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Diving into trends for Super Bowl LV

By Steve Makinen  (Point Spread Weekly editor) 

January 31, 2021 10:02 PM

Super Bowl Sunday is the sports betting world’s biggest day, regardless of which teams are competing for the Lombardi Trophy. While the Super Bowl is only one game, the number of betting options available is beyond comprehension, and range from the simple point spread to the most exotic of prop options. You can even bet other sports happenings that day against the stats or results of the football game. If you’ve never taken the time to digest all of the betting opportunities available on game day, be sure to do so, because at the very least, you will be amazed by the creativity of the oddsmaking minds.

This year’s Super Bowl, the 55th in NFL history, features arguably the most intriguing quarterback matchup of all. If that storyline weren’t enough to carry the game on its own, there are plenty of others. How about defending champions versus a franchise that was rescued by the league’s most iconic and decorated star? How about a team becoming the first in league history to play in the Super Bowl on its home field? I tell you what … if you aren’t fired up for watching and/or betting on this year’s game, I don’t what would excite you!

The Chiefs’ road to getting back into a position to defend their title was not exactly a smooth one, regardless of what their 16-2 record suggests. Unlike last season, when they seemed to play their best football in the latter part of the season, this year’s team stumbled late, going just 2-8 ATS in its last 10 games. Last season’s Kansas City defense emerged as a championship-level unit late in the year, while this season’s bunch allowed 26.7 points per game in its last 10 games. Coach Andy Reid’s team was hit by injuries and other factors that kept key players in and out of the lineup consistently, including Patrick Mahomes, who was forced out of the divisional-round playoff win over Cleveland, a game they were fortunate to survive. However, the Chiefs will be mostly intact for the biggest of games, and we’ve all been privy to the talent and explosiveness they offer on both sides of the ball when right. Surely, they will be dead set on showcasing that on the world’s biggest stage.

The Buccaneers were a 7-9 team last season, but as I elaborated on in an article in issue #31 of the 2019-20 Point Spread Weekly, they posted the statistical characteristics of a team capable of improving. I titled that article “Tampa Bay was bound for a resurgence … even before Brady.” I reasoned that the Bucs had an explosive offense and just needed to clean up the little things, such as turning the ball over and coming up short in close games. Once Tom Brady, and a few other talented veterans signed on, I was thoroughly convinced that this team had what it took to make a deep run. Like the Chiefs, however, it wasn’t always an easy path to Super Bowl LV. At one point, coach Bruce Arians’ team was 7-5 and seemed to be suffering from chemistry lost after the Antonio Brown signing. With Brady at the leadership helm, however, the team did not come unglued, and in fact, went on to play its best football. Now riding a seven-game winning streak, the Bucs have topped the 30-point mark in each of their last six. They also boast the league’s top run defense and showed an ability to get after Aaron Rodgers with a ferocious pass rush that few experts thought they had.

Make no mistake, this matchup is no fluke. At this point, the two most complete teams in the league will be battling for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The experts out in the desert installed the Chiefs as 3.5-point favorites to open, with a total of 57. Since then, the numbers have settled at KC -3 and O/U 56. These moves could be key, as you will see later. It’s unclear what effect the Buccaneers playing at home will have on the proceedings, as the fans and overall environment are intentionally set up to be neutral.

Of course, with a sample size of 54 previous Super Bowls, you’ll want to consider the past results as you contemplate how this year’s game might play out. How can you know where you’re going if you don’t understand where you’ve been? 

You will surely be inundated with opinions from all of the experts you’ve come to know and trust, so I don’t plan to throw my own into the mix right here. However, I will share some of the recent trends and patterns that have emerged from the Super Bowl over the years. Perhaps these will be the ultimate influencer of your final decisions, perhaps not. Either way, come game day, you’ll certainly be more knowledgeable on the betting history of the game than your friends.

Hopefully, with everything we’re offering on our VSiN network and in Point Spread Weekly, you will go in knowing you’ve prepared properly. Read on as I look back at 54 years of Super Bowl action, uncovering the stats, trends and systems you’ll need to make educated selections.

Super Bowl Game Stat Angles

I always like to remind people that over the two-week break, both teams will get to know the other’s tendencies inside and out as their excellent coaching staffs will pour over video and prepare a game plan so thoroughly that nothing will surprise them. Of course, then a play like “Philly Special” can throw a wrench into that thinking. The teams that get to this point earn it, and since the NFC’s run of dominance ended in the late ’90s, there hasn’t been a physical mismatch in the Super Bowl, with the exception of Seattle’s beating of Denver in 2014. That means that the game most often comes down to little more than preparation and pure execution.

This execution is typically measured by statistics. Rushing yards, passing yards per attempt, turnovers and time of possession are four key statistical categories that I have found to have a great impact on who has won Super Bowl games. The following trends demonstrate the importance of these statistics.

  • Teams that rush for more yards in the Super Bowl are 40-14 SU and 37-14-3 ATS (72.5%). However, the Chiefs were outrushed 141-129 last year by the 49ers.
  • Teams that average more passing yards per attempt in the NFL title game are 42-12 SU and 36-15-3 ATS (70.6%). The Chiefs’ previously dynamic attack produced just 6.38 yards per pass attempt last year, but they still won.
  • In the 54 previous Super Bowls, the team that has committed more turnovers has won just six times SU and eight times ATS (8-35-8, 18.6%). One of the biggest reasons for the Broncos’ win in 2016 was they forced four turnovers by the Panthers. In last year’s game, the Chiefs and 49ers both turned it over twice.
  • Teams that win the time-of-possession battle are 39-15 SU and 38-13-3 ATS (74.5%), and the Chiefs were the latest to win on that edge, holding the ball for more than 33 minutes on the 49ers last year.
  • Teams that hold an edge in at least three of these four key statistical categories are 39-5 SU and 35-8-1 ATS (81.4%). Amazingly, three of those outright losses were in each of the last six games.
  • Teams that win all four categories are 25-0 SU and 23-1-1 ATS (96%). The only ATS loss occurred in Super Bowl XXXIX in Philadelphia’s ATS win versus the Patriots.

San Francisco won two of the four categories last year and tied in turnovers yet still lost. Naturally, turnovers are hard to predict, but the other stats should be relatively predictable for any advanced handicapper or service regularly using sophisticated statistical models for simulation. Projecting these numbers can certainly be worth the effort.

In-Game Scoring Trends

  • The average winning score is 30.1 points, with the average losing score of 16.1 points, an average winning margin of 14 points. However, interestingly, 16 of the last 17 games have been decided by 14 points or fewer, a sign of a much more competitive era in the NFL. 
  • In 2008, the Giants became the first team in 33 years to win the Super Bowl without hitting the 20-point mark. The Patriots did it in 2019 with 13 points, the lowest winning point total ever.
  • Since the epic 35-31 duel between Pittsburgh and Dallas in Super Bowl XIII in 1979, 25 teams have hit the 30-point mark, their record: 23-2 SU and 22-3 ATS. Only New England, a 32-29 winner over Carolina in ’04, San Francisco in 2013 and New England in ’18 failed to cover their point spreads. 
  • There have been 21 previous Super Bowl teams that have failed to reach the 14-point mark. Their record is 1-20 SU and ATS (4.8%). This further illustrates just how improbable the Patriots’ 2019 win was.
  • More on the recent competitiveness of the game: Only 16 games have been decided by less than a touchdown, but seven of them have been in the last 13 years.

Past Super Bowl Line and Total Patterns

Since the turn of the century, what it takes to reach Super Bowl success has come and gone in waves. In the first few years of the 2000s, it was top seeds or teams that achieved lofty won-lost marks in the regular season fulfilling expectations.

Then something changed. From 2006 to 2013, seven teams that played on wild-card weekend played in the Super Bowl, and six of them won. The 2006 Super Bowl run by Pittsburgh was significant as I believe it dramatically changed teams’ beliefs about what it takes to become a champion. The Steelers were the first No. 6 seed to win the Lombardi Trophy. The assumptions that winning in the regular season, earning a bye week and capitalizing on home-field advantage were the recipe to postseason success were suddenly in doubt.

The last seven Super Bowls were a return to normalcy, with all but two competing teams having won at home in their conference title games after enjoying byes in the wild-card round. However, the fact that underdogs have won outright in four of those seven games is just another wrinkle we have to deal with. For 2021, we once again have a wild-card team competing for the title, as Tampa Bay emerged from the NFC field as the No. 5 seed, winning three times on the road to get here.

All of this has naturally made it difficult on handicappers who rely on strength ratings and historical templates that have demonstrated the best teams excelling when it mattered most.

I’m sure you’ll agree that some of what I have below doesn’t make for the foundational basis of a wager, but there might be something that convinces you. I don’t care where the info comes from, remember it’s about winning! After all, as VSiN’s Brent Musburger says, cashin’ tickets is what it’s all about!

ATS and Money Line Trends

  • Favorites in the Super Bowl are 34-19 SU and own an ATS mark of 25-25-3 (50%), with the 1982 game having been a pick-’em point spread. However, over the last 18 years, underdogs own a 13-6 ATS (68.4%) edge, including 9-4 ATS in the last 13. Kansas City won as the slimmest of favorites in 2020 and figures to be about a three-point favorite when Super Bowl LV kicks off.
  • Favorites of a touchdown or more are 3-2 SU but 0-4-1 ATS (0%) in the new millennium. Still, there hasn’t been a favorite of that magnitude since the Patriots in 2008.
  • The straight-up winner is 45-6-3 ATS (88.2%) in the 54 previous Super Bowls, and the dog has never covered a point spread without winning on a Super Bowl line of less than six points. This figure is now the highest of the four playoff rounds. Champions typically leave no doubt. Thus, it makes little sense to wager on the underdog Buccaneers if you don’t figure they are capable of winning the game.
  • Remarkably, the AFC and NFC are an even 27-27 outright in the past 54 Super Bowls, but the NFC holds a 27-24-3 (52.9%) ATS edge all time. However, AFC teams have turned the tide recently with a 5-2 SU and ATS surge in the last seven.
  • The team that is the higher, or better, playoff seed is just 2-14-2 ATS (12.5%) in the last 24 Super Bowl games. Note, in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019, equal seeds matched up. This could be a crucial trend in 2021, as Kansas City (a No. 1) is the much better seed than Tampa Bay (No. 5).
  • The team with the better record going into the Super Bowl is 29-18 SU all time but has lost 10 of the last 11, including the 49ers (13-3) versus the Chiefs (12-4) a year ago. Note that the Chiefs were 14-2 in the regular season, while the Buccaneers were 11-5.
  • Teams playing in their first Super Bowl against an experienced team are 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine, however, this trend is becoming more and more scarce and won’t apply this year. Kansas City was on a 50-year Super Bowl drought last year, Tampa Bay is on an 18-year drought this time.

Over/Under Trends

  • Overall, in the 53 Super Bowl games that have had totals, the Over is 27-25-1 (51.9%). The last two have gone UNDER, the first time there have been back-to-back Under results since four straight from 2005 to 2008. The 2019 game went Under in record fashion, falling short of the posted number by 39 points.
  • There have been 46.3 points per game scored in the Super Bowl, on posted totals averaging 44.7. However, the early years’ totals were often in the 30s, dragging that number down significantly. More recently, the last 16 years have seen an average posted total of 49.7, with 46.9 points scored. Nine of the 16 games in that era went Under.
  • Of note, in the past 11 Super Bowls with totals in the 50s, Under is 8-3 (72.7%). However, the highest-totaled Super Bowl ever was in 2017, and New England edged Atlanta 34-28 in overtime to take that Over 57.
  • The ’20 Super Bowl was one of only 17 in history that saw both teams reach the 20-point mark. Fourteen of those were Overs. Consider that with the quality of offenses expected in this year’s game.

6-point Teaser Trends

  • Looking back at the 54 past Super Bowls in terms of six-point teaser trends, favorites are 35-18 (66%) while underdogs are 35-17-1 (67.3%), very close performance marks. Note that the ’82 game was a pick-’em point spread, so no favorite or underdog measured. However, in the last 19 seasons, there has been a big separation as favorites are just 10-9 (52.6%), while underdogs are 16-3 (84.2%). Tampa Bay + 9 would be the play on this trend.
  • In terms of the two conferences, AFC teams are 35-18-1 (66%) and NFC teams are 37-17 (68.5%) in the history of the Super Bowl game on six-point teaser bets.
  • Concerning Super Bowl totals, in the 53 games that had posted numbers, Over is 36-17 (67.9%) and Under is 35-17-1 (67.3%) on six-point teasers.

Teams’ Regular-Season Offensive Statistics Trends

  • Teams that scored more points per game during the regular season are only 5-13 ATS in the last 18 Super Bowls. TAMPA BAY outscored Kansas City 30.8-29.6 in the regular season.
  • The ability to run the football has been much overrated when it comes to Super Bowl success. Teams that averaged more rushing yards per game are just 4-12 ATS since ’05. Those that averaged more yards per rush are 6-10 ATS in that span. KANSAS CITY holds the edge in both of these categories, with Tampa Bay ranking in the bottom 25% of the NFL in both.
  • Overall passing yardage has also meant little in terms of Super Bowl success, with teams owning an edge in total offensive passing yardage going only 8-11 ATS in the last 19 games.  These were the top two teams in the NFL in passing yardage, but KANSAS CITY was the only one to average more than 300 yards per game.
  • Big-play potential hasn’t proven to be a key ingredient to Super Bowl victories either, as teams gaining more passing yards per attempt are on a 6-8 ATS stumble. Another edge for the CHIEFS.
  • Teams that generated more yardage overall offensively in the regular season also own no edge when it comes to Super Bowl success, losing nine straight games SU and ATS. Those with yards-per-play edges are 1-8 SU and ATS in that same span. KANSAS CITY will be looking to thwart these trends in 2021.
  • Offensive yards per point has proven to be an effective statistical indicator for fading teams, as teams that have averaged fewer yards per point are just 5-13 ATS in the last 18 Super Bowls. TAMPA BAY ranked No. 3 in the NFL and holds this edge. 
  • The offensive turnovers statistic has also been quite misleading in terms of Super Bowl handicapping, with teams owning an edge in this stat going just 6-11 ATS in the Super Bowl since ’03. KANSAS CITY had one fewer turnover in the regular season.
  • Teams that converted third-down opportunities more efficiently in the regular season also have a poor trend mark, 7-12 ATS in the last 19 Super Bowls. KANSAS CITY was No. 3 in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage and Tampa Bay was No. 11.

As you can see, it almost seems detrimental to have generated the better offensive statistics in the regular season.

Teams’ Regular-Season Defensive Statistics Trends

  • Teams that allowed fewer points per game during the regular season are 6-8 ATS in the last 14. TAMPA BAY allowed 0.4 PPG less than Kansas City.
  • Teams that allowed fewer rushing yards per game and fewer yards per rushing attempt have gone just 7-12 ATS in the Super Bowl the last 19 seasons, giving the statistical handicapper little reason to consider it when analyzing the games other than fading. TAMPA BAY was the NFL’s No. 1 in both categories.
  • Super Bowl playoff teams with an edge in defensive passing yardage allowed over their opponent are 11-7 ATS over the last 18 seasons. Finally an edge for the better statistical team. KANSAS CITY holds this edge, by about 14 yards per game.
  • Teams with the edge in defensive pass efficiency are 6-3 ATS over the last 9 years but just 6-8 ATS in the last 14 Super Bowls. TAMPA BAY allowed 6.4 yards per pass, Kansas City 6.8.
  • Teams that allowed less yardage overall defensively are just 5-9 ATS since ’07 but 5-4 ATS since ’12. Teams with an edge in yards per play are 6-8 ATS since ’07 but 6-3 ATS in the last nine. TAMPA BAY holds both edges.
  • Defensive yards per point should be given serious consideration for Super Bowl Sunday, again though, only if you are fading the team with the edge — 6-9 ATS since ’06. KANSAS CITY holds this edge.
  • Teams that forced more turnovers in the regular season than their opponent are 9-10 ATS since ’02 in the Super Bowl, with no streaks greater than two either way. TAMPA BAY forced the league’s sixth most turnovers, Kansas City was 16th.
  • Teams that stopped third-downs opportunities more efficiently in the regular season are on a 6-5 ATS run in the last 11 Super Bowl games. Advantage: TAMPA BAY.

Again, there is very little evidence that having better regular-season defensive statistics provides any advantage when it comes to this single high-stakes game. It seems as if we can throw most statistical handicapping out the window. Fortunately, we were able to come up with some other things earlier in the article that might help, most notably the trends regarding underdogs, won-lost/seed records and outright winners.

One final thing, for those of you who like to follow the line moves closely, hoping that sharp money may be the cause, consider that bettors are only 7-6 ATS in the last 13 Super Bowls in which they moved an opening line and just 8-6 in the last 14 games in which they moved totals. However, the total moves were winners in each of the last three years, so perhaps this is an emerging strategy. The line-move winning percentages were much more significant in the earlier playoff rounds. For what it’s worth, as noted earlier, early moves were toward Tampa Bay and  Under. Be sure to follow that action in the hours leading up to kickoff if you tend to believe in this type of analysis. 

 

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