Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Strangely Unmoving SB Spread

Once and Future Shake
Here's a telling point about the upcoming Super Bowl game: the spread has barely moved since action started last week. If you bet the game the second it hit the board, you got Patriots -3 and a 58.5 point over / under. As I write this, you can get the exact same odds. (Last week, we took the Patriots to cover and the under, barely, with little confidence. Rather than tell you to go read that again, go check out this link, which has More Actual Game Analysis, and the writer is actually over .500 on his picks for the year. We overthink these things.)

Why is this telling? Because the line isn't just what the smarts who do this for a living feel will happen, which is a close and high-scoring game. It's also where the break-even point for gambling is occurring. Sportsbooks don't "care" who wins, so long as a relatively even amount of money is bet on both sides, with the service fees making the entire enterprise a license to print cash... but only so long as you can get that number right. What they hate is when injuries or uncertainty or a massive misread of the public sentiment causes them to move the line during the hype period, then having the game hit a brutal middle point where they are paying both sides. Like in 1979, which still makes spines in Vegas stiffen, nearly 40 years later.

Which brings us to the actual number itself. What's going on here, really? Is America so distracted by regime change (a factor that some believe contributed to the NFL's early season ratings woes) that they aren't putting their money on this game? Is the stock market's flirtations with 20,000 turning bettors into stock market forecasters?

Or, worse yet for the NFL's perspective, is this matchup so non-compelling -- yet another notch in the Patriots' championship belt versus an Atlanta team that has no national fan base, and historically, not even that much of a local one -- that it's keeping even the gambling public at bay?

Tangent Time! A word about prop bets... by all means, make a few. They're fun, like the $2 bets you might throw at the 99-1 nag at the horse track, and if you ever hit one, you'll never forget the c-note you made from the first scoring play being a safety.

But if you are truly treating serious brain cells or dollars (as in, any more than 10% of your overall spend on the game) to these, you might find yourself in a church basement, talking about how you lost the rent when the color of the Gatorade toss was yellow instead of blue. (Most telling prop bet? How all of the odds on the most touchdowns, points, yards, etc., are short. But I digress.)

So let's steer away from the politics and the possibility that this isn't a good match-up, because, frankly, neither of those possibilities are Any Fun At All, really. We watch the game to escape more serious matters, and to get to a happy day of gluttony and weight gain before months of Not Enough Sports. (Not for me, I love the NBA, and Joel Embiid is my Patronus. But probably not yours.)

In the final final final analysis, Patriots -3 and a point a minute over just seems like set in stone chalk because, well, it is. The nation is filled with people who want to see the Patriots lose... but it's also filled with people who have seen them win for the past decade and a half. The NFC is the better conference, and the Falcons beat better teams to get to the championship, but the Patriots have been here a billion times, and new teams don't usually win. Making the spread 3.5 would keep some money out; making it 2.5 would put way too much on the line for that last minute chip shot figgie that has been the coda for several Patriot SB wins. If you are looking for a push line -- and sportsbooks are *always* looking for a push line -- 3 points is your best possible bet, but one that occurs so often that it won't even get much comment.

If this line actually moves in the next few days, and there's no obvious injury or arrest news that causes it, you'll know that something seismic has happened to the betting professionals, and the late money is all moving highly in a direction that Vegas didn't anticipate. But if we had a chance to bet on that happening, the odds would be pretty damned high... because enough early money is already in, and the equation of this game such a known quantity, that the actuarial tables just don't see it happening.

(Unless, of course, Trump tweets something about the line. Then God help us all.)

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