Patriot fever has swept the ranks of NFL fans this season. New England is on pace to become the highest scoring team in NFL history (averaging over 39 points per game thus far), and 17 NFL records have already been tied or broken by the team or individual players this season. Of course, the holy grail of NFL records, the undefeated season, is within reach and is all but destined according to the majority of football commentators in the media.
In terms of Superbowl futures, linesmakers have installed the Patriots as slight favorites against the field, laying 6-to-5 or worse. That means you can take the whole rest of the NFL at even money or better. While the masses will gladly partake in the Tom Brady-flavored Kool-Aid, it is worth taking a look at going against the grain and betting against the Pats to win the Superbowl at the current prices.
The Pats are a lock for the playoffs, and barring a complete meltdown, will hold home field advantage up until the Superbowl. So we can essentially ignore the rest of the regular season and look only at the Patriot's playoff possibilities. Keep in mind that betting a team at even money to win 3 games in a row (2 playoff games and the Superbowl) implies an average probability of nearly 80% of winning each game. Converted to a moneyline, this is -400, or a game spread of about -11 or -12. And taking the Patriots to win the Superbowl means you are parlaying the AFC Conference, AFC Divisional and Superbowl games, laying about 4-to-1 in each.
To put this in perspective, 80% wins is a 13-3 season in the NFL, an elite level of performance. And while the Patriots are certainly a 13-3-type team this year, could they go 13-3 facing only playoff-caliber teams? This is a prime of example of "irrational exuberance" among NFL traders. Of course, Belichick coincidentally happens to hold a 13-3 career playoff record, but the NFL postseason has held plenty of surprises in the past, and there is no reason to think this year will be much different. History has taught us that most teams come back to earth at some point, when "reversion to the mean" catches up to them. It is nearly impossible to continue the blistering pace the Patriots have set for themselves this season.
While apparently one of the best teams to take an NFL field in decades, the Patriots are still far from a perfect squad. They have only an average rushing game (15th in the league in yards per carry), although it could be argued that they haven't really needed to use it. A resurgent Sammy Morris has been sidelined, and Laurence Maroney has broken 80 yards only once this year (against the Bills), much to the chagrin of many fantasy football owners.
The Pats are also slightly below average in their rushing defense (tied for 19th in the league in yards allowed per rush), which is especially surprising considering their high-powered, quick-score offense that should be forcing teams to throw. A team with a strong secondary and decent rushing game, Pittsburgh or Indianapolis for instance, could match up well in the playoffs by shutting down the Patriots aerial attack and using old-fashioned ground control football to grind out a win. With the high level of coaching talent in the NFL, it will be surprising if no one figures out how to beat this team by the time the Superbowl rolls around. In fact, this is starting to look very similar to Superbowl XXXVI, when the seemingly unstoppable offensive juggernaut of the Rams came in as double-digit favorites, only to see their offensive scheme dismantled by none other than Bill Belichick. Now that the tables are turned, expect opposing coaches to come up with many innovative game plans to attack the Patriots' high-scoring passing game.
New England has already beaten two of their potential postseason opponents on the road, Indianapolis and Dallas, though it could be argued that the Colts outplayed New England and should have won that game. Only a monumental defensive laydown by the Colts, resulting in 2 Tom Brady TDs in a 4 minute span, allowed New England to preserve their pristine record. Based on the closing line in the last game, New England would be 11-12 point favorites if facing Indy at home, although the play of the game last week suggests that the line was too high. Of course, the Pats could also end up facing Pittsburgh in the playoffs, another very strong team that could be a tough match-up, though we will get to preview it in week 14. Dallas, though being beaten handily by New England in Week 6, should improve by January and it is difficult seeing them getting 10 points in the Superbowl (if they make it that far).
The bottom line is that the line on the Patriots winning the Superbowl is just too high. The Patriots, or any NFL team for that matter, can't reasonably be expected to win at an 80% clip in the playoffs If you are buying the hype that New England is the most dominant team in NFL history, then by all means lay the -120 on New England to win the Superbowl. I think that is giving any team too much credit considering the parity and randomness inherent in the modern NFL era. Taking a contrarian standpoint in the NFL has always paid dividends, and there is nothing more contrarian this year than fading a seemingly invincible Patriots team down the stretch.
Ed.'s note: Bettors can make a wager on the early Superbowl line posted at all the Jazette books (such as Sportsbook.com and Belmont.com). The line isn't available during NFL Sundays, but at last check the line was AFC -16.5/NFC +16.5.
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