By Matt Youmans
VSiN Senior Editor
It's a familiar theme, and for some, it's probably getting old and tired. Tom Brady and the polarizing New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, like it or not.
Early wagering patterns indicate a slight majority of the betting public will like Brady’s side. The Patriots opened as 3-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons in the Feb. 5 game at Houston. The total of 59½ is the highest of the 51 Super Bowls.
The Patriots might be viewed as villains, especially in the eyes of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but most bettors will feel more comfortable backing Brady and coach Bill Belichick in their seventh Super Bowl appearance. The underdog Falcons, making their first trip with quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Dan Quinn, figure to be sentimental favorites.
“I think they will lay the 3 with the Patriots and take the money line with the ‘dog. That will be the trend,” South Point sports book director Chris Andrews said. “We're heavy on the Patriots. But I doubt we'll go to 3½ anytime soon.
"I would probably play the Patriots because their defense is a lot better. The better defense wins a lot of these games. I think if you like the Patriots, the money line is the play.”
New England is a minus-155 favorite. The first significant bet placed at the South Point last week was for $15,000 on Atlanta at plus-130. Andrews said straight-bet money is showing on the Patriots at a 5-2 ratio, while Falcons money-line wagers are rolling in at a 4-1 ratio. The biggest bets are obviously yet to surface, with about 90 percent of the game's handle yet to come.
A few Las Vegas books moved to 3 minus-120 on the Patriots, and one book made the leap to 3½. The South Point uses a minus-110 price on all lines.
“The only thing I’m positive of is it has a chance to go to 3½ in Nevada when the tourists hit town,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “What I absolutely unequivocally know is it’s never going to 2½. If you want the ‘dog, you know you can get 3, so what’s the sense of exposing your hand now?”
Brady and Belichick have combined for a 4-2 record in Super Bowls, with dramatic decisions being the trend. The Patriots’ wins were by margins of 3, 3, 3 and 4 points. Their losses, both to the New York Giants, were by 3 and 4 points.
Two years ago, New England defeated Seattle 28-24 in the only pick’em game in Super Bowl history. In the other 49 title games, favorites went 33-16 straight up and 26-21-2 against the spread.
The Patriots are an NFL-best 15-3 ATS this season. The Falcons are 12-6 ATS and 15-2-1 over the total.
Ryan led the league’s highest-scoring offense (33.8 points per game) in the regular season. In two playoff blowouts, the Falcons dropped 36 points on Seattle and 44 against Green Bay.
Brady will get most of the pregame hype. This is his revenge tour, after all. He was suspended by Goodell for the season’s first four games as a result of the controversial Deflategate case.
But the Ryan-Belichick duel will write the game story. New England led the league in scoring defense (15.6 points per game) in the regular season, and Belichick has two weeks to prepare a scheme to slow Ryan and big-play wide receiver Julio Jones.
While the public bets on a high-scoring shootout, the wiseguys are expected to look under the total - which could rise as high as 60 or 61 - and wager on the perceived value. In the Super Bowl, public money overwhelms sharp money, and Vaccaro said it’s an “easy call” that bookmakers will need the score to stay under the total.
Vaccaro said he anticipates New England will draw 55 to 60 percent of the money wagered on the point spread.
Hundreds of proposition bets were posted at the South Point and other Las Vegas books late last week.
“This isn’t a game. It’s a social event,” Vaccaro said. “It looks like another huge weekend.”
A record $132.5 million was wagered in Nevada on Super Bowl 50, with the Denver Broncos upsetting Carolina in Peyton Manning’s farewell.
A year later, Brady is back, like him or not. The Patriots’ haters have an attractive option in Ryan and the high-powered Falcons. The economy is good, and the football wagering handle is stronger than ever.
Andrews said, “I think there is a big shot this game breaks the record.”