Super Bowl XLVIII is here. Time to place your bets.
Who should you pick to hoist the Lombardi Trophy? Which prop bets are poised to be easy money? Joe Fortenbaugh and Tom Mantzouranis break down everything you need to know entering this weekend’s NFL action.
Joe Fortenbaugh: Seahawks +3 vs. Broncos. Virtually every sports book in Vegas has had this game posted at Denver -2.5 for a little over a week now, but I’m anticipating some movement when the betting public gets involved this weekend. The hope is that the line gets steamed to the key number of 3, at which point I’ll jump all over Seattle. Should that move fail to materialize, I’ll buy a half point to move the line from 2.5 to 3 myself.
The reason? Not only are the sharper minds in Vegas looking to get down on Seattle, but I think there’s value in this number. Think about it: Prior to Championship Sunday, Vegas sports books were offering look-ahead lines that ranged anywhere from Seattle -3 over Denver to Seattle -1 over Denver. But after the Seahawks defeated a San Francisco team that is vastly superior to the New England Patriots, the line reemerged as a pick ‘em and was immediately bet to Denver -2.5. That’s over five points of movement based on some sort of rationale I have yet to uncover. If you eliminated public perception as well as the knowledge that the betting public will likely be all over Peyton Manning and the Broncos, the books would be offering a much different number. The Seahawks have the arsenal (elite defense, top-flight rushing attack) to dictate the tempo on Sunday and I see no reason to back off my August Super Bowl selection with only sixty minutes remaining in the season.
Mantzouranis: Seahawks +2 over Broncos. Joe did a great job of breaking down the gambling strategy involved in dropping coin on the Seahawks, so allow me to expand on the football side of things. Peyton Manning is going to get some shots in against the Seattle defense, but he's simply not going to have enough time on the field to make that much of a difference. Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are going to install a gameplan designed to eat up the clock and keep Manning on the sideline as much as possible.
While the Broncos defense has played surprisingly well in the playoffs, they're still thin, especially up front. A heavy dosage of Marshawn Lynch is going to do wonders for the Seattle drive chart, and this Broncos defense doesn't have anyone who can stick to their coverage long enough against a passing attack that is great at keeping plays alive and rescuing big gains from what may look at first to be a broken play. The Seahawks receivers haven't been shy about playing the disrespect card, but they're right -- they may not put up prolific numbers, but they're so good at frustrating defenses; just when you think you've got Russell Wilson down for a 5-yard loss, you're looking at a 20-yard completion and a first down. And yes, their defense is quite excellent, as you may have heard. If the Broncos protect well enough, Manning will be able to create mismatches against a secondary that prefers to beat you physically rather than employ any sort of trickery. But I don't see the Broncos line holding up enough, and Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno will have a difficult time against such an athletic set of linebackers.
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Fortenbaugh: Under 48. The wagering public loves to bet overs because it’s a slap in the face to human nature to root against scoring. And if history is any indicator, the recreational gamblers will back the over on Sunday, pushing this line to 48 (which is currently being offered at the Wynn) or higher. However, Super Bowl XLVIII is an anomaly in that it’s the first outdoor, cold-weather championship game, so I wouldn’t be completely surprised if some of that public money supported a low scoring affair.
My prediction is that Seattle looks to take a page out of San Diego’s playbook by running the rock, grinding down the clock and keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands. And when Manning does have the football, he’ll be throwing in cold weather against the league’s best defense. That type of tempo screams “Under.”
Mantzouranis: Over 47. It's true, we do love the over. Even though I do agree with Joe that the Broncos won't get a lot of time on the field to put up a ton of points, I do think they'll be able to break 20. I can easily see this being a 24-21 game in the fourth quarter until a Lynch touchdown opens things up for Seattle. (I predicted a 31-20 Seahawks win in the SI.com experts picks.) The weather is supposed to be in the mid-40s with no precipitation for the game, so it won't be that much of a factor. Remember, too, that Seattle is going to have a big-time offensive playmaker in Percy Harvin back on the field (assuming, of course, he can put a complete game together without injury), and he could be good for an additional touchdown himself.
Fortenbaugh: Bobby Wagner UNDER 10.5 total tackles (-110). Only six defenders have amassed 11 or more tackles against the Broncos through 18 games this season. Three of those players -- Dallas’ Barry Church, New England’s Duron Harmon and Oakland’s Charles Woodson -- play the safety position, while Philadelphia’s DeMeco Ryans and Washington’s Perry Riley play inside linebacker in a 3-4 system. That leaves Dallas’ Sean Lee as the lone 4-3 middle linebacker -- the position Wagner plays -- to record 11 or more tackles against the Broncos this season.
In addition, each of those six aforementioned performances came in a contest where Denver scored at least 34 points and ran a minimum of 71 plays. I don’t see the Broncos hitting either benchmark on Sunday.
As for Wagner, the second-year linebacker has racked up 11 or more tackles just eight times in 34 career games (23.5 percent). Four of those outings came during Wagner’s 16 starts this season, but take note that all four occurred within the confines of CenturyLink Field.
Doug Baldwin OVER 39.5 receiving yards (-110). Yeah, Percy Harvin is expected to play. But I’m not banking on a high-target effort from a guy who has appeared in just under two full games this season. Harvin will get some looks, but he’ll function mainly as a decoy, which should open up the field for Baldwin to make some plays.
Two weeks removed from a six-catch, 106-yard effort against the San Francisco 49ers, Baldwin has played an integral, yet unappreciated, role in Seattle’s Super Bowl run, with 10 of his 18 outings going for 40 receiving yards or more. One big play -- like the one we saw against the Niners two weeks ago -- and this one is a wrap.
Russell Wilson OVER 30.5 rushing yards (-110). In the biggest game of his young life, I fully expect Wilson to leave everything he’s got on the MetLife Stadium field. I also anticipate two things that will help us cash in on this prop: First, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will call a few designed running plays for Wilson. Second, I believe early game jitters could play a factor, meaning instead of trying to thread the needle down the field, Wilson opts to pick up some yardage with his feet. Russ hasn’t hit this mark since Seattle’s Week 16 home loss to Arizona, but I feel he’ll be more inclined to run Sunday against Denver’s suspect defense.
Mantzouranis: Archie Manning will be shown OVER 1 TIME on TV, excluding halftime (-175). I wouldn't be surprised if we hit the over on that in the first quarter alone. The Super Bowl is storyline hell. Expect to see the Manning family quite a bit, especially with the recent news of the lawsuit leveled against Eli Manning.
No team will get three straight scores (+155). You've got the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense, not only of this year, but of recent NFL history. This is about as even as a matchup as you could expect, featuring cerebral, talented quarterbacks and experienced coaches. Neither team is getting boatraced here.
Manning says "Omaha" UNDER 27.5 times, excluding replays (-155). Manning, you might have heard, is ridiculously smart. And he thinks his offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, is even smarter. After all the attention that's been given to "Omaha" over the last few weeks, in perhaps his last crack at a Super Bowl, do you think he's going to make it easy on the Seahawks defense? Perhaps Manning and Gase will use it as a dummy call in attempt to use reverse psychology against Seattle, but if they do it'll be sparingly. The Broncos have averaged 52 offensive plays a game in the playoffs, so if you take the over you're counting on more than half of those plays getting the "Omaha" treatment, and you're counting on the FOX mics to pick up every single one. I'm not buying it.
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