Super Bowl Betting — Why I took the Chiefs, and what we can learn from it
By Charles Jay
When deciding who to go with in Super Bowl 57, I was conflicted in a way I haven’t normally been since I’ve been handicapping sports, which is now about 37 years.
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The Philadelphia Eagles looked stronger in so many ways. They had a better offensive line – perhaps the best in the NFL – and a better defense, with the fiercest pass rush in the league, and those were going to be important factors in their game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Looking at the whole picture, I decided to go with the Chiefs anyway.
The answer to that may indeed tell us something about how to go about handicapping football.
The Eagles were the favorite, albeit slightly. At any given time, I saw a point, a point and a half and two points. I’m not sure you could make a huge argument about that. They were dominant most of the year, tapering off only after an injury to QB Jalen Hurts, and they steamrolled both of their opponents in the playoffs.
Devil’s advocates may have wanted to suggest that they didn’t have a rough road to the Super Bowl, as they faced a New York Giants side that didn’t have a first-class group of wide receivers and then saw the San Francisco 49ers lose both their starting quarterback and the backup. Yes, we are allowed to consider these things.
We also have it in mind that this is the biggest stage in the world. And you have to respect the people who have performed there before. That’s another way of saying that it was impossible to ignore the quarterback edge. This was not necessarily a pro versus an amateur, and Jalen Hurts did have a season that was worthy of much MVP consideration. But Patrick Mahomes, who DID win the MVP as it was announced before the Big Game, is the guy who brought the intangibles to the table, including the experience of having been through a couple of Super Bowls.
And all you have to do is be an observer of pro football to know that in those tight spots, you’d rather have Mahomes at the helm, regardless of what any statistics might say.
Because he is arguably the league’s best quarterback, and the player in this game with the highest profile, Mahome’s ankle injury, suffered in the playoffs, was the issue that got the most attention.
Often when something like this happens, other factors impacting the game tend to get virtually ignored. And that is the kind of thing I look out for.
It’s worth remembering that the Super Bowl is the single sporting event on which the most money is wagered. As such, it is going to attract the most action from casual bettors, who are also known as “squares.” If you wanted to be rude about it, you would call it the “dumb money.” It’s possible they haven’t bet a game all year, but they bet on the Super Bowl.
They are going to use very superficial factors in their “analysis.” And perhaps one of those was Mahomes’ ankle injury. These people, if they pay attention to anybody at all, it is going to be the mainstream press. That includes the writers for their local newspapers, along with the electronic media, with former players and coaches positioned as “experts”.
Almost to a man, these people have not been conditioned in a culture of handicapping. So believe it or not, they usually don’t look through that prism. And therefore, they don’t know much about what presents handicapping value.
So if the public is following them, this gives you a decent chance of being “sharper” then the public on any given game. And that could put you ahead of the betting market.
Matchups, Matchups, Matchup
Always keep in mind that any sporting event – and in this case we are talking about football – is about matchups. How might the weaknesses of one team be exploited by the strengths of another team, and vice versa? And as it applies here, who can see that where most others can’t?
That last question is very pertinent. You have to find these matchup discrepancies, often then they are not in plain sight.
What I saw as a key factor in this game – and what had not been discussed nearly enough – was the likelihood that the Chiefs could run the ball against Philadelphia.
The Eagles’ ground game was seen as something imposing, and that had been that case since the middle of the 2021 season, when coach Nick Sirianni made the crucial decision to emphasize it to a much greater degree. But the fact is, Kansas City had averaged more yards per carry (4.7) than Philadelphia (4.6) in the 2022 season, owing to the emergence of a rookie, drafted in the seventh round, named Isiah Pacheco, who ran for 4.9 yards per attempt.
At the same time, while everyone was making such a fuss about the Eagles’ 70 sacks, how many people were focusing on the fact that they allowed 4.6 yards per rushing attempt? Furthermore, who could put it together that a successful KC ground attack could serve to neutralize the fearsome Philadelphia pass rush?
And speaking of that pass rush, the Eagles were not known as a team that did an extraordinary amount of blitzing. And blitzing Mahomes has proven to be a bad deal over the years. Generally, opponents were content to place extra people back in coverage. They played with their safeties deep much of the time as well, which explains why teams would run the ball well against them, since there would be less run support. The Eagles had to defend against big plays, because after all, this IS Mahomes. But Mahomes has adapted to this kind of defensive scheme. He was throwing underneath a lot more; in fact, his passes had averaged more than one less Intended Air Yard per attempt than it had been two years prior.
And yet, playing without star receiver Tyreek Hill, and at least for a time, deep threat Mecole Hardman, he still threw for more than 5200 yards and added another MVP trophy to his mantle.
If he could somehow offer a little nit of mobility on that bad ankle, he was clearly not going to be an easy puzzle for the Eagles to solve.
On the other side, I got the feeling that KC’s defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, might try to stop the Philadelphia run game first and make Jalen Hurts beat them with his arm. That was a risky proposition, as Hurts had improved his passing and benefited from the team’s acquisition of wide receiver AJ Brown. But what Hurts benefited from most was the threat of the run. And there was still that feeling that in “must pass” situations he didn’t shine as brightly. There is also that imagery of an ineffective Hurts being benched in favor of Tua Tagovailoa in a national championship game, and Tua leading Alabama to an overtime win over Georgia.
Ultimately the results of my “logic” were sort of mixed. The Eagles were in many ways the better team, outgaining the Chiefs 417-340 and holding an advantage of 11 minutes and 34 seconds in time of possession. Kansas City also trailed by ten points at the half.
It is evident that some of the factors we have discussed here helped the Chiefs put themselves in a position to win. For instance, although Hurts ran for three touchdowns and threw for 304 yards, 90 of those yards came on two long plays. Otherwise, he averaged a little less than six yards an attempt, The Philadelphia running game was a disappointment, with just 3.6 yards a carry. So KC definitely got that part of it done.
Also, the Chiefs sure did move the ball on the ground, to the tune of 158 yards on 26 carries (6.1 ypc). And that vaunted Philadelphia pass rush, one of the most prolific in NFL history, sacked Mahomes exactly NEVER. So the two things the Eagles did best – running the ball and rushing the passer – failed them for the most part.
Even having said all that, for the Chiefs to come away with the victory, they needed the aid of a turnover return for a touchdown, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, and a disputed pass interference call on their final drive that enabled them to run the clock almost all the way down.
So not everything in a given analysis fits like a glove.
But it doesn’t hurt to have the more experienced and accomplished field leader at the helm, as well as a pretty good game plan from a more experienced coach (Andy Reid).
It’s definitely worth learning THAT.