Super Bowl LVI betting guide: Picks, best bets and favorite props

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

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Super Bowl LVI between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams is finally here.

Our experts -- Adam Burke, Dave Tuley, Jonathan Von Tobel and Matt Youmans, along with Ben Brown of Pro Football Focus -- break down the biggest sports betting event of the year from every angle, offering their opinions on the side, total and their favorite prop bets.

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Super Bowl LVI: Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Rams (-4, 48.5)

Adam Burke: When the playoffs began, I called the Bengals the highest variance team in the AFC, which proved to be rather true. They’ve been outgained on a yards per play basis in every game and could very well have lost all three playoff games, but here they are representing the conference in the Super Bowl.

The Rams have played up to their talent level through three games, even overcoming some really poor decisions from Sean McVay in terms of clock management and play selection. It is a fascinating matchup. It may not be anything like the one that we expected, but it is pretty cool to see McVay up against his former quarterbacks coach in Zac Taylor, so there is a lot of familiarity here.

Ultimately, the 4.5 points with the Bengals are too attractive to pass up. Cincinnati’s defensive adjustments in the second half of games throughout the season and the mid-season change to be more aggressive in the passing game with Joe Burrow have paid tremendous dividends and should be factors in this game as well.

Even if the Rams do jump out to a lead, this is truly a situation where the trailing team is never out of the game and the backdoor could be wide open. McVay has a tendency for getting overly conservative, which nearly cost the Rams against the Buccaneers and may prove costly here. If nothing else, Burrow and a potent passing attack have the opportunity to put up points quickly if Los Angeles goes into a shell.

I also believe there’s a realistic chance that the Bengals win this game, which is a pretty important belief to hold when betting on an underdog -- especially given that the history of this game is that the winner covers the spread. Much has been made of the Rams pass rush against Burrow and I understand why, but Burrow has also been under duress all season long and all he did was throw for over 4,600 yards and complete over 70 percent of his passes. I’m confident he’ll lead his team to at least a cover here, if not the outright upset.

Pick: Bengals + 4.5

Dave Tuley: To no one’s surprise, I gave my official best bet on Cincinnati + 4.5. I made the point that I don’t automatically take the underdog every year in the Super Bowl. In fact, just three years ago, I didn’t take the Rams against the Patriots because I thought the line was too short and felt the Patriots were the right side -- and was proven right with the Patriots’ 13-3 victory. I also didn’t like the 49ers against the Chiefs two years ago for the same reason. However, I did like the Buccaneers last year as dogs against the Chiefs and I feel the same way with the Bengals this year.

I don’t see more than a field-goal difference between these teams. In fact, some of my stats show the Bengals being short favorites, just like I had them against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game despite being 7-point underdogs.

A lot of people have been jumping on the Rams’ bandwagon and expecting Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp to put up big numbers. They also talk about how McVay is great at scripting his plays to start the game, but as I told VSiN colleagues Matt Youmans and Jonathan Von Tobel on “The Opening Lines” show on Sunday night, McVay had two weeks to prepare in Super Bowl LIII, but the Rams scored only three points, even though a shootout was expected (O/U of 55.5). Granted that was against Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but Bengals coach Zac Taylor worked under McVay and I think a lot of people are overlooking the fact that he might be able to guess some of McVay’s early plays and have the defense ready.

Los Angeles backers also seem to be putting more stock in the fact that Cincinnati fell behind the Chiefs 21-0 rather than how Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo adjusted in the second half and had Patrick Mahomes confused and running for his life. Likewise, chalk bettors are focusing more on the Bengals allowing nine sacks to the Titans in the divisional round and assuming Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Co. will dominate the Bengals’ offensive line and ignoring the fact that Burrow was sacked only once by the Chiefs.

All in all, this game should be lined closer to pick-’em and should come down to the wire, so it feels good to have 4.5 points in my pocket.

Pick: Bengals + 4.5

Over/under

Tuley: The total opened as high as 51 but was quickly bet down to 48.5, where it has sat for more than a week. I lean to the Under, but will probably pass because of the lost value. Since we usually see slow starts in Super Bowls with teams feeling each other out before opening up their attacks, I prefer going with the first-half Under 23.5, but I wouldn’t call it a best bet.

If a game has a total of 48.5, the first half would usually be 24 or 24.5, but since the oddsmakers know about the tendency of slow-starting Super Bowls, they’ve shaded it lower. Again, if you heard “The Opening Lines,” VSiN Superfan Randy McKay said he found an Under 24 at a rogue shop -- that would be the sharper play. Hopefully the total gets bet higher over the weekend and the first half also increases to 24 at more books. I’ve had some people ask me if I also like the first quarter Under, but that’s also been shaded low at 9.5 instead of 10 and a fluke TD could put that in danger.

I wrote last week that since I thought the game total was shaded low, I would actually consider a two-team, 6-point teaser on the Bengals + 10.5 with Under 54.5. That wouldn’t be the worst way to break the “Wong teasers should only be through the key numbers of 3 and 7” rule.

Picks: Lean Under 48.5 (prefer first-half Under 23.5). Two-team, 6-point teaser with Bengals + 10.5/Under 54.5

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Prop bets

Tee Higgins Over 5.5 Receptions (+ 110)

Burke: Ja’Marr Chase deserves all of the praise and accolades heaped on him from this season, but Tee Higgins has been an integral part of the Bengals offense all year long. He’s a big target at 6-foot-4 and has been a critical piece of the offense for Burrow, with 110 targets in the regular season, just 18 fewer than Chase in three fewer games. Higgins only had seven fewer catches as well. He was very quiet in the game against the Raiders, but has 13 catches on 19 targets in the last two games for 199 yards.

Both players are lined at 5.5 with their receptions prop, but you can find Higgins at plus money on the over, while Chase faces heavy juice on the over. I expect both to be busy, but Higgins is a great value bet.

Vonn Bell Over 5.5 Tackles + Assists (-140)

Burke: My expectation on defense for the Bengals is that help is provided against top target Cooper Kupp. That help could be Vonn Bell. Even if Bell is tasked with being the double coverage safety to assist with the stud wide receiver, he’ll still be playing close enough to the line of scrimmage to aid in stopping the run, which McVay inexplicably continues to try and establish.

Bell averaged over six combined tackles per game in the regular season and has hit six in each of the last two playoff games. The spread of Rams -4.5 suggests that they will be ahead and McVay’s uber-conservative approach in late-game situations should give Bell ample opportunities for tackles. Furthermore, he did play 71 snaps on special teams during the season, so we may steal a tackle in punt coverage as well.

Both Teams to Make a 33 + Yard Field Goal – Yes (-104)

Burke: This is pretty much an annual bet from me. The Super Bowl traditionally features quality offensive teams that will move the ball, but also defenses good enough to get stops as they retreat towards the shadow of their own goalposts. This has cashed in four of the last six Super Bowls and should come through again with two very accurate kickers in Evan McPherson and Matt Gay, who combined to go 60-of-67 overall this season.

Shortest Field Goal Under 27.5 Yards (-115)

Burke: The Rams boasted a top-10 red zone defense and both offenses graded in the middle of the pack in terms of red zone efficiency. Coaches tend to err on the side of caution in these situations and will take the points when presented. It does appear that there are some sharper opinions on bets like McPherson Over Field Goals or Over Field Goals Made for the game. A chip shot or two wouldn’t be the least bit surprising, as the Bengals were T-25th in fourth-down attempts and the Rams were T-27th. I’d expect both coaches to take the 3 instead of going for 7 if given the red zone decision.

Aaron Donald Full Sack – No (+ 165)

Burke: The idea of a player being priced in the -200 range to record a full sack is borderline absurd. Yes, the Bengals have a bad offensive line and Donald is arguably the best defensive tackle ever, but a + 165 price on No Sack is way too much to pass up. Donald has had at least one full sack in nine of 19 games this season. A line of -200 implies a 66.7 percent chance that Donald has a full sack. That just seems too high to me, even with Cincinnati’s questionable pass protection. 

Burrow Over pass attempts (36.5), incompletions (11.5), passing yards (277.5), rushing yards (11.5) and rush attempts (2.5)

Youmans: Burrow must escape the Rams’ pass rush and get out of the pocket to make plays, much like he did in the AFC title game at Kansas City. Against the Chiefs, he went 23-for-38 for 250 yards and ran five times for 25 yards. Cincinnati’s weakness is its offensive line, so it’s unlikely they will run the ball with much success. Burrow will have to be the driving force for the Bengals and figures to put up big numbers in this game, win or lose.

Rams score or punt first? Punt -110

Bengals score or punt first? Punt -140

Youmans: Tom Brady played in nine Super Bowls for the Patriots and never led a first-quarter touchdown drive. With two first-time Super Bowl quarterbacks and two young head coaches, expect conservative play-calling in the beginning. This should be a game that starts slowly before the scoring and passing pick up in the final three quarters.

Team to make longest field goal: Bengals -120

Youmans: Despite kickers going 0-for-55 in the voting, Bengals kicker Evan McPherson is attracting a lot of action to win MVP at odds as high as 200-1. That’s a fantasy football bet. The reality is he’s by far the better long-range kicker in this game. Remember, we saw Matt Gay come up short from 47 yards in the postseason already.

Samaje Perine Over 5.5 Rush Yards (+ 106)

Brown: Aaron Donald and Co. could flip the Bengals rushing attack's script in Super Bowl 56. Cincinnati has opted for a run-heavy approach on first down, ranking 18th with a -1.8 percent pass rate under expectation, which became even more drastic during its playoff stretch. The problem is that Donald plays 48 percent of his first-down snaps inline before shifting outside in longer down-and-distance situations. 

PFF’s run-blocking grades don’t indicate much hope for Trey Hopkins, Hakeem Adeniji and Quinton Spain against Donald on the inside, so the Bengals will be forced to run outside or switch their offensive philosophy and let Joe Burrow cook on first down. If they play into the strength of the Rams defense, the game script will, at some point, force them to pass more on early downs. 

In either situation, Joe Mixon won’t be overly effective rushing the football, but there could be some opportunities if the Bengals can utilize the ground game when Donald is aligned on the outside. Outside of running the ball on less than desirable down-and-distance situations, changing personnel is one of the easiest ways to create scenarios where Donald is aligned outside on early downs. Samaje Perine‘s on-field presence will immediately push Donald to the edge and could open up some opportunities for draw plays. Perine’s seen all of the cheap third-and-long carries, as Mixon has just one such rush attempt this season. If the Bengals pass more on first down passes and get more manageable down and distances, Perine should carry the ball one or two times. No matter the game script, Perine should receive some opportunities in the rushing game. 

Total Punts Over 6.5 (-112)

Brown: The Super Bowl betting extravaganza offers markets that we don’t typically have the opportunity to price out. This sets up high expected value on a number of game and novelty props. One of the best offerings this year is the total punts prop, where the market seems to be pricing in an offensive explosion.

From 2017 through 2021, the typical NFL game recorded 8.0 median punts while the mean was slightly higher (8.33). The first quartile of games registered six total punts, which is a half-point lower than the current market offering. 

There isn’t a strong reason for either team to finish with less punts than the league average, as both coaches rank in the bottom half of the NFL in "go for it" rate on fourth down. 

Since taking over for Los Angeles in 2017, McVay has registered 4.0 median punts per game with a slightly lower mean. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has been above league average, posting a 4.3 mean punt per game rate. This prop number should be priced at 7.5, and PFF’s pricing sees the distribution fall at six or below on only 32.2% of outcomes. 

Given the concern for a choppy start from the Bengals offense, this game should easily eclipse 6.5 punts in what could turn into a defensive struggle. If you like the under on the point total, then betting the punt prop to go over looks like an even better betting opportunity. 

Pick: First Kickoff Touchback Yes (-118)

Brown: Another offering that's only available for the Super Bowl is the "does the first kickoff result in a touchback." This bet highlights the opportunities present in the Super Bowl markets, as tons of money poured onto the "no" side to push this down to an even-money proposition. The reason is tepid at best, as many have discussed that "no" has been successful in 18 of the past 20 Super Bowls. Trend betting is most popular in the Super Bowl, but it is typically a poor process unless there are strong underlying indicators for why the trend has performed so well. 

This one might have some legs according to Pat McAfee, who is the most vocal ex-kicker available to sports handicappers. On "The Pat McAfee Show" leading up to the Super Bowl last year, McAfee had this to say about the Super Bowl opening kickoff: 

“There isn’t normally a touchback on the opening kickoff because the ball is a brand-new ball, it’s basically just plastic. Most balls that you kick have been rubbed down for 30 minutes by your equipment manager and the other team’s equipment manager in the presence of an NFL official and it’s beat up a little bit ... the Super Bowl kickoff ball, that ball goes immediately to the Hall of Fame right after the kick, so it is not beat to hell and back for 30 minutes by an equipment manager. It’s very difficult to kick a touchback."

The reasoning is sound, but this information is, by now, fully baked into the betting market and causing an overreaction from bettors. Over 60 percent of kickoffs have gone for a touchback in each of the past six seasons. League-wide base rates have held steady for every year up to 2021 — when the first kickoff of the game dropped to a 55.6 percent touchback rate. The eight seasons before this all saw the first kickoff result in a touchback over 60 percent of the time.

Both Matt Gay and Evan McPherson are above league-average in 2021 on touchback — as Gay is at 63.3 percent while McPherson is at 61 percent. The overcorrection based on trend bettors creates a worthy buy opportunity on one of these two kickers booting the ball into the end zone to start the Super Bowl. 

Bengals to score first + 110

Tuley: I added this one before “The Opening Lines” show. It’s just a value play as we’re getting plus-money on what is essentially a coin flip and could be decided by the actual coin flip if the Bengals score before the Rams get the ball. It also correlates with my belief that L.A. will get off to a slow start.

Score tied after 0-0 -110

Tuley: This makes sense in a back-and-forth game as we just need it to get to 3-3, 7-7, 10-10, etc. This might even be the year to bet on overtime -- which is around + 700, but shop around to see if you can find it higher -- since we’ve seen so much of it this season and the past two weeks.

Largest lead Under 14.5 points + 100 

Tuley: Again, a close back-and-forth game with the teams scoring in the 20s or lower should lead to no lead being more than touchdowns.

Double result of halftime tie/either team winning

Tuley: This is one of my favorite props, as you’re basically getting around 12-1 on halftime tie/Rams win and 18-1 halftime time/Bengals and cash no matter what happens as long as the game is tied at intermission. This would also mean a winner on the “score tied after 0-0” prop unless it’s actually 0-0. We’ve hit this a few times in recent years, so it’s been profitable over the long run.

Rams team total Under 26.5

Tuley: Based on my projected scores, this looks like a solid bet at -110. BetMGM also has an appealing Rams Under 21.5 + 190 available.

Sacks by both teams Under 5 + 120

Tuley: As mentioned above, we’re counting on the Bengals having fixed their protection problems and having Burrow get rid of the ball quicker. I wouldn’t go Under 4.5 as the 5 is insurance in case it lands on 5 for a push. Another way to play this would be Rams sacks Under 3.

Cam Akers rushing yards Under 64.5 -110

Tuley: Akers has had fumble issues. If he fumbles in the Super Bowl, there’s a decent chance he’ll get benched, so even though the Under is probably the play anyway, I like it more with that possibility.

Cooper Kupp receptions Under 8.5 -110, receiving yards Under 108.5 -110, no TD + 140

Tuley: I expect the Bengals to put together a game plan to at least contain Kupp, hold him Under these high props and keep him out of the end zone.

Matthew Stafford to score first TD 30-1/Joe Burrow to score first TD 30-1

Tuley: I’m betting both of these in case a quarterback scores the first TD. We’ve seen QBs in big games like the Super Bowl and College Football Playoff get gun-shy at the goal line and try to take matters into their own hands, plus McVay has been using Stafford more on quarterback sneaks. If you fear one of the QBs doesn’t get the game’s first TD but scores first for his team, you could go with Stafford 16-1 to score the Rams’ first TD and Burrow 14-1 to score the Bengals’ first TD. 

Shortest TD Under 1.5 -150

Tuley: We used to get a nice, juicy plus price on this every year, but it’s hit so often -- seven of the last eight years and I know I’ve been on this even longer -- that it’s now juiced at -150. It happens so often because it can certainly happen organically with a team getting the ball inside the 1-yard line and punching it in, but it can also be set up by a defensive pass-interference call in the end zone where the ball is placed at the 1-yard line. Note: it’s much more rare, but it also cashes if an offensive player falls on a fumble in the end zone for a 0-yard fumble recovery TD or a defensive player scores on a fumble recovery or interception in the opposing team’s end zone for a 0-yard score.

Longest TD Over 41.5 yards -110

Tuley: Even though I like the game Under and Under in most props, I like this Over as both these teams have big-play offenses. Also, the Super Bowl has long timeouts, so that allows the offenses more time to set up big plays. I was also going to go with longest FG Over 46.5 yards as both kickers can boot long FGs and the game is being played indoors, but with both coaches’ tendencies to go on fourth downs, the kickers might not get the chance.

Number of players to throw a pass Over 2.5 + 150

Tuley: I admit this is a sucker bet, but I’m a sucker for it. It just takes one gadget play or a QB to go out with an injury for a play or two. It seems so simple, but it hasn’t cashed the past three Super Bowls. The last time I cashed with it was the Eagles-Patriots game with the “Philly Special” TD pass from Trey Burton to Nick Foles -- though it had already gone Over 2.5 as the Patriots tried a similar play earlier in the game with Danny Amendola throwing an incomplete pass to Tom Brady.

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