Betting Advice to Find Super Bowl Sleepers on a Yearly Basis

| June 2, 2019 12:00 am PST
Super Bowl Sleepers

Each NFL season offers a new opportunity for all 32 teams. We’re programmed to brace for another title run by the New England Patriots, but even they are human and are susceptible to decline.

No, really, they are.

Besides, every time the Pats do win the Super Bowl, the likelihood of them winning the following year decreases. The Super Bowl hangover isn’t exactly a lie, after all.

Teams also lose players every offseason. Contracts end, massive raises are due, players retire, and injury or natural regression sets in.

It’s true that New England has had an unprecedented hold on the NFL, but every team’s time comes, both to climb and descend. That gives everyone a shot as each new year starts and is precisely why we all conjure up reasons for our favorite Super Bowl sleepers to separate themselves from the pack.

The question is who are these teams? How can sports bettors see them coming before they arrive? And can they bet on them before their Super Bowl odds slowly mature to the point where they no longer offer elite betting value?

What Is a Super Bowl Sleeper?

The old adage that everyone is undefeated going into week one isn’t just hyperbole. It’s true. If you can get off to a hot start and boost your overall confidence, that can grow throughout the season.

Confidence breeds more confidence. Wins breed more wins.

The reality is that the gap between the good teams and great teams really isn’t that wide. It’s often about consistency and execution. Are they closing out close games, getting key defensive stops, finding ways to win on the road, and defending their home turf?

If so, they have a chance to be elite. If not, even really good teams will fall from that Super Bowl contender status and be regarded as failures.

But it’s one thing to actually have hype staring you in the face, to have truly great expectations. It takes a seasoned, well-traveled franchise like New England to withstand that type of pressure on a yearly basis.

Few teams can handle that, let alone meet it and move past it. The other teams are somewhere in the middle, and then there are the sleeper teams that we really didn’t expect to make the move up and surprise us.

To me, a true Super Bowl sleeper is a team that very few people are expecting to rise up and compete but absolutely has all the trimmings of a title threat. That, or they’re just outside that “contender” zone.

You’re not talking about them, and they haven’t yet completely proven themselves. But they’re coming, and bettors will wish they’d been paying attention.

Betting on staples like the Patriots still offers some value and can be safer. But getting a Super Bowl sleeper that pans out is about as good as it gets. You just need to look for the signs.

Tips for Predicting Super Bowl Sleepers

If you look closely, we actually should be able to see signs of those teams rising above the competition. It’s not an exact science, but there are certain things to look for when entering every single NFL season.

You can obviously reflect on the previous year and note numerous things that went down during the offseason. Even that may still not get you a hit on a Super Bowl sleeper.

For one, a team floating under the radar doesn’t always win a title. There is a handful of dominant franchises that are seemingly always in the mix. One of those franchises is more likely than not to win.

However, we do see sleepers rise up and challenge the top teams. In recent years, teams like the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Philadelphia Eagles emerged from the NFC to reach the Super Bowl.

None of those teams were pegged as anything close to favorites before the season started. They weren’t even contenders.

Philly was the only one to actually win, but the point is teams can come out of nowhere, and while it may not look like it (or always be easy to predict), there are always going to be signs of what a team is capable of.

If you’re hoping to lock in an underdog play to win it all, consider these tips for predicting Super Bowl sleepers.

Analyzing Super Bowl Odds

The first step before placing any wager is always going to be looking at the odds at the most reliable NFL betting websites. Obviously, you’ll need to see the odds before you place your bet, but a deeper analysis is required to truly maximize your betting potential.

For me, that has me first looking at the teams Vegas seems to support (or at least prices in a manner that suggests the public supports them) and then attempting to gauge which of those teams is most fraudulent.

I don’t want to get too much into that process, as some of my other Super Bowl betting tips below will help you vet the top contenders. They should also help point to some sneaky Super Bowl sleepers you can confide in.

Most of the betting should be geared toward the tried and true favorites. Vegas and the betting public do still align in some manners, and the best teams are regarded in that way for a reason.

Just look for the flawed teams that perhaps have too much unearned hype. There tend to be quite a few of them.

The other step is largely ignoring the bets at crazy prices like +25000, +50000, and the like. That in no way means you can’t place these types of bets or that they’ll never pan out. They just rarely do, and the teams graded that poorly by Vegas, bettors, and all of the top pundits are expected to be that bad for good reason.

Once you start trimming the fat a bit, you’re down to the select few of the Super Bowl favorites you feel good about, and you can start eyeing some of those “middle of the road” options.

This is where the bulk of your true Super Bowl sleepers will emerge from. These are teams trending upward and will have a lot of the criteria a potential title-winner will need (more on that in a bit).

Another huge aspect to taking advantage of Super Bowl odds is actually tracking them.

Who is the favorite the second the new year’s odds are released? How does the pricing change after free agency, after coaching hires, after the draft, and after major injuries?

The market fluctuating should never completely dictate how to bet, but you should note how it moves as you prepare to place your wager.

Value is a very loose term is but probably the most important thing when looking to bet on the Super Bowl.

The top favorites deserve your attention, but you’ll know value when you see it. Only one of 32 teams actually wins the whole thing, but if you can get a handful of teams capable of running the table and if the price is obscenely favorable, you may want to pounce.

Overall, tracking the odds, establishing favorites, trimming the fat, and isolating value are all things to consider when incorporating Super Bowl odds into your betting process.

Noting Key Offseason Changes

You never want to ignore what came before the prior season. You also need to be careful not to be prisoner to it. A team’s record the previous year does tell us where it’s been, but not necessarily where it’s going.

Major changes can alter a franchise’s fortunes in as quickly as 1-2 years. You aren’t normally going from worst to first immediately, but that process can fulfill itself in a shorter window than people tend to believe.

It depends on what that team is all about, the types of players they have, how they’re coached, and what big changes they make.

Said offseason changes are crucial to a team’s success, and they’re also important for you to properly gauge which teams flying under the radar could be in for a production spike.

Here are the things to look for, in no particular order.

  • Change in management and/or coaching
  • Change in scheme on either side of the ball
  • Key draft picks and undrafted rookies
  • Key cuts, signings, and trades

Teams that see major spikes in production and overall success don’t always undergo major changes the year before we see epic results. So it’s important not to only look at huge upheavals prior to a new year as necessarily positive occurrences.

But they can be, and if they’re not positive this year, they could mature into something positive within 2-3 years.

When to jump on those changes actually coming to fruition at a high level of success is the magic question, surely. But watching out for it and tracking changes should give you a chance to see it coming before it actually arrives.

Regardless, you can look at this in two different ways: continuity breeds consistent results, or it leads to staleness.

I tend to think continuity is underrated. Some of the best teams in any sport maintain consistency by massaging delicate relationships and keeping the same elite core together for as long as possible.

If things go sour and/or said cores get blown up, those great teams typically endure a period of distress. The waters can calm, however, and those teams are quickly threats to turn things around due to fantastic front offices.

It’s much more difficult for the worst teams in the league to undergo these changes on a regular basis and find the same success. They’re building up that core from scratch, and there’s no way of knowing it is destined for winning Super Bowls until the first one comes.

Needless to say, betting on perennial losers to turn into a winner after one year or a short period of success is always going to be dicey.

It’s up to you where to lean with the information that is out there, of course. The point is to embrace the change across the NFL and do your best to figure out how it falls into place with each new season.

The right coach and system going to the right team and set of players can change everything. The right team lucking into the right prospect or big-name free agent can turn a solid playoff contender into a legit Super Bowl threat.

Just make sure you’re not missing these key front office and personnel changes, and the odds are decent you’ll be able to manipulate it toward a winning wager.

Absorb the NFL Schedule Release

Who you play and when you play them can be a really big deal. Teams generally struggle on the road, but where they play away from home, who they face, and precisely when can make that even tougher.

Those tough road games being dropped into short or long weeks can complicate matters, too. It might only get worse if they happen to be primetime affairs, out-of-country showcases, and/or are strung together.

Be careful to note the following when looking at the new NFL schedule each year.

  • Difficulty of season opener
  • Strength of schedule
  • Number of primetime games
  • Number of holiday games
  • Games on neutral site/out of US
  • Week to week spacing (short vs. long weeks)
  • Road/home opponents
  • Division strength

All of these things matter. It doesn’t sound like much, but no matter how good a team is, a brutal week one game can bring down the best of teams. Make it a primetime game against an elite team, and suddenly a very capable threat is 0-1 and feeling a little down.

I know, these are grown men getting paid millions of dollars. They’re also still people, and after putting that much work all offseason into getting that first win, losing hits their pride a bit.

It can even rattle their confidence.

Tack on injuries and/or a second straight tough opponent the very next week, and it can escalate pretty quickly. That’s where strength of schedule really comes into play, and then you get into mental and physical fatigue with exactly when and where these games are being played.

Travel, short weeks, and playing games at all kinds of different times really can mess with you. Ever fly from the east coast to the west coast or vice versa? Take a trip to Europe or China? Yeah, it throws you off.

Now go try to compete athletically at a high level against the players who are already resting at home, waiting for you.

It gets worse, as your weakness on the road can be tested against especially tough opponents. Your division might be one of the best in the league, too. Hey, maybe the one thing you can hang your hat on is your great standing at home, but now all of your toughest games are going down in front of the opponent’s home crowd.

None of this sounds great, right?

The trick here isn’t to completely ignore the good teams who have some of these things working against them. It’s to highlight the perceived bad teams (that nobody would normally bet to win the Super Bowl) that happen to be benefitting from these schedule situations.

Look for the following.

  • Easy schedule
  • Bad division
  • Limited travel
  • Limited high-profile games

None of this is an exact science, but these are easy tips bettors can use and apply to trying to gauge the next Super Bowl sleeper.

Strength of schedule and division probably matter the most. The New England Patriots hail from the AFC East, which has been notoriously awful for years. If you dominate a bad division in which you play six of your games, you’re on the fast track to a good year.

If you get even four wins, usually you need about six more to get to the playoffs. Once in, anything can happen.

Look at the 2018 strength of schedule. The Houston Texans had the easiest path to the playoffs, and they got in. Of the 16 teams (half the league) inside the softest schedule portion, seven made the playoffs.

There are only 12 total teams that make the NFL playoffs.

It isn’t a mathematical equation, but it can be telling. It’s not predictable, but it’s worth noting.

Who Has an Elite Defense?

The old saying that defenses win championships really isn’t wrong. It doesn’t always mean you need the best defense or a top-ranked defense. It just means you need to be able to step up on defense when the game is on the line.

In the past, though, the Super Bowl winners generally did have a strong foundation defensively, and that does tend to leak into the rankings.

Either you have the workings of a defensive roster capable of playing an amazing game when it matters most, or that roster has proven over the course of the season what they can do.

Usually, you’ll know which defenses can be that good based on the data from previous seasons. You can also see spikes in production coming based on marrying prior data with the arrival of elite defensive talent or a change in defensive coaching philosophy.

How you get to your personal declaration for any team’s defense for now is up in the air. Just know that whatever team you back probably needs to be pretty good on that side of the ball.

From 1984 to 2014, the Super Bowl winner had a top-10 defense during the regular season 26 times. This is a league of passing and putting up points, but once in the biggest game of the year, that pass-happy style of play doesn’t tend to win out.

Backing elite defensive teams isn’t a sure-fire way to cash in on a Super Bowl winner. But it’s not a terrible place to start, and it’s something to consider when narrowing your own pool of teams to bet on.

How Good Is the Offensive Line?

Another key component to getting to and winning the Super Bowl is ball control.

Can you run the ball effectively enough to maintain a balanced offense? Can you run even when the opposing team knows you want to run, and are you able to milk the clock late in games on the ground?

Winning teams typically answer “yes” to these questions. It helps to have an elite running back to accomplish this, but it’s not necessary. You don’t need to pace the league in rushing, either.

In fact, teams with a healthy stable of rushers fare just fine. The point is to keep your running backs fresh, to keep the defense honest, and to keep the clock ticking if you have a lead.

You can’t run the ball without a strong offensive line, though. Keeping an eye on the actual talent on every team’s o-line is important. You’ll also want to keep tabs on which teams draft or acquire offensive lineman in an effort to correct any o-line issues they might have.

The bigger and stronger your o-line, the more likely you’ll be able to win the battle in the trenches. Of course, athletic and mobile o-linemen are also pretty crucial in today’s modern NFL.

Regardless of which varying types of offensive lineman a team employs, having a cohesive and versatile unit up front can pave the way for a healthy running game. Ideally, this line can also pass protect well enough to not finish in the bottom half of the league in sacks.

You can’t always check every box off, but if I’m looking for must-haves in a Super Bowl sleeper, it’s to have very few problem areas on an o-line. Ideally, it’s honestly the strength of the team.

Trusting the Quarterback

Finally, we come to the quarterback position. The Super Bowl has historically been a game for those elite defenses to shine, but it’s also propped up some iconic passers due to some clutch play at the highest level.

Whether that’s big numbers or late-game heroics, the great ones tend to shine the brightest with all the pressure on them, and even casual football fans know who they are.

Guys like Joe Montana, Tom Brady, John Elway, and Terry Bradshaw are forever immortalized in NFL annals. They’ve all won multiple titles, and even when they weren’t winning, they were at least getting their respective teams to the Super Bowl.

There is a long line of high-level quarterbacks who have enjoyed similar success in the Super Bowl, while the league’s history shows us that having competent-to-brilliant play under center is a necessity to compete for titles.

There are outliers that challenge that logic.

However, if you look back at every Super Bowl in existence, the winning quarterback is more often than not a highly successful passer who has produced elite statistics on a regular basis, secured MVP awards, and/or has a career worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Some of this is subjective, but the names tend to stand out, and they can’t be ignored. In fact, those aforementioned outliers? They almost always were backed by either an amazing running game or a brilliant defense.

Trent Dilfer with the Ravens in 2000? Yeah, his Baltimore defense was the top-ranked unit in football and one of the best defenses ever. Brad Johnson with the Buccaneers in 2002? His Tampa Bay defense was #1 in the NFL and picked off regular season-MVP Rich Gannon six times en route to an easy win.

Suffice it to say, you usually need a steady quarterback (if not an elite one) to get to the league’s title game. If you don’t, you better hope you have one heck of a defense.

Adapt During the Season

The advice you see to this point is mostly about betting on Super Bowl sleepers before the season starts. There is a ton of room between that point and the end of the year, though, for major value and all kinds of sleeper talk.

In fact, you can use a lot of these Super Bowl betting tips as the season progresses.

The teams capable of rising from the league’s ashes to title contention will quickly make themselves known. And while it may take everyone some time to fully get on board with them, Vegas will appropriately price them every step of the way.

Ideally, you see these teams coming and bet on them to win the Super Bowl when their price can return the most value. That’s not always easy to spot, though, nor is it always easy to toss meaningful bets on teams that have yet to really prove anything.

But once teams get off to strong starts and your research begins to pop off to the point where you’re sold, you could suddenly be looking at a steal when everyone else is still in the doubting stage.

Summary

I don’t think there is ever going to be one concise list of Super Bowl betting tips that will work flawlessly every single year. However, you can refer to these notes to help you pinpoint your favorite Super Bowl sleepers.

If you can’t pull the trigger during the summer, I really don’t see a problem with that. Sometimes the groundwork your research has laid out just doesn’t get you there yet.

After all, this is a 32-team league. Injuries happen, losing streaks take place, divisions can be tough, and hot starts can fade. Whether you bet on that sleeper in August or in November doesn’t really matter.

All that matters is that you set yourself up for success and are constantly looking for that elusive team that could return serious profit.

Of course, a massive component in the hunt for a Super Bowl sleeper is often to just stop.

Sometimes the favorites are the favorites and everyone else is just outside noise. Betting on the Patriots every year has probably sounded boring, but it’s been exceptionally profitable for those that have done it.

The changing of the guard does come for every dynasty eventually. Even when a tyrant doesn’t fully fall, they can still have down years and give way to other teams, just like New England certainly has numerous times.

It’s those spots where bettors need to be ready to combine all of their research and target that Super Bowl sleeper that will make them look like a genius and pay off in the process.

Noah Davis

Noah Davis is one of the more diverse writers at GamblingSites.com. Like many of his colleagues, he's a huge fan of both football and basketball. But he also writes about box office records, TV show prop bets, DFS, and all kinds of other subjects.

When it comes to the NFL, Noah's favorite team is the Cleveland Browns. He enjoys cheering them on with his wife and daughter.

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