Bet the Super Bowl (and the Patriots?)

Forget the storyline and focus on the stats, like the odds on Patriots’ QB Tom Brady throwing for more than two touchdowns.
Photo: J. Pat Carter/AP

More than once I have been accused of putting on airs by referring to the “intellectual pursuit” of sports betting. But that’s how I see it—as a puzzle to solve, a little mystery to figure out.

Some Super Bowl betting propositions, for example, are fairly standard. Take any football game between two competitive professional teams in which, let’s say, about 55 points are expected to be scored. Nearly all analysts would agree that the chances of at least one of the teams scoring three consecutive times are slightly north of 60 percent. So as an oddsmaker, you price that prop at minus 175 on the yes side, plus 155 on the no side, and let the chips fall where they may. Paint by numbers.

Then there are what we might call the “storyline” props. In Sunday’s big game, which has the Patriots favored by 3 points against the Giants in Las Vegas sports books, one such storyline revolves around the Giants’ defense, which has been erratic but not without flashes of brilliance.

This storyline, which has driven at least some of the early support for New York in the Super Bowl at the betting windows, suggests we should forget about the fact that the Giants’ defense ranked 27th in the league this season. Instead, we should focus on the New York defense’s exceptional performance in the playoffs and, more significantly, its track record of giving Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fits. In the teams’ two most recent meetings, the Giants have sacked Brady a total of seven times, held him to just three passing touchdowns and intercepted him twice (both times in New York’s victory this season).

Giants backers expect more of the same Sunday. The betting market, however, which tends to be pretty reliable in most instances and even more accurate in marquee events such as the Super Bowl, does not support that storyline.

Consider that several props on touchdown passes by Brady are available in Las Vegas. It’s minus 330 he’ll throw for more than 1.5, plus 115 he’ll throw for more than 2.5 and plus 300 he’ll throw for more than 3.5. In other words, Brady is a big favorite to pass for two or more touchdowns, and only a slight underdog to pass for three or more. Those prices don’t appear to show much respect for the supposedly vastly improved Giants defense, or its ability to stymie Brady.

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