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Super Bowl 53: A Quick Guide to Betting Against the Spread

Some 22 million people are projected to bet on the Super Bowl LIII this year, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in legal wagers.

Sports Betting at a Las Vegas Casino by Baishampayan Ghose is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Super Bowl 53: A Quick Guide to Betting Against the Spread

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Considering throwing some money down on the big game this Sunday? If that cash is burning a hole in your pocket, just know that you’ll be far from the only one getting in on the action. Some 22 million people are projected to bet on the Super Bowl LIII this year, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in legal wagers (illegal wagers, on the other hand, could be in the billions).

So maybe you’re traveling to one of the several states that legalized sports gambling this past year. Or maybe you’re just laying down a bet with your buddy. In any case, the classic wager one can make on this game is to bet against the point spread.

How it works

After initially opening as a 1-point underdog last week, Vegas odds have the New England Patriots at -2.5 over the Los Angeles Rams. For those unfamiliar with betting against the spread, this means that the Patriots (the favorite) would have to beat the Rams (the underdog) by at least 3 points for your wager on the Patriots to win. Conversely, if you took the Rams, you’d win your bet if the Rams win the game by any score, or lose the game by less than 3 points.

Some things to keep in mind

While there is no sure-fire way to predict the outcome of the game, here’s a few things to consider if you are thinking about picking against the spread for this years Super Bowl:

Historically, the outcomes of betting against the spread are fairly split between the favorites and underdogs (the favorites are 25-25-2 in Super Bowls thus far). But recently, the scales have tipped slightly towards the underdog. In the last 20 Super Bowls, the underdog was the winning bet against the spread in 12 of those games. One of those games (XXIV) was a push, meaning 7 favorites have covered the spread successfully since 1999. 

In the 8 Super Bowls the Patriots have played in during the Brady/Belichick era, the underdog was the winning bet in 6 of them. As favorites, New England successfully covered a 3-point spread against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. They also covered a 1-point spread against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. In all other games, the underdog either won outright or lost while still covering the spread.

When combining regular season and postseason results, both teams in this year’s Super Bowl fared well against the spread. New England was an impressive 11-7, while the Rams were 9-7 with two pushes. 

7 (13.4%) of the previous 52 Super Bowls were decided by 3 points or less. Tom Brady and the Patriots have played in 3 of them.

In the Brady/Belichick era, the Patriots have closed as underdogs going in to the Super Bowl only once. Coincidentally, this was in Super Bowl XXXVI against the then-St. Louis Rams. The Patriots won the game outright, and were the second biggest underdog (+14) to ever win the big game.

May the odds be in your favor

The 2.5-point spread aside, any football fan would tell you that the eye test says this is going to be a close game. Or maybe we will see a blowout, who knows (maybe Madden does). At the end of the day, the stats can only tell us so much. So to all you bettors out there, I wish you the best of luck and the utmost restraint in case that late-game decision to go for two or that missed extra point royally f**** up your bet.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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