Super Bowl XLIX Moneyline: Odds say it'll be mighty close but history doesn't agree...

The Moneyline says it'll be close but past results suggest it could get very one-sided

According to the betting this year's Super Bowl should be the closest in NFL history. Seattle's (+0.5) head start over New England is the smallest handicap the big game's seen in 49 outings. But what looks close on paper, hardly ever turns out that way, as our analyst Neil Harvey explains...

"The Superbowl is not a Rocky film. Whoever goes down early, almost never makes a dramatic comeback. On the contrary, history suggests that whoever lands the first big punch will go on to deliver the knockout blow."

New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Sunday February 1, 23:30
Live on Sky Sports & Channel 4

The Patriots versus the Seahawks is effectively being priced-up as a coin toss. And that's left many fans and pundits willing to study even the tiniest minutia in their search for the winner. But if you look back through NFL history, you'll discover that in fact, these 50/50 games are a lot more one-sided than we're led to believe. To find out why, first check out the four most evenly-priced games in Super Bowl history:

Superbowl VII (1973) - Miami Dolphins (-1) v Washington Redskins (Projected Points 33)
Score: Miami 14, Washington 7
Halftime Score: Miami 14, Washington 0 
Winning Bets: Favourite, Under
The only team in NFL history to go the entire season undefeated, the Miami Dolphins won it in unspectacular style. The slight favourites, Miami shot into a 14-0 half time lead. Clearly the odds compilers expected this to be very low-scoring, with a quote of 33 total points. That number was never in danger though, as just 21 were scored. 

Superbowl XVI (1982) -  San Francisco 49ers (-1) v Cincinnati  Bengals (48)
Score: San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21
Halftime Score: San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 0
Winning Bets: Favourite, Under
Favourites San Francisco raced into a 20-0 halftime lead. Cincinnati's comeback fell just short following a failed onside kick. The total points squeaked under the quote of 48.

Superbowl XLVI (2012) - New England Patriots (-2.5) v New York Giants (53)
Score: New England 17, N.Y. Giants 21
Halftime Score: New England 10, N.Y. Giants 9
Winning Bets: Outsider, Under
While it was New York who found the endzone first, it was favourites New England who responded to take a 10-9 halftime lead. Kicker Lawrence Tynes kept New York in contention with a couple of second half field goals before running back Ahmad Bradshaw ran in the winning score with just 57 seconds remaining. Once again the points total went under the quote. 

Superbowl XLVIII (2014) - Denver Broncos (-2.5) v Seattle Seahawks (47.5)
Score: Denver 8, Seattle 43
Halftime Score:  Denver 0, Seattle 22
Winning Bets: Outsider, Over
A one-way procession for Seattle, as the underdogs burst into a 22-0 lead at the break and didn't ease up en route to a 43-8 win. The points total went over on this occasion. One blowout win there and no results within a field goal. Just four fixtures is too small a sample though to read too much into. So let's add those games involving a three point handicap:

Superbowl IX (1975) - Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) v Minnesota Vikings (33)
Score: Pittsburgh 16, Minnesota 6
Halftime Score: Pittsburgh 2, Minnesota 0
Winning Bets: Favourite, Under

Superbowl XV (1981) - Philadelphia Eagles (-3) v Oakland Raiders (37.5)
Score:  Philadelphia 10, Oakland 27
Halftime Score: Philadelphia 3, Oakland 14
Winning Bets: Outsider, Under

Superbowl XVIII (1984) - Washington (-3) v L.A. Raiders (48)
Score: Washington 9, L.A. Raiders 38
Halftime Score: Washington 3, L.A. Raiders 21
Winning Bets: Outsider, Under

Superbowl XXII (1988) - Denver Broncos (-3) v Washington Redskins (47)
Score: Denver 10, Washington 42
Halftime Score: Denver 10, Washington 35
Winning Bets: Outsider, Over

Superbowl XXXV (2001) - Baltimore Ravens (-3) v New York Giants (33)
Score: Baltimore 34, N.Y. Giants 7
Halftime Score: Baltimore 10, N.Y. Giants 0
Winning Bets: Favourite, Over

Superbowl XLV (2011) - Green Bay Packers (-3) v Pittsburgh Steelers (45)
Score: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25
Halftime Score: Green Bay 21, Pittsburgh 25
Winning Bets: Favourite, Over


So by pooling the data from all ten games, what we get are the following results:

Winner: Favourites 5, Outsiders 5
Total Points:  Under 6, Over 4
Team leading at H/T goes on to win: Yes 9, No 1
H/T lead gets bigger by F/T: Yes 6, No 4
Average margin of victory: 17.2 points
No. of times winning margin three points or less: 0
Highest Scoring Half: First 4, Second 5 (1 tie)

Essentially what we discover from this information is that prior to kick-off choosing the winner really is a coin toss. We have no insight into who'll win, into how many points there'll be, or in which half they'll come.

But that does not mean that the result will be close. Of ten games expected to be separated by a field goal or less, not a single one ended up being that close. So while the odds might lead you to think this game will be decided by a late field goal, the evidence suggests that's actually the least likely scenario of all.

Interestingly, we see that nine of the 10 teams who led at halftime kicked-on to win. Now this is perhaps a little surprising. You'd think the losing team would sometimes fight its way back into what's supposed to be an evenly matched contest. Instead though, the opposite happened, with 60 per cent of teams who were ahead at the break actually going on to extend their leads. 

At halftime, the average lead was 12 points. By full time the margin of victory had grown to 17 points. So what we learn is that the Superbowl is not a Rocky film. Whoever goes down early, almost never makes a dramatic comeback. On the contrary, history suggests that whoever lands the first big punch will go on to deliver the knockout blow.

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