It's a year of huge cornerback contracts, with A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore breaking the bank. But will these big-money contracts, and the big-time gambles associated with them, pay off?
27 Jan 2017
by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Bryan: It's a tradition unlike any other, except with fewer tacky green jackets and more stopwatches equipped during national anthems. Every year, stretching back to January of 2004, Scramble for the Ball has proudly presented the Scramble for the Ball Prop Bet Extravaganza. It's one of the original Football Outsiders features, and we're proud to bring it back for a 14th straight year. Writers have shuffled, website designs have come and gone (and overstayed their welcome) but New England is playing in a Super Bowl in Houston again. Some things never change.
Andrew: Against the NFC South champion, no less, only this time it's the Atlanta Falcons and their dynamic star receiver instead of the Carolina Panthers and theirs.
Bryan: And the opposing quarterback is a little better than Jake Delhomme. We'll be fortunate if this game is as exciting as that one was, though.
Andrew: Well, as close anyway. Excitement should not be in short supply, unless you're one of those boring types who likes teams to occasionally play defense for some reason.
Bryan: Well, I know a way to ensure excitement, no matter what happens. It's your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world -- making predictions! Woo!
Andrew: And there I thought you were going to make a timely mention of my Trainspotting hobby.
Bryan: No, it's something somehow even more nonsensical than that.
Andrew: Human Traffic?
Bryan: Stop changing the subject and do yer Super Bowl prop bets, Andrew!
Andrew: Sigh. Yes, muuum.
Bryan: A reminder for those of you who aren't familiar with how prop bets work:
These are all Super Bowl odds that people are actually betting on, courtesy of our friends at Bovada. All lines were correct as of time of writing, but they're moving pretty quickly.
Most of these bets are whether a proposition is over or under the "line," usually total. For example:
Number of brain cells lost due to reading this column (9.5)
Here, you would be betting on how many brain cells this week's column will destroy. You would have to choose either more or fewer than 9.5. Since football stats are generally whole numbers, most propositions won't have "push" as a viable option. If you were to bet that more than 9.5 of your little dudes would croak, you would have to wager a hypothetical $115 to win $215: your $115 that you wagered, plus $100 more (hence the "-115"). If you wanted to take the under, you would wager a hypothetical $100 to win $205: your $100 back, plus $105 (hence the "+105"). Since I imagine your Scramble writers have almost certainly killed a number of your brain cells purely through fright at this point, the under is less likely to win, therefore you'd get more money if it actually does come through.
The other bets are those with many possible options, like wagering on who will score the first touchdown in the game. The odds there will be something like:
Which Scramble writer will correctly predict the most prop bets?
Andrew Potter +110
Bryan Knowles -130
This means that if you wager $130 on Bryan, you will receive only an extra $100, because that's the price you pay for picking the guy who won the Lock of the Week this year. If you instead believe Andrew has been saving up his correct picks for one dramatic showdown, you will receive your $100 back plus an extra $110.
For the purposes of determining a winner of this column, we're laying down 100 bars of gold-pressed latinum down on any of these "pick from a crowd" bets, and for over/unders we're wagering 100 on any overs where we're receiving positive odds (e.g., anything above +101) and wagering whatever it takes to win 100 on any overs where we're receiving negative odds (e.g., anything below -101).
Confused? Don't worry; we're keeping track of all that. All that matters are the results of the bets on the following Super Bowl betting lines:
New England Patriots -3 (-120)
Atlanta Falcons +3 (EVEN)
Bryan: By DVOA, the Patriots outdo the Falcons, 29.5% to 21.5%. The gap is even more prominent in weighted DVOA, with the Patriots holding a 40.8% to 24.2% advantage. The Falcons, on the other hand, do have the better offense, and they have seen improvements on defense in the past few weeks. The Patriots have also faced the easiest schedule in the league, which could theoretically inflate our perceptions of them.
Still, I trust our numbers, and the weighted DVOA gap is enough for me to go with the Patriots (minus-3)
Andrew: Numbers? What is this, an analytics column?
Alas, it turns out the numbers, the scouting, the matchups, and the respective records of the teams all point toward a Patriots victory. If the actual winning margin's more than three points, it's likely to be in New England's favor. Belichick's Patriots have never played a blowout Super Bowl yet, however, so I'll take the points even if New England deserves to be favored.
New England Patriots (-160)
Atlanta Falcons (+140)
Bryan: Taking the -160 line for the Patriots would mean I believe the Patriots would win at least 61.5 percent of the time, in order to break even. Taking the +140 line for the Falcons would mean I believe the Falcons would win at least 42 percent of the time. The fact that that adds up to more than 100 percent is the juice, and why betting companies stay in business and can continue to offer these prop bets.
I took the Patriots to win despite giving points, so I'm going to double down and pick the Patriots again here. Cue accusations of New England bias in the comments.
Andrew: It's not my money, so I'll take Atlanta just for fun. Seriously, this game's a toss-up to be won or lost on game plans, unpredictable events, and simply who plays better on the day. It wouldn't surprise me to see either team win comfortably, or it to be a tight blow-for-blow contest. About the only thing that would surprise me is under 40 total points. In a toss-up, I'll take the result with the biggest return.
Over 59.5 (-105)
Under 59.5 (-115)
Bryan: This is the highest over/under ever offered for a Super Bowl, and it has actually gone up -- it opened at 58 points. Oddsmakers see the powerful Atlanta offense, remember what Tom Brady and company are capable of doing, and think the record 75 points from Super Bowl XXIX could be in jeopardy. The line breaks the record set by the Saints/Colts game from Super Bowl XLIV. That finished by hitting the under in New Orleans' victory, so a high over is by no means guaranteed to hit.
59.5 points is a lot of points. It's a ton of points. The Falcons have only gone over that in eight of their 18 games this season; the Patriots have gone over only once, so it's not like they're always up in this range. That being said, the Falcons are averaging 34.4 points this season, and the Patriots are averaging 28.4 -- that's over the projected total. Fortunately, defense is still a thing in the NFL, and I don't think we're going to hit a point-a-minute pace with two teams that are this good. I'll take the under.
Andrew: So will I. We're boring. Nerves are going to affect some people, there'll be some drops (and accompanying "you never see that!" exclamations about players with multiple drops on the year), and some third-down failures. Neither team will score on every drive, even though both are half-expected to. Under.
Tom Brady (+165)
Matt Ryan (+250)
Julio Jones (+750)
Julian Edelman (+1600)
LeGarrette Blount (+2000)
Dion Lewis (+2500)
Devonta Freeman (+2500)
Chris Hogan (+2500)
Tevin Coleman (+3300)
Vic Beasley (+3300)
Mohamed Sanu (+4000)
Logan Ryan (+5000)
Martellus Bennett (+5000)
Austin Hooper (+6600)
Matt Bryant (+6600)
Taylor Gabriel (+6600)
Stephen Gostkowski (+6600)
James White (+6600)
Malcolm Butler (+6600)
Devin McCourty (+7500)
Deion Jones (+10000)
Dwight Freeney (+10000)
Eric Weems (+10000)
Keanu Neal (+10000)
Danny Amendola (+10000)
Dont'a Hightower (+10000)
Malcolm Mitchell (+10000)
Patrick Chung (+10000)
Rob Ninkovich (+10000)
Levine Toilolo (+10000)
Chris Long (+15000)
Bryan: Alright, let's break this down. In the last 20 Super Bowls, quarterbacks have won the MVP 11 times -- less than I would have thought, but clearly more than any other position. They're kind of the "default" option -- when in doubt, vote for the winning quarterback, especially if they're a lock for the Hall of Fame like Brady or the MVP frontrunner in Ryan.
Wide receivers have won it with big days -- think 120 yards and probably a touchdown, with no one else reaching, say, 60 yards receiving on the team. That does sound like a possible Julio Jones day, and +750 is very tempting -- that's worth it if you think there's more than about a 10 percent chance he'll come home with the award. I like that. I like those odds a lot more than trying to guess which defender will create turnovers in a defensive stomp, or imagining a runner going for, say, 150 yards and three touchdowns. I'm going to be boring and take Tom Brady, but I'm going to kick myself if the Falcons win.
Andrew: Jones will probably be the focus of the Patriots defense. He'll get catches, but it'll take something truly special to make him MVP. If the Falcons win, it's more likely to be because Matt Ryan had a big day throwing to his other targets. A multiple-Super-Bowl-MVP versus the probable league MVP: it's going to be all about the quarterbacks, all game long.
Bryan: 26 times in Super Bowl history, the coin has come up tails. That includes the last three games in a row, five out of eight Patriots Super Bowl appearances, and Atlanta's one Super Bowl appearance. Random chance, or an NFL conspiracy to weight the commemorative coins so that heads comes up less often? My tinfoil hat and I are picking tails.
Andrew: Tails, tails, never fails.
New England Patriots (-125)
Atlanta Falcons (-105)
Bryan: Ah, here we go -- here's something we can sink our teeth into.
The Patriots won the coin toss seven times this year. They deferred six times, and chose to receive once, in the AFC Championship Game. The Falcons won the coin toss nine times, and deferred eight times -- only receiving one kick, back in Week 7, an overtime loss to San Diego. Considering the Patriots have opted to receive more recently, and won the game where they chose to do so, I'm going to say that's a slight bias towards New England getting the ball first.
In situations with the score tied -- and when drives aren't ended by time constraints at the end of the second or fourth quarters -- the Patriots scored on 60 percent of their drives this year, well above average. The Falcons only scored on 58.1 percent of their drives in the same circumstances -- above average, but not as often as the Patriots managed.
That being said, when you have two potent offenses going at it, this is very close to a toss-up. At even odds, I'd take the Patriots, but with the Falcons being the cheaper bet here, I'll pick Atlanta.
Andrew: As you astutely point out, the Patriots will probably opt to receive if they win the toss while Atlanta will probably opt to defer if they do. The Patriots will score first, but it'll be a Stephen Gostkowski field go... rubbish, that's the next prop.
Field Goal or Safety (+135)
Bryan: In New England's 18 games this season, scoring began with a touchdown 10 times, a field goal seven times and a safety once. Atlanta was much more touchdown-happy, with 15 games putting the ball in the end zone first. Now, Atlanta's defense has improved, so there's a higher chance they could stop New England from marching down the field now than there was in, say, October, but that chance just isn't high enough for me. Someone's taking the ball, and they're going to score. Touchdown.
Andrew: It'll be a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, as the Patriots test some different strategies against the young Falcons defense but stall out on fourth-and-medium in field goal range.
Bryan: I've got Atlanta scoring first but New England winning in my other bets. I could hedge here, but I think I'll double down and go no.
Andrew: No, because New England will curse themselves for settling for the field goal -- as so many other coaches in these playoffs have -- when Atlanta scores a touchdown and leaves them playing catch-up for the rest of the game.
New England Patriots (-115)
Atlanta Falcons (-115)
Bryan: This is really going to be decided by the flow of the game more than anything else, I think. One possibility -- and the one I think is most probable -- is New England sitting on a small two-score lead; say, 10 points or so. That could see them playing a softer defense as Atlanta marches down to score late in the game as they try to come back. Whether they succeed at getting all the way back or not, that could easily be the final score. Atlanta.
Andrew: Atlanta, either to ice the game with a Matt Bryant field goal or as you describe as part of an attempted comeback.
Patriots by 1-6 points (+350)
Patriots by 7-12 points (+550)
Patriots by 13-18 points (+700)
Patriots by 19-24 points (+900)
Patriots by 25-30 points (+1600)
Patriots by 31-36 points (+2500)
Patriots by 37-42 points (+4000)
Patriots by 43+ points (+5000)
Falcons by 1-6 points (+400)
Falcons by 7-12 points (+650)
Falcons by 13-18 points (+900)
Falcons by 19-24 points (+1400)
Falcons by 25-30 points (+2500)
Falcons by 31-36 points (+4000)
Falcons by 37-42 points (+6600)
Falcons by 43+ points (+7500)
Bryan: Well, let's see. I'm predicting the Patriots win, so I can kind of ignore the second half of these bets. I'm not predicting a blowout, so I can get rid of most of those double-digit scenarios; the Falcons score too many points for me to really see them losing by 20 or 30.
For that matter, all of the Falcons' five losses this year came by single digits; they were never blown out. Two of them came by seven and nine points (to the Buccaneers back in Week 1 and to the Eagles on the road in Week 10), so either of the first two options seems palatable. The better odds on Patriots by 7-12 points lure me in, so I'm going with that.
Andrew: The best super-close-game odds are the Falcons by 1-6, so that's what I'm going with. If the Falcons win, that's what I'd expect the margin to be. If the Patriots win, the margin could be just about anything south of 20 points.
1st Quarter (+400)
2nd Quarter (+140)
3rd Quarter (+400)
4th Quarter (+250)
Bryan: The odds are slimmest for the second quarter, which makes sense -- neither team is likely to be out of the game there, so they'll still be trying; there's the two-minute warning that gives teams an extra timeout; they'll be racing to finish drives before the end of the half and using their timeouts to give them as much time with the ball as possible. The second quarter is very likely to be the highest scoring; the question is whether the odds are good enough to gamble elsewhere.
New England and Atlanta were No. 1 and 2 in points scored in both the first and third quarters, actually, making those +400 lines very juicy indeed. New England wasn't that effective in the second quarter this season, averaging only 6.8 points per game. Atlanta's high-powered offense meant that the two teams combined for the most points in the second quarter, but it's not by nearly as much as the odds would have you believe.
On the other hand, New England was the stingiest first-quarter defense in the league this season, allowing just 1.9 points per game. They were stingy all the time, of course, but they were especially good in the opening frame. Perhaps that's preparation, or maybe that's because other teams were trying to avoid a big mistake early against a dominant team like New England. Either way, it's enough for me. While I think the second quarter's likely to be the highest scoring one, I'll take the juicer odds for the third quarter.
Andrew: The advantage for the second and fourth quarter, of course, is that teams usually start those quarters mid-drive and possibly already in scoring range, whereas the first and third usually start with the ball at one team's own 25-ish. I think it'll be the second quarter, because the first frame will see a couple of slow-paced drives and a lot of scripted "feeling out" plays before things really get moving in the second. The last five minutes of the second quarter could take about half an hour as the teams go at it hammer-and-tongs.
Julio Jones (+750)
Devonta Freeman (+800)
Julian Edelman (+800)
LeGarrette Blount (+800)
Tevin Coleman (+1200)
Chris Hogan (+1200)
Dion Lewis (+1200)
Martellus Bennett (+1200)
Mohamed Sanu (+1400)
Taylor Gabriel (+1600)
James White (+1800)
Malcolm Mitchell (+1800)
Austin Hooper (+2200)
Danny Amendola (+2200)
Tom Brady (+2500)
Matt Ryan (+2800)
Justin Hardy (+3300)
Levine Toilolo (+3300)
Eric Weems (+6600)
Joshua Perkins (+6600)
Any Other Touchdown Scorer (+550)
Bryan: There are three different bets I like here. I had Atlanta scoring first, and Tevin Coleman's +1200 odds seem surprisingly low; he scored 13 touchdowns this year, second on the team behind Devonta Freeman's 15. I also like James White as a long shot at +1800 if you want to go with a flyer.
But no -- Atlanta spreads their touchdowns around too much. Five different Falcons scored six or more touchdowns this year -- Freeman, Coleman, Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu. That's too much variety for me to bet on any single one of them, so I'll hedge my "who scored first" bet and pick a Patriot. LeGarrette Blount scored 19 of New England's touchdowns; no one else on the team scored more than seven. The Falcons only allowed 15 rushing touchdowns and some of Blount's scores came with New England nursing large leads, but he scores so many of New England's touchdowns, I have to go with him. Of course, that was the same logic that led me to taking him in the Staff Playoff Challenge, and that hasn't really paid off...
Andrew: I'm doubling down on Mohamed Sanu, who may or may not draw Malcolm Butler depending how the Patriots approach Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel. I fancy Sanu to get Logan Ryan as Taylor Gabriel gets Butler and Jones gets double coverage. I need Sanu for the staff playoff fantasy challenge, and that's about the best-case scenario for enabling him to do so.
Over 52.5 (-115)
Under 52.5 (-115)
Bryan: New England does not score by the bomb; they're more methodical, marching down the field. We remember Dion Lewis' kickoff return against Houston in the playoffs, but that's one of just six touchdowns that would meet this criteria. They also did not allow a single score of 53 or more yards against them -- slow and steady, that's their motto. You'd think Atlanta would be more explosive, but they only have seven long touchdowns. They're longer than the Patriots, on average, but 53 yards is a pretty tall task; plays like the one where Julio Jones simply refused to be tackled against Green Bay are the exception rather than the rule. I'll take the under.
Andrew: Yeah, this seems an excessively high over/under. The Patriots are focused on short passing on offense, and on preventing chunk plays on defense. The most likely way for a play this long to happen is something like Baltimore or Pittsburgh blowing coverage on Chris Hogan, and we can't rely on something like that from defenses outside the AFC North. Under for me.
Over 1.5 (EVEN)
Under 1.5 (-130)
Bryan: For a while there, Tom Brady was near-perfect on quarterback sneaks, which would be a good way to score on this prop. Over the last couple seasons, however, he has been stuffed with greater regularity, making this a more open bet in my book.
Of course, for a 1-yard touchdown to happen, someone has to be stopped at the 1. That's probably trickier than actually scoring the ensuing points! If it does happen, though, then a score is very likely -- the Falcons have nine 1-yard touchdowns this year, and the Patriots have done it 13 times. I'll say someone stumbles at the 1, and plunges in on the next play. Under.
Andrew: "Pass interference, defense. The foul occurred in the end zone, so the ball will be spotted at the 1-yard line." Touchdown, LeGarrette Blount. Under.
Over 47.5 yards (-115)
Under 47.5 yards (-115)
Bryan: In a stadium with a roof, you're likely to see longer field goals attempted, and Matt Bryant has booted seven field goals of 48 yards or longer this season. The question I have, then, is whether either defense will be able to stop their opponents in long field goal range, and I'm going to say under -- I expect far more touchdowns than field goals in this one.
Andrew: That's the sort of range, in a possible track meet, in which teams should be looking at going for it rather than kicking unless the down-and-distance is completely prohibitive. Under, for me.
Over 25.5 yards (-115)
Under 25.5 yards (-115)
Bryan: Ah, the coward's award! Who stares the end zone at point blank range and blinks. The Falcons actually kicked seven chip-shots this year, with the Patriots settling for just four, with two of those happening before Tom Brady returned. This is the Super Bowl! It's time to be bold! No short field goals for anyone. Give me the over.
Andrew: I could see the Falcons getting to goal line, being blown up on two runs, and settling for the field goal after a third-and-7 incompletion like happened to the Steelers. Actually, that isn't happening two games in a row. Cowardice is not the path to success in these playoffs, so I'll join you in taking the over.
Bryan: I'm crossing out Dion Lewis right now. He is yet to outrush Blount in one game, and it would be odd if the Super Bowl was the first time that happened. Weird things do occur, and Blount could get hurt, but I don't think Lewis will lead his own team, much less the game in general.
New England has the tougher run defense, and they're likelier to be playing from the lead. Both of those facts will limit what the Falcons' running backs do on the ground; plus, they're more of a rushing platoon than New England uses. I'm going with Blount, for the sake of my Staff Playoffs Team if nothing else.
Andrew: We should probably go back to disagreeing at some point, but yes LeGarrette Blount, against Atlanta's run defense, is by far the most appealing of these four options. It's gotta be him.
Julio Jones (+175)
Julian Edelman (+200)
Chris Hogan (+600)
Taylor Gabriel (+750)
Mohamed Sanu (+1000)
Devonta Freeman (+1200)
Martellus Bennett (+1400)
Tevin Coleman (+1600)
Dion Lewis (+1600)
James White (+1600)
Austin Hooper (+2500)
Bryan: It's probably going to be Julio Jones, but you don't win by going for the probables! I'll go out on a limb and go with Tevin Coleman thanks to a very long scamper. At +1600 odds, that almost clinches a win for me if I'm right, and it covers me some for all those "no, there won't be any long touchdowns" bets earlier if Coleman takes a screen 80 yards or something.
Andrew: I need Mohamed Sanu for the Staff Playoff Fantasy league, so let's go for it! Mohamed Sanu will be the only receiver to go over 100 yards in the game, as he's fed catch after catch in the short game. Julio Jones will be the focus of the Patriots pass defense to keep him off the top spot, the Patriots will run LeGarrette Blount a lot, and otherwise everything will be spread around on both offenses. That gives Sanu a chance, even if it's not a very good one.
No Turnover in Game (+650)
Bryan: The Patriots play in more fumble-prone games; half of their matchups had a fumble or a muff as the first turnover. Atlanta, on the other hand, plays aerial assault games; ten times their first turnover came when someone aired the ball out. Even with two quarterbacks this good, I think high-scoring games favor the ball being thrown around more, which increases the odds of an interception being thrown.
Bryan: No Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime, and the Patriots avoided overtime in every single game this year. The Falcons only went to overtime once. When there's lots of scoring, there's a lot of variance in the actual number of points scored, especially now that the extra point is less of a sure thing. While it's boring to bet on no, it's the right bet. No.
Andrew: Agreed. While I think it's a coin-flip game, I don't think it'll be level at full time. Plus I'd quite like to sleep at some point that night. No to overtime!
Bryan: It's too bad the Steelers didn't make the Super Bowl; this would be a gimme. As it stands, the Patriots only attempted a two-point conversion twice this year, though some of that's a factor of simply not being in close games. The Falcons, on the other hand, have attempted six and had to defend against 12; no team faced more two-point conversion attempts than the Falcons did this year. Atlanta games feature a two-point conversion attempt about two-thirds of the time; New England games feature a two-point conversion attempt about one-third of the time. Split the difference, call it a 50/50 chance, and take the better odds. Yes!
Andrew: Somebody's going to miss an extra point, and go for two in an attempt to get that point back. Or somebody's going to regret kicking two field goals, and go for two in an attempt to make up the missing point. Yes, a two-point conversion will be attempted.
Bryan: Stephen Gostkowski is 46-for-49 on extra points this season, for 93.9 percent. Matt Bryant is closer to perfect, going 56-for-57 for 98.2 percent. Gostkowski has been a little shakier at times -- remember, he missed an extra point in the AFC Championship -- but we're indoors here, and the odds aren't quite high enough for me to go for yes. No.
Andrew: I keep getting to the next prop before I've actually gotten to the next prop. Yes, somebody will, at some point, miss an extra point.
Bryan: This is pretty much solely based on game situation -- I doubt we'll see another Sean Payton-esque surprise onside kick. That being said, I could definitely see one team scoring late, still trailing, and desperately trying to get the ball back. Sure! Yes.
Andrew: Chances are nobody's going to trust their defense to hold, so either there will be a surprise onside as an attempt to steal a possession or there will be a desperation onside in an attempt to get back into the game. Yes, there will be an onside kick.
Bryan: Fake field goals and fake punts do not count for this prop, which I protest. Strenuously! In protest, I'm saying no, and shaking my fist in the air dramatically.
Andrew: There won't be enough defense played for those plays to also contribute points, and Dion Lewis used up his kick return Madden card in the wild-card round. No, there won't be a defensive or special teams score.
Over 310.5 (-125)
Under 310.5 (-105)
Bryan: 311 yards is quite a bunch! The Falcons only let Philip Rivers and Drew Brees (twice) top that against them. Brady's not your average quarterback by any means, but even he failed to hit this mark in half his games this season. I'll take the under.
Andrew: You know, ordinarily I'd have no problem taking the over for this prop, but there's a decent chance the Patriots simply run all over the Falcons defense and Brady doesn't reach 30 pass attempts. If the Patriots are in the lead, which most people expect them to be, then that's doubly true. I've talked myself into the under, disappointingly.
Over 89.5 (-125)
Under 89.5 (-105)
Bryan: 90 receiving yards was a bit more common; the Falcons saw eight different receivers top that against them this season. That being said, expecting any one Patriot to have the lion's share of the receiving yards is a fool's errand; Edelman is certainly capable of topping 90 yards, but so is Martellus Bennett or Chris Hogan. I'm sticking with the under.
Andrew: Total yards, including punt returns, sure. Receiving only? Nah, if I'm taking Brady to stay under 300 then I'm taking Edelman to stay around 80. Under.
Over 6.5 (-105)
Under 6.5 (-125)
Bryan: Oh, this is one is really hard -- I figured we had to have a defensive stat in place, but tackles and assists are so hard to predict. In addition, Hightower is dealing with a shoulder injury, and it's possible he won't suit up for the Super Bowl -- or, at least, that he'll be less effective. Either way, I'm sticking to the under on this one, as well.
Andrew: If he plays then I'll take the over as Hightower plugs gaps in the Falcons' zone-read running attack. If he doesn't play, what happens then? All bets are off, I guess.
Over 2 (-105)
Under 2 (-125)
Bryan: Whole numbers are terrible for over/under bets! Blah!
Matty Ice was taken down three or more times in a game on seven separate occasions this year, though the Chargers needed overtime to do it. The Patriots have had six three-sack days themselves, and if the Falcons are passing to try to catch up, that could mean more sacks. Over!
Andrew: The Falcons have a terrific line and the Patriots rush is more about responsibilities than sacks. They'll be watching out for draws and delays, not attacking Matt Ryan at breakneck speed. Under.
Over 310.5 (-125)
Under 310.5 (-105)
Bryan: Only three quarterbacks have topped this mark against the Patriots this season: Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, and Ryan Tannehill. Matt Ryan has been better than all three this season, though, putting this prop in play. Still, 311 yards is a lot… I'll go with the under one more time.
Andrew: For the Falcons to win Ryan will probably need to have a big day, and if the Patriots are winning the Falcons are likely to be playing catch-up which means lots of passing yards. I have Ryan as my MVP, so over it is.
Over 54.5 (-125)
Under 54.5 (-105)
Bryan: New England does often seem to give opposition running backs somewhere around 80 yards; nine different backs have topped 55 yards against them this season. Freeman's in something of a platoon with Tevin Coleman, but he's clearly the leader of that platoon on the ground, averaging 67.4 yards per game. I'll take the over.
Andrew: Yeah, that seems like a very low target for the primary back on an offense built around the run game, which also happens to be the best offense in the game right now. Even against New England, I think 70 yards for Freeman is an entirely realistic target. Over.
Over 95.5 (-140)
Under 95.5 (+110)
Bryan: I saw a headline on NFL Network the other day that said the Patriots' game plan would be to stop Julio Jones. That's not a game plan; that's a goal. They might as well have said "the Patriots game plan is to score more points than the Falcons." Talk about how you're going to stop him, not just that you will.
That being said, only four receivers have gone over 100 yards against the Patriots this season: Antonio Brown, Quincy Enunwa, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker. None have done it since November, either -- the Patriots defense has been improving and clamping down on opponents. Julio Jones is really, really good, and against an average defense, I'd buy that he'd do it. If the Patriots do win like I'm predicting, however, then clearly their "game plan" of shutting Jones down was successful, so I'll go with the under.
Andrew: Jones will get his catches, and will get his yards too, but I think a successful day for New England is around 70 or 80 yards. Of course, the Falcons star is also dealing with a toe injury and probably won't be quite 100 percent even with a fortnight's rest. I'll stick to the under on a total I think is around 15 yards too high.
Over 1.5 (-130)
Under 1.5 (EVEN)
Bryan: The Patriots have given up two or more sacks nine times this season, but three of those were before Tom Brady came back from suspension; he's slightly better at avoiding sacks than Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett. The Falcons, however, are very good at racking up sacks; they have gotten at least two in 13 of their 18 games so far this season. That money line isn't too high for me; let's put Brady on his back! Over.
Andrew: How do you like your tea, Mr. Brady? One lump, or two? Let's give him two. Over.
Over 1.5 (Even)
Under 1.5 (-140)
Bryan: It's important to note that this does not include halftime, just kickoff to final whistle during actual gameplay. That's an important point, because the halftime show could put this over 1.5 without trying.
I think this comes down to how competitive the game will be; if the game is close down to the wire, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman won't have time to prattle on about deflategate or any other side stories. With Buck's recent trend towards Al Michaelisms when it comes to talking about overs and unders, I think we're more likely to get a sly reference than an outright statement of "Hey! Deflategate!" Oh, please let me be right about this; I am tired of hearing about it. Under 1.5.
Andrew: Have fun with that. I'll be listening to the National Radio feed on Game Pass; the dangerous temptation to mention the stupidity of Deflategate is one of the reasons I won't listen to the TV broadcast. Under.
Over 2 minutes, 15 seconds (Even)
Under 2 minutes, 15 seconds (-140)
Bryan: This isn't Luke Bryan's first rodeo! Figuratively speaking; this is a football game. I'm sure Luke Bryan has been to many rodeos, of which this is not one. Anyway, what I'm saying is that he has been asked to sing the National Anthem before a major event before, including the 2012 MLB All-Star Game and the 2012 GEICO 400. He also performs it semi-regularly on tour, apparently. I know. I listened to far too many renditions of Bryan belting out the Star Spangled Banner, and my conclusion: I'm not a fan of Luke Bryan.
More to the point, he usually clocks in somewhere closer to the 1:55 mark when singing the national anthem, though I've noticed a trend going longer as time has gone on; he was at a crisp 1:40 back in 2008 and has begun holding those notes longer and longer. If that trend continues, this could be close, but I'm trusting Bryan to keep it short and to the point -- and under the time limit.
Andrew: Over, so I have more time to boil the kettle for my customary first-quarter cuppa. It's the Super Bowl, and that means holding the word "free" for longer than the actual defense of Fort McHenry.
Also, who is Luke Bryan?
Born This Way (+225)
Bad Romance (+250)
Edge of Glory (+600)
Poker Face (+1000)
Just Dance (+1000)
Any Other Song (+110)
Bryan: According to Setlist.fm, the track Gaga opened up with the most in 2016 was "Million Reasons." It's her most recent single, too, so that makes a lot of sense that she would play it, so maybe Any Other Song is the way to go. The problem, however, is that "Million Reasons" is more of a slow ballad than an opening rocker, and that's an odd way to start a halftime show. It's also stalled on the charts, peaking at number 52 -- it would certainly be a way to get the song more attention, but maybe she'll go with something a bit more memorable to open a huge show like this. Her opener for her 2014 tour, "ARTPOP," is a bit catchier, but she apparently hasn't performed it in concert since 2014.
Instead, I'm going with her starting off with "Bad Romance" as something everyone in the audience will recognize, and segueing it in a medley to "Born This Way" and "You and I" for her more political statements. Book it!
Andrew: She's going to start with an overblown, sampled, and frankly terrible cover of "Radio Gaga" by Queen, because that's the only way I'd recognize anything she does. So put me down for Any Other Song, just because.
Any Other Color (+300)
Bryan: ...I have no idea. Blonde. That's a hair color!
Andrew: Pink, as a political statement. Or something as a political statement. She's going to be political, at least subtly if not overtly. Hair color will be part of it. For prop purposes, that's Any Other Color.
Bryan: The use of the word "liquid" is disturbing here. Are there odds that the winning coach will be drenched with a bucket of gravy? Spaghetti sauce? Liquid nitrogen? Let's stick to sports drinks.
In the Patriots' four Super Bowl wins, they passed on the Gatorade shower twice, went with water in Super Bowl XXXIX, and went blue in Super Bowl XLIX. Blue's got pretty long odds, so why not? They are the only team in recent memory to have gone with blue; orange has been the color of choice at four of the past seven Super Bowls. Can't change up that winning sports drink formula, though, so blue it is.
Andrew: Orange you glad I made this awful joke, so you don't have to?
Donald Trump (+2000)
Does not mention any of the above (+250)
Bryan: Oh, I so wanted a "Goodell" bet for some classic Tom Brady snark, but that's apparently not on the board. The coach and owner are usually both on stage when this award is given out, so I'll say that Brady or Ryan or Jones or whoever will make sure to thank their coach before moving on.
Andrew: It's so dependent on who the MVP actually is. I picked Matt Ryan, so I'll go with him thanking his teammates.
Bryan: With a historic over/under, there are a couple props as to whether or not records will be shattered this year. The record for combined points in a Super Bowl happened in one of the blowouts -- the San Francisco 49ers' 49-26 romp over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. I have fond memories of that one; it was the game where Steve Young got Joe Montana's monkey off his back and all that. Good times! Bad times when you remember there no longer is a team named the San Diego Chargers.
For that reason, and that reason only, I'm voting no. The San Diego Chargers will remain in the record books! Take that, Dean Spanos.
Andrew: I already picked the game to finish under 60 points, and I'm even more comfortable picking it to stay under 76. You're basically asking if at least one team will go over 40 points, which is a lot. If the Patriots get half of 76, they'll probably be in clock-killing mode. If the Falcons get half of 76, this game is going to be nuts. Still, I'm taking no quite comfortably.
Bryan: The record of 414 yards was set by Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner also owns the second- and third-highest passing totals in Super Bowl history, and is second all-time behind Brady, despite playing in three fewer games.
Brady's Super Bowl high-water mark is 354, set in this same stadium in Super Bowl XXXVIII -- another high-scoring thriller of a game that the Patriots won 32-29 over the Panthers. That's still 60 yards short of the record, though. Brady hasn't thrown for 415 or more yards in a game since Week 2 of last season, and he has only managed it six times in his career. It seems unlikely Brady will do it, especially if the Patriots end up winning.
So we turn to Matt Ryan, who put up 503 passing yards back in Week 4, a 48-33 win over Carolina. By DVOA, New England has a worse passing defense than Carolina does, even if they haven't allowed a 400-yard day yet this season. I think Ryan has a shot, but it's a very slim one and requires a pretty specific set of game circumstances. "Yes" is the right bet if you think it has even a 10 percent chance of happening… but I don't. No..
Andrew: I'd give it a 10 percent chance of happening, if the Patriots get a decent lead and stymie the Falcons rushing attack. I'm not comfortable saying it will, but I'm comfortable with a 10 percent chance, so what the heck? Yes, Matt Ryan will break the record as the game MVP. I'm all in!
Matt Ryan TD Passes (-120)
Total Goals scored in the Leicester vs ManU game (-120)
Bryan: Football versus football! America versus Britain! Culture wars! Leicester isn't very good this year, so they're going to allow a ton of goals. Soccer! with three goals, Ryan with two touchdown passes.
Andrew: Hah, right. This game's going to finish 1-0, because Leicester are still without Riyad Mahrez and United are managed by Jose Mourinho. Matt Ryan will score more touchdowns in the first half than this game will have in the full 90 minutes.
Patriots Total Points Scored (-140)
Russell Westbrook Points Scored (EVEN)
Bryan: Russell Westbrook, who I am reliably informed is a basketball player of some description, is playing versus the Cavs on the Super Bowl Sunday. He averages 21.2 points against the Cavs in his career, but is up to 30.7 points per game so far this season. That's pretty good! I think! At least, it sounds good, and no one else is doing that well, so that's nice. I'm still taking the Patriots.
Andrew: Russell Westbrook? I thought the Eagles had replaced him with Darren Sproles. Umm... Patriots, I think, based on a lot of stuff you just said. Couldn't you have picked hockey instead?
Sacks by the Falcons in the game (-175)
Alex Ovechkin points (+135)
Bryan: FINE, we'll do hockey. We need a Canadian here to really get this with any degree of certainty. The Capitals are playing the Red Wings on Super Bowl Sunday, and I already said the Falcons will get over 1.5 sacks, so we're asking if Ovechkin will get three points. I think he'll get more like one point, but that's some nice odds on him. Still, he has only gotten three points three times this season, and two points eight times. I'll take the Falcons, even with the negative odds.
Andrew: Crap. Ovechkin's averaging one point per game and we're both basically asking if he'll score three. Yeah, I'll take the over just to make life interesting. Then maybe start watching hockey again after the Super Bowl.
Bryan Enjoy the props and, less importantly, the game!
(Wait, did you come to Scramble for the Ball to get results on the various playoff competitions? You can find the scores for the Playoff Challenge right here. Next week, we'll go through the staff playoff fantasy draft and Best of the Rest teams when we bring you the 2016 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team.)
17 comments, Last at 31 Jan 2017, 3:09pm by Andrew Potter