It’s a transitional time for the NFL, a league that thrives by promoting star quarterbacks on the marquee yet is losing many of its biggest names of the past two decades. That’s one reason Joe Burrow is arriving at the right time.
Tom Brady appears ready to disappear into retirement, following Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. Aaron Rodgers is nearing the end. It’s also a must to mention the Manning brothers. Eli and Peyton still promote the league via corny sportsbook commercials, something no one would have believed just five years ago.
The NFL is too much of a monster not to survive and thrive, but star power is important. It’s not crucial for the Cincinnati Bengals to become relevant, but they are likely here to stay because Burrow, who recently turned 25, should be a bet-on quarterback for years to come.
While intriguing storylines always help to hype a product, what matters most the next two weeks are betting lines and prop prices during the buildup to Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, where a star-studded Rams team is favored in its home stadium. It’s not a matchup anyone predicted — BetMGM posted odds on the exact Super Bowl matchup in the preseason and offered Bengals-Rams at 500-1 — but it’s not bad.
“I like it because it’s different,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “This is fresh with a couple of new teams and I like that variety. The Bengals look like live dogs. Burrow knows how to play in big games.”
Burrow plays with a swagger that’s tough to bet against, so bettors will be tempted to buy into an underdog story that will be played by the media for all it’s worth.
“Burrow is one of the bright new stars, and there’s no doubt the public is in love with the Bengals,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director. “There are two things we know — we know the public is going to bet the dog on the moneyline, and I still think the public is going to bet the Over.”
Circa Sports opened the Rams as 4-point favorites before moving to 4.5 on Monday. The total has dipped from 49.5 to 48.5. Early line moves are based on sharp money. However, public money overwhelms sharp play in the Super Bowl, so there’s plenty of time for more fluctuations in the numbers.
“There’s no question 90 percent of the money will come in next Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Magliulo said.
The total is probably headed back to 50 at some point. The other number to watch is the moneyline. Circa’s current split is -200/+ 176, a price that is likely to drop by next Sunday and could close in the -180/+ 160 range.
“Nobody wants to bet Under in the Super Bowl,” Avello said. “People are taking a shot with the Bengals at + 165 or so. People bet the moneyline in the Super Bowl and it drives the price down, sometimes to a ridiculous price.”
For those who prefer the Rams, a moneyline bet at -170 might still become an option. The best number on the Bengals could be + 5. While professional bettors obsess over the numbers, a majority of public players are not discerning shoppers and will take whatever price is posted when they happen to be standing in line.
The numbers might mean a lot if the trend of tight playoff games continues. Five of the last six games were decided by exactly three points, with the other decided by six in overtime.
“So many of these games have been close, so first blush, I would look to the dog and take the points,” said Bruce Marshall, editor of The Gold Sheet.
Scott Kellen, a professional bettor and VSiN contributor, said he crunched the numbers and made the Rams -2.5 and the total 50.
“Burrow has lost only two games by more than three points this year, so he seems to stay in games,” Kellen said. “Add it all up and there appears to be a little value on Cincinnati, but I’m not in love with the matchup at this point.”
The matchups on the offensive and defensive lines are problematic for the Bengals, who have not protected Burrow well and now must contend with the Rams’ relentless pressure, with Aaron Donald’s interior attack collapsing the pocket and Von Miller rushing from the outside.
According to ESPN.com, Burrow was the 55th quarterback in NFL history to get sacked at least 50 times in the regular season, and none of the previous 54 reached the Super Bowl. He was sacked twice in the wild-card round against the Raiders and a ridiculous nine times in the divisional round against the Titans. The good news is the Chiefs sacked Burrow only once in the AFC title game when his ability to escape the pocket was critical.
“One worry for the Bengals is their offensive line, which ranked 31st in sack-percentage allowed, and I still worry about pressure on Burrow,” Kellen said.
The Cincinnati defense did exceptional work against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who passed for only 55 yards after halftime and self-destructed with mistakes while surrendering a 21-3 lead. The Rams’ Matthew Stafford is certainly a more error-prone quarterback than Burrow, who has played with the poise of a veteran.
Burrow and the Bengals scored 21 consecutive points during Kansas City’s incomprehensible collapse. Teams with an 18-point lead are now 115-2 this season, which is one angle to Cincinnati’s Cinderella story.
The Bengals were facing odds as high as 200-1 to win the Super Bowl at one point in the regular season. It’s a team that won two games in 2019 and four in 2020, and this marks the quickest turnaround in history from the league’s worst record to a Super Bowl appearance.
“We were not sure how good the Bengals really were until the playoffs, but they have caught fire,” Marshall said. “They seem to be impervious to pressure, and that’s a credit to Burrow.”
Burrow’s story is fit for a Hollywood screenwriter. I’m not ready to predict how this movie ends, but it will be tempting to take the points with the underdog.