By Matt Youmans
VSiN Senior Editor
Four big names are dominating the headlines of Super Bowl media hype, and three are offensive stars. The other is New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the mad scientist of defense.
Belichick is known for designing schemes that all but eliminate the opposing offense’s most feared weapon. For the Atlanta Falcons, that player is Julio Jones, a wide receiver with power and speed and the ability to take over a game.
The Falcons want to set a fast and furious pace Sunday. But if Belichick can take Jones out of the game, the Patriots should be effective in dictating a slower tempo with their defense. That’s part of what makes the matchup so challenging to handicap.
The NFL’s highest-scoring offense faces the league’s No. 1 scoring defense, and the total of 59 is the highest in Super Bowl history. The total is creating a clearly defined sharps-versus-squares duel at the betting windows.
“We’re getting wiseguy play under 59½, but that’s it,” South Point sports book director Chris Andrews said. “Otherwise, it’s all ‘over’ bets.”
In reality, most playoff games have produced video-game scores, with seven of 10 soaring over the total. Atlanta’s offense averaged 40 points in two games. New England’s defense allowed 16.5 points in two games.
The public prefers to bet on offense. The wiseguys generally bet on defense. In this case, just enough defense could keep the score under what is perceived to be an inflated number.
“The wiseguys might think the true number is 56, and that’s still a high number,” Andrews said.
As of Thursday morning, only about 15 percent of the projected Super Bowl wagering handle had surfaced. Andrews said around 80 percent of the parlay money was linked to the total going over, and when the tourists hit Las Vegas for the weekend, more over-the-total wagering is expected.
“Rarely do we see totals this high,” Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said. “People love to bet teams that score a lot of points, and that’s what people have been doing with Atlanta.”
At the Westgate, Sherman said, 60 percent of the straight-bet money is on New England as a 3-point favorite, and 53 percent of the money is under the total of 59. But a flood of over-the-total money is expected before kickoff.
“There’s still a chance the total can go to 60,” Andrews said.
With two big-name quarterbacks - Tom Brady and Matt Ryan - trading big plays, it’s easy to see why the betting public is looking for a shootout. And truth be told, the public has been sharper than the wiseguys in these playoffs.
In anticipation of the public playing the over, the total opened at 58. Erin Rynning, a Las Vegas professional bettor, said his true numbers made the total 56½.
“I had the ‘over’ as a potential play. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the game went over the total,” Rynning said. “But to me, all the value has been taken out of it.”
The Patriots’ defensive numbers are impressive, but Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger was one of the few elite quarterbacks to pose a threat. Belichick’s scheme limited Roethlisberger’s most feared wide receiver, Antonio Brown, to seven receptions for 77 yards and no big plays in the AFC title game two weeks ago.
“Look at the quarterbacks the Patriots have faced, and it’s been pretty brutal,” Rynning said. “Ryan and Julio Jones are on a different planet.”
The Falcons are 15-2-1 over the total, with Ryan’s offense putting up 33.8 points per game in the regular season. Ryan passed for 38 touchdowns and, surprisingly, only six of those were caught by Jones, who ranked second in the league with 1,409 receiving yards.
The case for Belichick is open for debate. After he had two weeks to prepare for Seattle and quarterback Russell Wilson on Nov. 13, Wilson passed for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the Seahawks’ 31-24 win.
Las Vegas bookmakers and most wiseguys will be sweating out the total Sunday night, and they will need Belichick to slow Ryan and Jones to help keep the score under 59 or 60.
“Everybody trusts Belichick to figure it out,” Rynning said. “Everybody says, ‘Belichick will figure out a way to stop Julio Jones,’ but it’s easier said than done.”