Is 3 really the magic number?

January 29, 2019 09:13 PM

You’ve heard a lot about the “key number” of 3 through early Super Bowl market coverage. The general public (and some sharps) like New England at -2.5 or better vs. the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday (CBS, 6:30 p.m. ET). Stores that have tested 3 see Rams money race to the window. That’s the majority of sharps. But, in Las Vegas, a lot of public money races too because LA is nearby.

Does the 3 really matter that much? Or is it just more hype in a fortnight of non-stop exclamation points?

Betting is a percentage game. The fact that 3 is such a common final victory margin in football really can swing the percentages.

Here’s a theoretical scenario. Let’s say a model spits out the following assessments for Rams-Patriots: New England wins by 4 points or more 42% of the time; New England wins by EXACTLY 3 points 11% of the time and the Rams either lose by 1 or 2 points or WIN outright 47% of the time.

At a point spread of Patriots -2.5, the power of 3 gives New England a 53% to 47% edge. That makes money over the long haul at 11/10 vigorish (the extra 10% on those 47% lost bets still doesn’t erase all the profit from winners.

At a point spread of Patriots -3, value now switches to the Rams. We have 11% pushes where all the money is refunded. Los Angeles wins the non-pushes 47% to 42%, enough to clear the vig. 

So, in our theoretical example, the Patriots are a winning bet at -2.5, while the Rams are a winning bet at 3.

What are the “real” percentages for this game? That’s the rub. The real world is extremely complex. It’s hard to know for sure how common the 3 would be in this particular matchup, or how ready the young Rams are for the challenge ahead.

It’s one thing to say “Pats by 3” is likely because a favorite of -2.5 should win by exactly 3 fairly often. But how often should the Patriots win by 3 if the “right” line is actually pick-em? 

Remember that many sportsbooks opened there, or even at Rams -1. Early betting may have been over-influenced by the Patriots overachieving expectations in their first two playoff games while the Rams needed a huge officiating break to reach Atlanta.

Sports books are acting like they believe the “right” line is pick’em or Patriots -1. Some oddsmakers have told media they don’t mind having a position on the Rams at 2.5, particularly with the 11/10 in their favor. If oddsmakers are right that the public has overreacted, sports books are getting free points and plus odds. 

Sharps are acting like Rams 3 is the best bet of the century! That suggests pro bettors also believe something closer to pick'em is the right number.

Based on what you know about the skill sets of these teams, and the Patriots’ history of playing close Super Bowls, how would YOU assess the odds? Take a crack at it and see if it affects your betting strategy this weekend.

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