 kickoffs returned (not including one onside-kick attempt).
Then there’s this nugget: This game is being played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where more than 78 percent of the Colts’ kickoffs this year were touchbacks—the second-highest “home” touchback percentage in the league. Throw in the fact I expect this to be a lower-scoring game than the experts predict, and this is my favorite prop on the board.
$77 (to win $70) on fourth quarter OVER 16½ points (-110): In the last three Patriots-Giants meetings, there have been 22, 21 and 31 points scored in the fourth quarter. In the last four Super Bowls, the fourth-quarter point totals have been 18, 15, 23 and 21. In New England’s four Super Bowls, the teams have combined for 21, 17, 37 and 17 fourth-quarter points.
$55 (to win $50) on longest Eli Manning completion OVER 43½ yards (-110): When you’re giving a backup wide receiver significant playing time … at cornerback, you know your pass defense has some serious problems. Only the Packers surrendered more passing yards this season than New England, which was so desperate in the AFC title game that reserve wideout/punt returner Julian Edelman was matched up with Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin in the fourth quarter!
Now here comes Manning and his arsenal of pass-catchers who double as rabbits—Hakim Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham all have the ability to beat you deep and take short passes and break away. To wit: Manning’s longest completion in 11 of 19 games was at least 60 yards. Over the last nine weeks, Manning’s longest completion in each game was 72 (dome), 67, 64 (dome), 34, 99, 74, 72, 66 and 36 yards.
$55 (to win $50) on Tom Brady OVER 39½ pass attempts (-110): At first glance, the number for this prop looks real sharp, as Brady has averaged nearly 38 pass attempts in his 18 games. And at second glance, playing the “over” looks like a stupid bet, seeing that Brady has slung the rock more than 39 times just once during New England’s 10-game winning streak. Ah, but here’s the rub: In two of his three losses, the Golden Boy chucked it up 45 and 49 times (the latter against the Giants). And in the Super Bowl loss to New York four years ago, he passed 48 times. Brady’s average number of pass attempts in his last three Super Bowl appearances? 43.
Obviously, Brady pilots a pass-first offense, and if I’m correct in thinking that the Pats will be trailing for a good portion of this game (especially in the fourth quarter), the ball is going to be in (and out of) Brady’s hands a lot. Consider this, too: The only time in the last 10 games Brady threw more than 40 times was against Miami on Christmas Eve—a game New England trailed 17-0 at halftime.
$55 (to win $50) on longest TD OVER 49½ yards (-110): Two superstar quarterbacks who can throw the deep ball as well as anyone in the game … a bunch of fleet-footed playmakers on both squads (particularly the Giants) … two pass defenses that got torched all season long … a fast, indoor track. What am I forgetting? Oh yeah, history. Here are the longest TDs in the last 15 Super Bowls, beginning with last year’s Packers-Steelers game: 37, 74, 100, 13, 92, 75, 30, 85, 50, 47, 97, 73, 94, 22 and 99. So the “over” has hit with this prop 11 of the last 15 years. And even though the “under” cashed last year, it hasn’t happened in consecutive Super Bowls since the two Bills-Cowboys battles in 1992 and ’93.
$40 (to win $62) on will there be a defensive or special-teams touchdown (YES: +155): I know what you’re thinking: “Are you nuts? This is Tom Brady and Eli Manning, two stud QBs! And neither threw a pick-six when theyfaced off in Super Bowl XLII.” True and true. But in three Super Bowls since then, the QBs have been Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, and there was a defensive score in each contest (all of them interception returns). In fact, a defensive player has found the end zone in four of the last five Super Bowls, and seven of the last 11.
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