Super Bowl trends favor defense

February 1, 2022 07:36 PM
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According to the TV ratings, more than 96 million people watched last year’s Super Bowl. Now granted, it was a highly compelling game in which Tom Brady was back on the NFL’s biggest stage with a new team. Still, the numbers were astounding, and while this year’s game might match those numbers, you can rest assured that the game will once again reign supreme.

Super Bowl Sunday is sports’ biggest day, regardless of which teams are competing for the Lombardi Trophy, and naturally, that makes it the sports betting world’s biggest day as well.

This year’s matchup is an unusual one, and it’s a good bet that very few people saw it coming, as the Bengals and Rams emerged from their conference playoffs as No. 4 seeds. This will be the first Super Bowl not to include a No. 1, 2 or 3 seed. The game also features two quarterbacks who will be playing in their first Super Bowl. While this in itself isn’t a rarity, as it last happened two years ago in the 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl, the fact that neither Joe Burrow of the Bengals nor Matthew Stafford of the Rams had won a playoff game before this season adds to the intrigue. On top of that, for the second year in a row, one of the participants is playing on its home field. It figures to be an exciting game with endless betting opportunities. When I wrote this, the Rams were sitting as 4.5-point favorites with a total of 48.5.

While the Super Bowl is only one game, the number of betting options available is beyond comprehension and range from the simple point spread and total to the most exotic of prop options. You can even bet other sports happenings on Sunday against the stats or results of the football game. If you’ve never taken the time to digest all of the betting opportunities available, be sure to do so, because at the very least, you will be amazed by the creativity of the oddsmakers. Trust me, I used to be one, and I contributed my fair share of market ideas.

This year’s Super Bowl will be the 56th in the history of the National Football League. Of course, with a sample size of 55 games, you’ll want to consider the past results as you contemplate how this year’s matchup might play out. They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well, you could also say that bettors who learn history figure to be better off!

Over the course of the two weeks between the conference title games and the Super Bowl, you will be inundated with analysis and opinions from all of the experts you trust, so I’m not going to thrust my predictions on you here. However, I’ll provide a number of recent trends and patterns that have emerged from the Super Bowl over the years. Perhaps bits from this article will prove to be the ultimate decider of your final plays, perhaps not. Regardless, the information you’ll pick up here will make you more knowledgeable, whether or not you choose to share it at a Super Bowl party. 

Hopefully, with everything we’re offering over the next two weeks on the VSiN network and in Point Spread Weekly, you will be adequately prepped to cash some tickets, since as VSiN’s Brent Musburger says, that’s what it’s all about. So read on as I look back at 55 years of Super Bowl action, uncovering the stats, trends and systems you’ll need to make educated selections.

Super Bowl stats

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 game film and prepare a game plan so thoroughly that nothing will surprise them. Of course, extensive planning didn’t seem to help the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes last February, when he was besieged by the Tampa Bay defense for 60 minutes. The teams that get to this point earn the spot, and since the NFC’s run of dominance ended in the late ’90s, I can think of only two games in which there was anything close to a “physical mismatch” in the Super Bowl. One was Seattle’s blowout of Denver in 2014, and the other was last year in the Buccaneers’ win I just described. Of course, that could have just as easily been a mindset issue, or even the home-field advantage Tampa Bay enjoyed, but that’s debatable. What I’m getting at is that the game most often comes down to little more than preparation and execution.

This execution can be 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 Bowls. The following trends demonstrate the importance of these statistics.

— Teams that rush for more yards in the Super Bowl are 41-14 SU and 38-14-3 ATS (73.1%). The Bucs outrushed the Chiefs 145-107 last year.

— Teams that average more passing yards per attempt in the NFL title game are 43-12 SU and 37-15-3 ATS (71.2%). The Chiefs’ previously dynamic attack produced just 4.96 yards per pass attempt last year in their 31-9 loss.

— The team that has more turnovers has won just six times SU and eight times ATS (8-36-8, 18.2%). Last year, the Chiefs turned it over twice, while the Bucs were flawless in this area.

— Teams that win the time of possession battle are 40-15 SU and 39-13-3 ATS (75%) in Super Bowl history, and the Bucs were the latest to win on that edge, holding the ball for almost 31 1/2 minutes last year.

— Teams that hold an edge in at least three of these four key statistical categories are 40-5 SU and 36-8-1 ATS (81.8%). Amazingly, three of those outright losses were in the last seven games.

— Teams that win all four categories are 26-0 SU and 24-1-1 ATS (96%). The only ATS loss occurred in Philadelphia’s ATS win versus the Patriots to end the 2004 season.

The Buccaneers swept the four categories last year. 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, assuming the game plays out close to the norms.

Scoring trends

— The average winning score is 30.1 points per game, with the average losing score being 16.0, an average winning margin of 14.1. However, interestingly, 16 of the last 18 games have been decided by 14 points or fewer, a sign of a much more competitive era in the NFL. One of those two blowouts was last season.

— The Giants of 2008 became the first team in 33 years to win the Super Bowl without hitting the 20-point mark. The Patriots did it again in 2019 with the lowest winning point total ever — 13 points.

— Since the epic 35-31 duel between Pittsburgh and Dallas in Super Bowl XIII in the 1978 season, there have been 26 teams to hit the 30-point mark in this game, their record: 24-2 SU and 23-3 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.

— 22 Super Bowl teams have failed to reach the 14-point mark. Their record: 1-21 SU and ATS (4.5%). This is another trend illustrating just how improbable the Patriots’ 2019 win was.

— Illustrating how competitive recent games have been, of the 16 games to be decided by less than a touchdown, seven of them have come in the last 14 years.

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 because it changed teams’ thinking about what it takes to win the championship. The Steelers were the first No. 6 seed that emerged 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 now in doubt.

Then, the seven-year span of the Super Bowl from 2014 to 2020 seemed to bring about 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, underdogs did win outright in four of those seven games, presenting another wrinkle to deal with. Throw in Tampa Bay’s improbable blowout win last season as a 3-point dog, and perhaps we’re in the midst of an underdog-dominated Super Bowl era?

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

Some of what I have below doesn’t make for the foundational basis of a wager, but other tidbits might just be the decisive factor in your wagering consideration. I convinced myself about the motivational edge of being the lower-seeded team in these games several years ago, and it has performed remarkably since. Perhaps there’s something else you’ll like even better as we dig into ATS, moneyline and total trends.

I must caution you that the 2022 playoffs, and the wide-open nature of the season itself, have essentially thrown the major past trends to the wind. For instance, the wild-card round was historically dominated by road teams. This year, home teams went 5-1. In the divisional round, a set of games usually owned by the hosts, the visitors went 3-1. Then finally last weekend, the usually successful hosts went 1-1 SU and 0-2 ATS in the conference championship round. Good luck interpreting all of that.

ATS and moneyline trends

— Favorites in the Super Bowl are 34-20 SU but own an ATS mark of 25-26-3 (49%), with the 1982 game having been a pick-’em point spread. However, over the past 20 years, underdogs own a 14-6 ATS (70%) edge, including 10-4 ATS in the last 14. Tampa Bay won outright as a 3-point dog last year. As of press time, the Rams were 4.5-point favorites.

— Favorites of a touchdown or more are 3-2 SU but 0-4-1 ATS (0%) since the millennium. Still, there hasn’t been a favorite of that magnitude since the Patriots in 2008.

— The straight-up winner is 46-6-3 ATS (88.5%) in the Super Bowl, and the dog has never covered a point spread without winning on a Super Bowl line of less than 6 points. This figure equals the highest of the four playoff rounds, with wild-card winners also on an 88.5% ATS run. Champions typically leave little doubt.

— Remarkably, the NFC broke a 27-27 outright split in Super Bowl history last year and extended its ATS edge to 28-24-3 (53.8%) all time. However, AFC teams hold a 5-3 SU and ATS edge in last eight.

— The team that is the higher, or better, playoff seed is just 2-15-2 ATS (11.8%) in the last 25 Super Bowls. Note, in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019, equal seeds matched up. The 2022 matchup pits two No. 4 seeds.

— The team with the better record going into the Super Bowl is 29-19 SU all time but has lost 11 of the last 12, including the Chiefs (14-2) versus the Buccaneers (11-5) last year. The Rams (12-5) had a better record than the Bengals (10-7) in the regular season.

— Teams playing in their first Super Bowl against an experienced club are 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine, however, this trend is becoming more and more scarce and doesn’t apply this year.

Over/Under trends

— In the 54 Super Bowls that have had totals, the Over is 27-26-1 (50.9%). The last three have gone Under, the first time there has been an Under streak that long since four straight in 2005-08. The 2019 game went Under in record fashion, falling short of the posted number by 39 points.

— There has been an average of 46.2 points scored in the Super Bowl, on posted totals averaging 44.9. However, the totals in the early years were often in the 30s, dragging that number down significantly. The last 17 years, the average posted total has been 50.0 with 46.5 points scored. Ten of the 17 games in that era went Under.

— Of note, on the 12 past Super Bowls with totals in the 50s, Under is 9-3 (75%)

— The 2020 Super Bowl was one of only 17 in history that saw both teams reach the 20-point mark. Fourteen of those were Overs.

6-point teaser trends

— Looking back at the 54 past Super Bowls in terms of 6-point teaser trends, favorites are 35-19 (64.8%), while underdogs are 36-17-1 (67.9%), relatively close performance marks. Note that the ’82 game was a pick-’em point spread, so no favorite or underdog was measured. However, in the last 20 seasons, there has been a big separation as favorites are just 10-10 (50%), while underdogs are 17-3 (85%).

— In terms of the conferences, AFC teams are 35-19-1 (64.8%) and NFC teams are 38-17 (69.1%) in Super Bowl history on 6-point teaser bets.

— Concerning Super Bowl totals, in the 54 games that had posted numbers, Over is 36-18 (66.7%) and Under is 36-17-1 (67.9%) on 6-point teasers.

Regular-season statistical trends, offense

— Teams that scored more points per game during the regular season are only 6-13 ATS in the last 19 Super Bowls. Coincidentally, the Rams and Bengals both scored 460 points 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 4-13 ATS since ’05. Those that averaged more yards per rush are 6-11 ATS in that span. Cincinnati rushed for 2.0 more yards per game this season, but the Rams held a very slight edge per rush attempt.

— 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 8-12 ATS in the last 20 games. Los Angeles held a slight edge in the regular season in passing yardage.

— 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 6-9 ATS stumble. Cincinnati was the No. 1 team in the NFL in yards per pass attempt.

— Teams that generated more yardage offensively in the regular season also own no edge when it comes to Super Bowl success, losing 10 straight games SU and ATS. Those with yards-per-play edges are 1-9 SU and ATS in that same span. Los Angeles owns slight edges in both categories.

— 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 6-13 ATS in the last 19 Super Bowls. Cincinnati holds this supposed edge, 13.4 to 13.8.

— 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 6-12 ATS in the Super Bowl since ’03. This is another small “edge” for the Bengals.

— Teams that converted third-down opportunities more efficiently in the regular season also have a poor trend mark, 7-13 ATS in the last 20 Super Bowls. The Rams ranked seventh in the NFL in third-down offense, while Cincinnati was 16th.

It appears to be almost detrimental to have generated the better offensive statistics in the regular season. Strangely though, these teams’ offensive stats are remarkably similar, perhaps the closest such matchup since Carolina-New England in February 2004.

Regular-season statistical trends, defense

— Teams that allowed fewer points per game during the regular season have won the last six Super Bowls SU and ATS. The Rams allowed 21.9 points per game in the regular season, Cincinnati 22.1.

— Teams that allowed fewer rushing yards per game and fewer yards per rushing attempt have gone 5-1 SU and ATS in the last six Super Bowls, giving the statistical handicapper reason to consider it when analyzing the games. Cincinnati allowed 0.7 rushing yards per game fewer than the Rams, but Los Angeles allowed fewer yards per rush attempt.

— Super Bowl teams with an edge in defensive passing yardage allowed over their opponent are 11-8 ATS over the last 19 seasons but have lost three straight. Los Angeles allowed 6.7 yards per game fewer through the air.

— Teams with the edge in defensive pass efficiency are 7-3 ATS over the last 10 years after losing the prior five Super Bowls. The Rams were 0.1 yards per pass attempt better than the Bengals in the regular season.

— Teams that allowed less yardage overall defensively are also just 6-9 ATS since ’07, but 6-4 ATS since ’12 in the Super Bowl. Teams with an edge in yards per play are 7-8 ATS since ’07, but 7-3 ATS in last nine. Both edges belong to Los Angeles.

— Defensive yards per point should only be given serious consideration for Super Bowl Sunday if you are fading the team with the edge, 6-10 ATS since ’06.

— Teams that forced more turnovers in the regular season than their opponent are 10-10 ATS since ’02 in Super Bowl play, with no streaks greater than two either way. Cincinnati owns a 0.1 YPPT edge.

— Teams that stopped third-down opportunities more efficiently in the regular season are on a 7-5 ATS run in the last 12 Super Bowls. This was another extremely close comparison, as the Rams ranked 21st this season in third-down defense while Cincinnati was 22nd.

There has been increasing evidence that better defensive teams have the advantage in recent Super Bowls, certainly when compared with the effectiveness of offensive statistical edges. The defensive edge resides with the NFC representative in 2022, perhaps more so in the number of star players as compared with the small statistical differences.

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 8-6 ATS (57.1%) in the last 14 Super Bowls in which they moved an opening line, and 9-6 in the last 15 games in which they moved totals. This includes a streak of four straight winners on total moves, so perhaps this could be an emerging strategy to follow for recreational bettors. The line move winning percentages were more significant in the earlier playoff rounds. Be sure to follow that action in the hours leading up to kickoff if you tend to believe in this type of analysis. Bettors were favoring the Rams and Under as of this writing.

Good luck on your Super Bowl LVI wagering and enjoy all of the lead-up and the festivities of the big game! 

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