One of the traditional betting features of Super Bowl Sunday is the huge array of proposition (prop) bets that are devised by the bookmakers to tempt seasoned or causal bettors alike to bet on varying aspects of the season’s final game. What are Super Bowl prop bets and do they offer value? Read on to find out.
Super Bowl prop bets range from individual player or team based over or under bets to outcomes that are largely peripheral to the main event. The length of time it takes to sing the National Anthem or the setlist for the halftime entertainment are typical of such bets, along with predicting the pre-game coin toss.
Many bets will offer poor value, most notably the odds on offer for the coin flip, where typically each of the two outcomes are priced up at a shade of odds on. This type of bet offers some pregame interest, but no opportunity to spot a betting edge and a value wager.
Can you find value in Super Bowl prop bets?
With such a large number of Super Bowl prop bets available, often with limited data available on lower profile participants, there may be some occasions where a bet may offer value.
The NFL is a data-rich sport and individual player or aggregated team stats are readily available throughout the internet, but there are a few pitfalls that lie in wait for anyone trying to process such data.
A typical game based prop bet will comprise of whether a particular quarterback will throw over or under a number of passing attempts and while it seems sensible to average the number of passing attempts made by the quarterback over the season, a single atypically large or small single game value may skew this calculation.
Taking the median value, rather than the mean, lessens the impact of outliers and while mean and median values are often close, variations do happen.
The median value, which is found by taking the middle value once the data is arranged in ascending order, also helps to account for matches where the player may have only been a partial participant, through either injury or being benched.
The disconnection between mean and median is usually at its greatest when samples are smaller. For example, Chris Hogan, New England’s wide receiver has been inactive for part of the 2017 season and he gained a total of just one yard in a late-season appearance in Miami, but 78 total yards in week two’s visit to New Orleans - his mean yardage per game is 42 yards, but his median is 60.
This information contrasts with tight end Rob Gronkowski, a more regular participant, whose mean total receiving yards per game of 79, tallies with his median score of 80. Therefore, it may be more difficult for bookmakers to be confident about their assessment of Hogan compared to Gronkowski.
Why game tactics matter for Super Bowl prop bets
Another consideration when it comes to Super Bowl prop bets should be the game’s likely winning side.
Generally, the winning side tends to play more conservatively by running rather than passing if they are leading in the game in the NFL. From a typical recent regular season in games decided by a touchdown or fewer points the winning team made 31 passing attempts compared to 34 for their defeated rivals. Similarly, the winners ran the ball 31 times compared to just 28 by their opponent.
This tactic of ball protection and clock management when leading carries over into passing yardage. Sunday’s game is expected to be closely contested on the scoreboard and historically teams winning such contests have accrued around 20 fewer passing yards compared to their defeated rivals.
Since Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl appearance, the winning Super Bowl quarterback has thrown more passing yardage in just six out of the 16 games and made more passing attempts on just five occasions.
This of course doesn’t preclude the barely believable performance and comeback engineered by Brady last year against Atlanta, when, as the winning quarterback, Brady broke the Super Bowl record for the most pass attempts, the most pass completions and the most passing yards.
Brady’s efforts in overcoming a 25-point deficit, more typically end in defeat for the trailing side and New England’s chances of winning Super Bowl LI fell to single percentage points prior to Brady’s remarkable comeback and Atlanta’s equally improbable capitulation.
Why you shouldn’t overlook the importance of defence
A final and often neglected aspect of Super Bowl prop bets is the influence of the defence, mainly because it is rarer to find data in a readily available format that is expressed from a defensive viewpoint.
As an example, Tom Brady’s median gross passing yardage, regular and postseason in 2017 was 278.5 yards. However, on Sunday he faces a Philadelphia defence that has allowed a median of just 233 yards per game.
While it is understandable that estimates for Brady’s passing performance will concentrate on his seasonal achievements, it should also be viewed in relation to how well Philadelphia have restricted opposing quarterbacks during their run to the Super Bowl.
Brady has thrown a median of 37 passing attempts in 2017, the same number that Philadelphia’s defence has faced, but whereas Brady’s completion rate is 24.5 per game, the defence he’ll face on Sunday has allowed a median of just 21.5.
Brady is the game’s best quarterback, but he will face one of this season’s best passing defences on Sunday.
A final popular market is to identify the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player.
New England’s Tom Brady continued the understandable trend of Super Bowl MVPs coming from the victorious team in Super Bowl 51 and since 2000 11 of the 18 winners have been quarterbacks, followed by three wide receivers, four linebackers and one safety (Brady is the current outright favourite at 1.684*).
See Pinnacle’s full list of Super Bowl prop bets here.