By Matt Youmans
VSiN Senior Editor
In his first Super Bowl appearance, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan figures to be as nervous as a teenager on his first date. Remember that date? The focus was attempting to appear cool and avoiding an embarrassing mistake.
Initially, that will be Ryan. After the first few plays, he will settle in against the New England defense and it will become another game. But what would help calm his nerves is a quick completion.
So that’s where my game plan for betting propositions starts.
Eventually, a shootout might develop, but look for Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to be conservative with his script on the first series. Maybe a running play and a short throw by Ryan out of the gate.
My first prop bet is under 13½ yards (under minus-130) on Ryan’s first completion. That number is available at MGM Resorts sports books. The most common line at other books is 10½ (over/under minus-110). Serious prop bettors shop for the best numbers.
The pros bet props and expect to turn a profit. Average Joes bet props for entertainment and hope to win. There’s a significant difference. It might be boring, but the mission here is to find a handful of props that will make Sunday a winning day.
The Patriots led the NFL in scoring defense (15.6 points per game) during the regular season. The Falcons led the league in scoring offense (33.8). While the wiseguys are betting on defense to prevail, the public will be betting on offense and big plays.
There are several hundred props to pick from — with action from beginning to end — but most of us bet only five to 10. In search of an edge, here are seven more props that seem to offer value:
What will the Falcons do first? Punt plus-100
Patriots coach Bill Belichick designed the league’s No. 3-ranked run defense, and I’m banking on his defense to make stops early in the game. Ryan and the Falcons were unstoppable in a blowout of Green Bay two weeks ago. This is a much tougher task. Atlanta is minus-120 to score before punting, but I’ll take even money on a punt at the South Point. Another book lined the punt at minus-140.
Largest lead in the game by either team: Under 14½ plus-140
There’s not much separation between these teams in power ratings, so this is a bet on the game to play out that way. Although the total of 59 is high and a lot of scoring is expected, look for Ryan and Tom Brady to trade scores as neither team leads by more than two touchdowns. This line is posted at the South Point. By comparison, this is lined at 13½ (under plus-155) at William Hill books.
Will Ryan throw an interception? Yes plus-140
In two playoff games, Ryan attempted a total of 75 passes with no interceptions. He has not been picked off since Dec. 4. The New England defense, on the other hand, has four interceptions in the playoffs after getting 13 in the regular season. I’ll take a plus-money prop on Belichick’s defense to force Ryan into a mistake. Ryan was lucky against the Packers, who dropped two potential interceptions on errant throws.
Will there be a defensive or special teams touchdown? No minus-200
These quarterbacks rarely make costly mistakes. Brady (two) and Ryan (seven) combined to throw nine interceptions in the regular season, so a pick-six is unlikely. A fumble return for a touchdown would be a fluke that’s impossible to predict. Neither team returned a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown in the regular season.
Receiving yards by the Patriots’ Chris Hogan: Over 56½ minus-130
Ignore the regular-season numbers for Hogan. In the postseason, he has become Brady’s go-to guy. Hogan earned the nickname “7-Eleven” because he’s always open. Two weeks ago against Pittsburgh’s soft zone coverage, Brady targeted Hogan 12 times, and he collected nine receptions for 180 yards. Those numbers were absurd, and the Falcons will not make the same defensive mistakes the Steelers made. In the first playoff game against Houston, Hogan had four catches for 95 yards. Brady is connecting with him. MGM Resorts posted the lowest number on Hogan, and William Hill books posted the highest (70½).
Will the Patriots convert on a fourth-down play? Yes plus-145
Belichick is a smart gambler. Unlike most other coaches, he does not send in the punter when the percentages say he should go for it. In two playoff wins, he never had to gamble. In the regular season, the Patriots went 8-for-12 on fourth downs. This is an all-or-nothing game, so fourth-down tries are more likely in the second half. This prop is posted at the South Point.
Will the game be decided by exactly 3 points? Yes plus-425
Here’s a roll of the dice on a trend, and the potential payout is attractive. In the Belichick-Brady era, the Patriots are 4-2 in Super Bowls. The wins were by margins of 3, 3, 3 and 4 points. The losses were by 3 and 4 points. The betting market is confirming the 3-point line is the right number, and I expect a close game that goes to the wire.
Here is a list of the prop bets at the South Point.