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Super Bowl 51: A Review
Super Bowl 51 has come and gone, and what a crazy game it was!
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and when you come across an experience that is as difficult to put into words as the Patriots’ historic comeback in Super Bowl 51, you really need a picture in order to do it justice. We think that the win percentage probability graph put out by Pro Football Reference just about says it all:
The Atlanta Falcons sat safe with a 95% chance or better to win the Super Bowl for almost two straight quarters, from about 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter to about 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. And yet, somehow, despite going all the way up to a 99.9% chance of winning, the Patriots still pulled it out.
To put this in perspective, what this means is that if you were to rewind the game back to that point of 99.9% certainty – 2:05 left in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots down 28–9 – and then you were to do it over and play the game out 1000 times, 999 times out of 1000 the Falcons would have been able to hang on and win.
But despite the statistical improbability of a 25-point comeback in a Super Bowl (where the biggest comeback heretofore had been only 10 points), for Patriots fans, it’s possible that even this improbable outcome has felt fated for over two years now.
Specifically, we’re thinking about Robert Kraft’s remarks from the podium after the game, where he took blatant shots at the commissioner Roger Goodell despite having received the Lombardi Trophy from his hands only seconds earlier.
In his time in front of the microphone, Kraft specifically mentioned the absence of Tom Brady for the first four games of the season. He even piled on an additional, thickly tongue-in-cheek remark in reference to Deflategate, saying that “A lot has transpired over the last two years, and I don’t think that needs any explanation.”
The simplest explanation it that, in a rather twisted way, everybody wins.
For New England fans, they can finally put to rest their feud with the commissioner and their bitterness over Brady’s suspension. They have had their revenge, and now everything can return to business as usual. One could even reach farther back and say that with the Julian Edelman catch, the football gods have finally restored balance to the Patriots’ Super Bowl fortunes, after the Pats were on the short end of the stick when the David Tyree catch ruined their chances for a perfect season.
For the rest of the NFL’s franchises, everybody wins insofar as no one ever needs to listen to the complaints of Patriots fans about how the world conspires against them. With this Super Bowl, New England has officially turned the page, and is now fully out from underneath the shadow of Deflategate. The saga is over, and we can now all go about our football business as usual.
Of course, when we say that “everybody wins,” of course we are thinking only from the perspective of the New England Patriots. For the Falcons franchise, players, fans, and even the city itself, this game will undoubtedly go down as the most gut-wrenching, soul-crushing loss in the history of Atlanta sports.
For nearly 35 minutes of football, Atlanta played their game. Quite simply, things could not have gone any better for Arthur Blank’s franchise. Atlanta fans could feel the momentum of the first half carrying them towards their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, and it was palpable how fervent were the hopes and wishes of the city of Atlanta.
And then it all came crashing down around them, in what can only be described as the worst collapse in Super Bowl history. Particularly heart-wrenching was noticing the fact that owner Arthur Blank and his wife had made their way down to the sideline from up in a box during halftime, in anticipation of accepting the Lombardi trophy immediately after the game.
To watch those two kindly individuals stand numbly on the sideline as the fruition of their 16-year investment evaporated in front of their eyes must have inspired pathos for even die-hard Pats fans.
And what’s more, to add insult to injury, just as the game started to get truly out of hand, the FOX telecast decided it was as convenient a time as any to air their animated bit reminding Falcons fans that the city of Atlanta had only ever won a single championship across its entire history across all four major professional sports, meanwhile in the same span the New England area teams had won dozens.
Yes, there’s no sugar-coating the fact that this historic comeback will be remembered forever: For Atlanta fans, it may well be the most excruciating sporting event in their entire lives. For New England fans, it might be the most exhilarating.
Let’s take a look at how the game went down, in order to dissect just exactly what went wrong for the Falcons and what went right for the Patriots, and how this all combined to yield the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. As we go through, we’ll pay special attention to the ways in which our predictions for the game were correct or incorrect.
Finally, we’ll take a look at the gambling outcomes of the game. We’ll look back and see whether or not our predictions were borne out for the moneyline bets, bets against the spread, and the total score over/under, and we’ll also look to see whether the prop bets we were interested in paid out, and which prop bets turned out to be the biggest winners in Super Bowl 51.
A host of storylines emerged from Super Bowl 51. Among the most prominent are the records put out by the Patriots: Tom Brady, most Super Bowl wins of any NFL quarterback in history; Bill Belichick, most Super Bowl wins of any NFL coach in history; Tom Brady, most yards in a Super Bowl ever; James White, most receptions in a Super Bowl ever; of course, the biggest comeback in a Super Bowl ever.
Lost in the wash with Atlanta’s crushing loss is how historically good their offense truly was. Matt Ryan now holds the dubious honor of having the highest passer rating of any quarterback ever in a Super Bowl loss, even while he maintains the trend that an MVP-winning quarterback has never won the Super Bowl during his MVP season.
But in our minds, it’s impossible to focus on just one storyline in this game because, in our minds, there wasn’t just one game. There were two.
In our preview of the game, we said that the game would go one of two ways. Either the Falcons’ offensive juggernaut would continue to roll through a Patriots defense that hadn’t faced a true test all season, or the moment would be too big for the young and inexperienced Falcons team, and the wily veterans would be able to hang on for the win. As it turned out, both of these storylines came to pass.
So in a way, all of our predictions for this game came true, just in the wrong order. We believed that the combination of the Falcons’ dynamism and the Patriots experience would come to bear possession by possession, keeping the game close in a tense, back-and-forth affair.
But as it turned out, it was the tale of two games: For the first 37 minutes of the game, the Falcons played their game. Then for the last 23 minutes (and change, with overtime), the Patriots completely flipped the script. Let’s take a look at each of these “two Super Bowls,” and then try to diagnose what changed.
The first half of Super Bowl 51 went against almost everything we expected. Every unit that we expected to perform well looked awful, and all of the units that we didn’t expect to contribute over-performed tremendously.
In the first half, the Patriots receivers looked flat, and couldn’t catch anything. Tom Brady missed a few throws, and the team looked generally unprepared for Dan Quinn’s defense. Atlanta somehow managed to pull off what most people (ourselves included) believed was impossible: They lined up primarily in man-to-man against the Patriots receivers, and managed to create pressure with a 4-man pass rush.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense – whose primary strength lay in the ability of their front seven to stop the run – gave up 104 yards on the ground off of 18 carries (an average of 5.8 yards per carry), and looked flat-footed. The Atlanta receivers, when they weren’t wide open, simply out-competed the New England secondary during the first half.
Furthermore, the worst unit we rated across both teams was the Atlanta front seven, who weren’t supposed to be able to stop the run or rush the passer. Somehow, in the first half of Super Bowl 51, they managed to do both, forcing Belichick to essentially pull LeGarrette Blount in favor of James White – totally changing his game-plan – and laying hit after hit after hit on Tom Brady.
The tone was set early, when on the Patriots’ first drive of the game, the Patriots were forced to go 3-and-out after LeGarrette Blount was stood up by rookie linebacker Deion Jones on 3rd and 1. The speed of the young Atlanta defense outstripped the size of the Patriots’ offense, and kept them from converting on a down and distance that had been their bread and butter throughout the entire season.
And as if all this script-flipping wasn’t enough, what actually turned out to be the weakest unit across both teams was probably the Atlanta offensive line, who despite earning some of the highest praise in our preview (and despite the fact that they were going against a New England front seven that was also supposed to be unable to rush the passer), gave up 5 sacks on Matt Ryan and was the primary reason that the team went 1 for 8 on third downs.
It absolutely deserves to be mentioned that center Alex Mack was probably playing with a fracture in his leg, but nonetheless; the unit struggled.
What did all of these bizarre trends amount to? After the first 9 drives, with under two minutes left before halftime, the Falcons were up 21–0. Starting from the top, the Falcons were stopped twice, (failing to convert on third down), they then scored two touchdowns on two 2-minute drives, and finally were the recipient of a bad Tom Brady interception, taking the ball to the house for a pick-6.
For New England, after finally getting a field goal going into halftime and then getting a quick stop to start the second half, the Patriots once again stalled, punting the ball back to Atlanta. The Falcons then went down the field 85 yards for a touchdown, though this 8-play drive took only 4 minutes and 14 seconds off the clock.
After this touchdown, 37 minutes into the 60-minute game, with 8 minutes and 31 seconds left in the third quarter, Matt Bosher kicked off to the Patriots leading 28–3, with a 99.9% probability that his team would win the game.
And then, it all fell apart!
The biggest thing that we should mention first and foremost concerning the “turning point” for the Patriots – at the 37-minute mark – was that one of the most important things about their comeback is that they didn’t change very much at all.
It’s true that there were a few key adjustments, including the switch out from LeGarrette Blount to James White and a greater emphasis on the pass, but in general there was a complete lack of panic from Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.
The Patriots stayed the course: They continued to run the ball; they settled for a field goal even when down by 19 points; they didn’t try to push the ball down the field as quickly as possible in a two-minute offense scenario; and most importantly, they didn’t make any rash decisions.
This is why it wasn’t exactly surprising when the Patriots took over, 23 minutes left in the game, and marched down the field 75 yards for their first touchdown of the game, burning 6-and-a-half minutes off the clock over the course of 13 plays. Everyone knew that the Patriots were good for at least one touchdown eventually, even if (at that point) no one suspected that it was the start of a comeback.
This sense of denial lasted for another seven minutes of game-time.
The Patriots followed up their first touchdown with a missed extra point and a botched onside kick, but were bailed out by a stalled Falcons drive that gave them the ball back despite Atlanta starting with excellent field position due to the onside kick. The Pats then rattled off another 12-play drive, but two key sacks from Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett forced New England to settle for a field goal, meaning that the Falcons got the ball back, up by 16 points, with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
So at this point – with the deficit cut to only two possessions – the potential for a comeback undoubtedly floated into the realm of possibility, but it was still extraordinarily unlikely (when the Gostkowski field goal made it 28–12, the probability percentage that Atlanta would win the game dropped from 99.9% only down to 99.5%).
But then came the turning point.
In real time, what happened was simply that Patriots linebacker Dant’a Hightower rushed more or less unabated to Matt Ryan and sacked him just as he was attempting to throw, yielding a fumble that was recovered by the Patriots.
But when you look more closely, you see that even with the Edelman catch, the Gostkowski extra point hitting the post, the Martellus Bennett catch off of the tip ball, and all of the other improbable plays that went the Patriots’ way in Super Bowl 51, the Dant’a Hightower sack fumble tops them all.
The Patriots rushed four, and all four rushers were picked up. For some reason, Kyle Shanahan decided to have Matt Ryan throw the ball on 3rd-and-1, inexplicably, despite the fact that they had enjoyed phenomenal success running the ball throughout the entire game, they only needed one single yard, and their entire goal should have been to simply to run out the clock.
The most important single millisecond in the entire game comes just after the ball is snapped.
With exactly 8 minutes and 32 seconds left, just as the ball is snapped, 24-year-old Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman improbably looks to his left, towards the four pass rushers. To his right – perhaps hidden momentarily behind tight end Austin Hooper, who streaks off the line of scrimmage – is Patriots linebacker Dant’a Hightower, sprinting directly towards him.
When Freeman finally snaps his head around and notices Hightower, the 265-pound Pro Bowler is within one yard, and blows past Freeman without even slowing down. Matt Ryan does not notice Hightower at all, and somehow – even more improbable – the timing of his throw is just perfect, such that he raises his arm at the exact, precise moment that Hightower leaps.
The ball comes out immediately.
Most improbable of all, despite the fact that Atlanta had recovered all 6 of its fumbles during the playoffs, somehow the ball bounces directly to the defensive lineman. The Patriots get the ball back at the 25-yard line of Atlanta, and two-and-a-half minutes later the Patriots have made it an 8-point game.
The ensuing drive for Atlanta features two chunk plays – a long catch and run by Freeman that was clearly a blown coverage, and a phenomenal splash play by Julio Jones, somehow catching the ball above the outstretched arms of Eric Rowe – who is in perfect coverage – and somehow getting his second foot down.
But then came another monumental play.
In Part 3 of our Super Bowl Preview, we introduced the game by mentioning the vital role of the two offensive coordinators. We even went so far as to say that “a single inadequate 2nd-down play call could mean the difference between a drive stalling and a manageable down and distance on 3rd down.” In this case, not only was this second down play call the difference for the drive, but it also turned out to be the difference in the game.
We’re talking about “situational football.”
When people use the phrase “situational football,” what they mean is the idea that unlike a game of Madden, in the NFL the goal is not to score on every single play. Depending on the situation, it could be more important to take time off of the clock than to push the ball down the field. The best teams and the particularly the best coaches know what to do in every single situation: That’s situational football.
And it’s pretty clear that Falcons play-called Kyle Shanahan misjudged the situation with just under 4 minutes remaining. On second down and 11, his center, Alex Mack, snaps the ball from the 23-yard line of New England – the distance of a 35-yard field goal, which traditionally has a 90% success rate – and his quarterback rolls back a full 10 yards before even looking downfield.
What this means is that when that center Alex Mack – playing with a fracture in his leg – is unable to contain the rush of Trey Flowers – who already has a sack and a half in the game – the sack that follows pushes the Falcons back to 3rd and 23 – a distance in which you really need to get a few yards in order to make it a manageable field goal.
But then, the unthinkable: Jake Matthews is called for his second critical holding call, pushing the Falcons out of field goal range, and the third down play that follows is incomplete.
Think back to that one second-down play call: What would have been different if Shanahan had simply run the ball – even for no gain! – knowing that his true enemy is the game clock, and knowing that he could simply take a knee and kick a field goal.
Ultimately, the call (and the sack) meant the difference between the Falcons going up 11 with less than 4 minutes remaining – a near-impossible situation for any team to surmount, even the comeback Patriots – and the Falcons needing to punt back to the Patriots with no points to show for their efforts.
And the rest is history: One 91-yard drive later, (including one of the greatest catches in the history of football), the Patriots tied the game up, sent it into overtime with a successful two-point conversion, and as soon as New England won the coin toss and elected to receive, everyone in the stadium knew that they were going to win Super Bowl 51.
The big question on everyone’s mind in the aftermath of these “two Super Bowls” – the first 37 minutes and the last 23 minutes and change – is quite simple: What happened? How did the game turn around so dramatically? What changed?
It’s not quite so simple though: There are things that changed, and there are things that stayed the same. Let’s start with the things that changed.
- Atlanta’s defense ran out of gas. The Falcons had only 46 snaps on offense to the Patriots 93, which turns out to be the greatest gap in NFL playoff history. The Patriots’ 93 plays were the second-most offensive plays in NFL history, behind a double-overtime game from the 80s. There was no way that they could keep up their speed for this many plays, and every single player’s performance on the defense suffered, giving the Patriots an opportunity to push the ball.
- The pass rush script flipped. One of the most noticeable side effects of the Falcons tiring out was that they were no longer able to get any pressure on Tom Brady, so naturally he started to pick them apart, exploiting the tired secondary players. But in addition, the Patriots – who had blitzed in only 1 of Matt Ryan’s 10 drop-backs in the first half – dialed up the blitz, bringing additional men on the rush in 7 of Ryan’s 17 second half drop-backs, yielding 3 sacks (including the aforementioned Hightower fumble).
- Atlanta’s game plan stopped working. The joke was made across social media that Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling during the final five minutes of Super Bowl 51 proves that he is officially ready to be head coach of the much-maligned San Francisco 49ers (and, true to form, he was officially hired by San Francisco the day after the game). While we won’t judge the man quite so harshly in his first ever Super Bowl, it is true that as we mentioned above, the “score as quickly as possible” strategy that had served them so well in the first 37 minutes of the game turned out to be their downfall, as Atlanta didn’t use enough clock to close out the game, and left themselves open to the types of situations like the ones that were described above.
But it’s also important to note that while some things changed, some things stayed the same throughout the entire course of the game – they just became absolutely crucial once the comeback was on.
- The special teams held fast. While Stephen Gostkowski will likely be remembered in Super Bowl 51 for missing an extra point that proved vital later on and running into his own onside kick – and while it’s true that these were both boneheaded mistakes – it’s also true that he played a huge role in the comeback by pinning Atlanta deep with terrible field position toward the end of the game. His kickoffs after the Patriots scored to make it 28–20 and then after they scored to tie the game were so high and so perfectly placed that Atlanta couldn’t down the ball in the end-zone, and couldn’t run it out. Especially considering how close the Falcons were to being in field goal range, the fact that they started their last two drives on the 10 and 11 was integral to the Patriots comeback. In a game of inches, those yards ended up being crucial.
- The Falcons couldn’t control the clock. It wasn’t just that the Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan made some very questionable decisions with challenges, timeouts, play-calling, and all the rest. It was the fact that throughout the entire game, the Falcons couldn’t stay on the field long enough to put any pressure on the Patriots. Of course they can’t control the fact that their 7-point interception return accounted for about as many seconds of game time, but they certainly could control their inability to convert on third downs. After going 64% on third downs throughout the playoffs, the Falcons were 1 for 8 in the Super Bowl, indicating just how poorly the combination of their game plan and their offensive line play served them down the stretch.
- Tom Brady kept being Tom Brady. We’re not even talking about the kind of leadership it takes to keep the troops focused and locked in despite being down 25 points. We’re talking about the fact that despite the fact that Brady got hit repeatedly – at 39 years old – he still managed to keep his eyes downfield and find open receivers, rather than panicking and losing his concentration because of the pass rush. Even in a vacuum, putting up 31 points in five straight drives is an immense feat for a quarterback. But doing it in the last five drives of a Super Bowl, to pull off a 25-point comeback, without your #1 receiver on the field? Inconceivable.
These key factors (alongside several other, more minor factors) all contributed to the largest comeback in NFL history.
But for those who really want one simple reason to walk away with for why the Patriots won Super Bowl 51 despite going down 25 points to the Falcons, there was one key difference over and above those that were outlined above that provides a microcosm of the entire Super Bowl: The response to a big play.
A “big play” is a quantifiable entity in the NFL. Coaches across the league talk about how they coach their teams specifically both to produce big plays on offense, to prevent big plays on defense, and to be able to respond well when a big play happens on both offense and defense.
Consider the difference in this game between what are likely the two biggest plays and the two best catches of the game: The Julian Edelman catch, with 2 minutes and 28 seconds left in the game, and the Julio Jones catch, with 4 minutes and 45 seconds left in the game.
The difference between the Edelman catch and the Julio catch illustrates the difference between these two teams.
When Julio Jones made his catch, Bill Belichick didn’t panic. The defense just lined up, stood up, and pushed back the Falcons – who, as we described above, were already in field goal range – all the way back out of field goal range, forcing a punt on 4th and 33.
If anyone panicked in response to the Julio catch, or if anyone didn’t know quite how to handle the big play, it was Kyle Shanahan, who seemed to temporarily black out under the pressure of the moment and lose his Football 101 situational awareness.
On the other side, when Julian Edelman made his catch, it was immediately apparent that the Patriots knew what to do instantaneously. Edelman and the rest of the offense tried to get to the line as quickly as possible; to give the ball to the ref; to hurriedly snap off another play so that Dan Quinn couldn’t challenge.
The Patriots knew how to handle the big play. Dan Quinn, on the other hand, didn’t. The challenge flag that he threw in response to the catch was completely unnecessary, and seriously hurt the Falcons later on.
If Quinn had simply waited a few seconds, the most likely scenario is that the Patriots would have been unable to run a play before the two-minute warning, and Quinn and his staff would have had all the time in the world to look at the play during the break, enabling them to establish that it was, in fact, a catch, and allowing them to keep their lone remaining timeout for the crucial 50 seconds they had before the end of regulation to win the game.
Instead, Quinn hamstrung his play-caller’s ability during that final drive, and gave New England another stoppage in play before the two-minute warning.
So in summary, while certainly these two phenomenal catches were not the most important moments in the game, they do very neatly illustrate the difference between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.
If you want to know “what happened” in Super Bowl 51, the answer, in the final analysis, is pretty simple: A team whose quarterback and coach have been to the Super Bowl 7 times during the 21st century took on a team that had never been during that same stretch. And despite incredible odds, the experience won out.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the game itself, let’s consider the gambling. Because it wasn’t just on the field in Texas that records were being broken during Super Bowl 51. According to ESPN, in the casinos of Nevada there was also an all-time high – not in passing yards or receptions, but in dollars wagered on the Super Bowl.
The gamblers in Vegas combined for $138.48 million in wagers on the Super Bowl, the highest total ever, beating out last year’s record mark by just under $6 million. However, the gamblers must have done alright because the house didn’t win a record number – the books netted just over ten million of the total wagered, a number that settles in at only the 7th-highest Super Bowl profit ever, falling almost a full $9 million short of the record mark set in Super Bowl 49.
Apparently, most of the sportsbooks were guaranteed a positive payout even before the game took place, based on the fact that there was very even action across most of the popular bets. It would seem that Vegas succeeded in its goal of setting the lines in such a way that both sides seem equally appealing.
Also, as a fun aside, in a game that featured a series of historically improbable outcomes, there was one historically improbable outcome that didn’t come to pass for Vegas sportsbooks.
Specifically, what happened was that before the game, the line for betting against the spread ultimately ended up with the Patriots favored by three, and the total score over/under settled at 59 points. Given that the game went into overtime with a score of 28-28 (56 total points), if the Patriots had ended up winning the game by a field goal after both teams had possessed the ball, this would have meant that both the spread bets and the over/under bets would have all pushed, (i.e. there was no winner).
According to the sportsbook director at Caesars Palace, this outcome would have yielded the most refunded bets in the history of Las Vegas. Bullet dodged for the house!
But regardless of how well the casinos did (or how poorly they almost did), more important to us is whether the view of the game that we advanced as a result of our Super Bowl preview series yielded positive payouts (particularly Part 3 of the series, where we provided specific gambling advice for how to wager on Super Bowl 51).
In this Super Bowl betting preview, one of the major ideas that we put across was that there are two kinds of bets available to gamblers in the Super Bowl. First, there are wagers that you can make with the explicit intention of turning a profit, based on analysis and a foreknowledge of how the game should turn out based on the information available. We’ll call these “investment bets.”
On the other hand, there are also innumerable bets that are either impossible to predict (such as the coin toss), that are so variable it’s very difficult to say for certain (such as the first touchdown scorer), or that are so random that it’s downright silly to try and predict them (such as Lady Gaga’s hair color).
We should clarify that we don’t think it’s silly to bet on these props – we just think it’s silly to bet on them expecting to make money. It’s reasonable to expect to make money on certain bets, but not all bets. The reason you should wager on this second category of bets, if you want to, is simply to have fun, so that’s what we call them: “fun bets.”
In the following sections we’ll first review the investment bets that we advocated in our gambling preview, in order to see if our advice yielded a profitable turn for those gamblers who listened to us. We’ll then review the fun bets that paid out big in Super Bowl 51 and say to ourselves: “if only!”
Of course, with the Patriots winning Super Bowl 51, and with us predicting them to win, any wager placed on the Patriots moneyline paid out.
Most gratifying for us is the fact that in our prediction, we claimed that the ultimate determining factor would be the experience of the Patriots, which would enable them to make fewer mistakes than the Falcons. While of course it’s an oversimplification to say that just one factor caused the Falcons to lose, it’s undoubtedly true that the experience of New England – from top to bottom – certainly played a role.
For this and all other bets that we specifically encouraged, our approach here will be to tally up the bets as if an imaginary individual had wagered an even $100 on each bet, in order to get a clear and tangible sense of how our predictions turned out.
In this case, if you had wagered $100 at the Bovada sportsbook on the Patriots moneyline, as we advised, you would have won $168.97, for a total net profit of $68.97.
Total Wagered: $100
Total Won: $168.97
The line for Super Bowl 51 at most sportsbooks ended up at Patriots -3, meaning that the Patriots were favored by three points. Though many New Englanders believed before the game that the line should be higher, the fact that the action was very even on both sides proved that Vegas set a fair line.
For our prediction, we focused primarily on the turnovers, believing that Atlanta was more likely than New England to turn the ball over on offense and give the ball back to Tom Brady.
As it turned out, the points off turnovers ultimately ended up in favor of the Falcons: Atlanta converted the extra drive they were gifted after a LeGarrette Blount fumble into 7 points, and got another 7 from a pick-6; New England only got 7 points from the one Atlanta turnover, the Dont’a Hightower strip sack.
However, our logic was sound. Our ultimate assessment for why we chose to wager on the Patriots against the spread went as follows: “…even if there are 0 turnovers in the entire game, we still believe that the youth and inexperience of the Falcons squad will cause them to sputter and stall on more drives than the Patriots. In a game that is likely to be incredibly tight, if the Falcons so much as lose out on one single drive – due to a dropped pass, a fumbled snap, a blown protection assignment, anything – it could prove the difference in the ball game.”
As it turned out, the Patriots won by 6 points due in part to this youth and inexperience, so we’re calling that a correct prediction. Either way, if you had wagered $100 at the Bovada sportsbook on the Patriots against the spread, you would have won the bet to the tune of $183.33.
Total Wagered: $200
Total Won: $352.30
So far, so good: We ended up being right about both the moneyline bet and the bet against the spread. In the total score over/under, however, our luck turned.
While the total score bet at many books ended up going down to 57, the line on which we placed our imaginary wager was set at 59-and-a-half by the odds-makers at Bovada, and it was the highest over/under in Super Bowl history.
For our assessment of the total score bet, our prediction was seriously off. We thought the Atlanta front seven’s weakness against the run would get exploited by LeGarrette Blount, leading to a game with few scoring possessions. We also believed that Atlanta would have difficulty running the ball, and that the two teams would trade possessions throughout the entire matchup.
Naturally, we were off on nearly all of these predictions, with Atlanta’s run defense being a big surprise, and the Patriots lackluster defensive effort in the second quarter blindsiding us as well.
But despite being wrong about the general course of the game, we weren’t very far off in our assessment of how many defensive stops there would be. And naturally, no one predicted there would be points scored in overtime.
The biggest difference between what we predicted and what ended up taking place was the pacing of the game. We thought it would be close, and it ended close, but during the course of the game there wasn’t any back and forth.
Along these lines, the most critical bet we would have lost, related to our prediction of the total score over/under, was “Will one team score three times unanswered?” We would have guessed that the answer would have been unequivocally ‘no,’ but obviously it turned out to be ‘yes’ – twice.
As another indicator of just how segmented the scoring was in Super Bowl 51, the prop bet for whether or not there would be a scoreless quarter hit (+450), meaning that despite the fact that there were 64 total points scored in the game, 0 of those points came in the first quarter.
Ultimately, the total score did end up sneaking over 59.5, so if you had wagered $100 at the Bovada sportsbook, as per our advice, unfortunately you would have lost your $100.
Total Wagered: $300
Total Won: $352.30
“Investment” Prop Bets
Now that we’ve reviewed how our predictions turned out for the three major bets – moneyline, bets against the spread, and total score over/under – let’s now turn our attention to those prop bets that we specifically recommended be wagered on as sound investments – not as fun diversions.
In our gambling preview, we first advised our imaginary gambler to take their whole imaginary $100 and wager it squarely on the Patriots to win by between 1 and 6 points, in keeping with our vision for the game. As the Pats did end up winning by 6, that bet paid out to the tune of +350, for a total payout of $450.
Incidentally, we also gave our imaginary gambler the option – if he or she wasn’t as confident as us – to split their wager evenly between three different margin of victory bets posted on the Bovada sportsbook:
- Patriots by 1-6 points (+350)
- Falcons by 1-6 points (+450)
- Patriots by 13-18 points (+700)
Once again, the Patriots did end up winning by 6 points, an outcome that was covered by this hedge bet. So if $33.33 had been wagered on this outcome, the payout would have been $150.00 (total profit of $83.33, after subtracting the two other failed $33.33 bets).
In our running total, though, we will factor this bet in as though the entire $100 had been wagered on the 1-6 margin of victory bet, as we initially advised.
Total Wagered: $400
Total Won: $802.30
In the same way that the overall under failed above, the individual teams’ over/under also failed. The Falcons covered theirs by a ½-point, which is just downright unlucky, and the Pats went above 30.5. So if you had wagered $100 on each, unfortunately you lost $200.
Total Wagered: $600
Total Won: $802.30
Our gambling on the number of touchdowns ended up being a wash, simply because of how nicely we hedged the bet. We did lose imaginary money betting that there would be fewer than 6.5 touchdowns, when there ended up being 8 touchdowns. However, our Exact Number of Touchdowns Bet bailed us out, as is covered immediately below.
Total Wagered: $700
Total Won: $802.30
In addition to betting that there would be fewer than 6.5 total touchdowns scored, we also made sure to cover ourselves in the event that we were slightly off. If our imaginary gambler had taken our advice, he or she would have split the standard $100 wager into four equal parts, and laid them on the following outcomes:
- 5 total touchdowns scored (+475)
- 6 total touchdowns scored (+400)
- 7 total touchdowns scored (+450)
- 8 total touchdowns scored (+600)
If this had been the wager, the $25 you had laid on the “8 total touchdowns” bet would have paid out to the tune of $175, for a total profit of $75 when the $100 initial wager is subtracted.
(Incidentally, if you’d bet the full $100 on 8 touchdowns, you would have come away with $700, though of course this was not at all what we predicted would happen.)
Total Wagered: $800
Total Won: $977.30
So in conclusion, if some imaginary gambler had taken all of our Super Bowl gambling advice to the letter and wagered $100 on every single one of our best bets – exactly as we advised – that gambler would have ended up turning a profit of $177.30, or, more specifically, he or she would have laid $800 in order to win $977.30.
For uninitiated gamblers, the idea of “only” coming away with an extra two hundred bucks in your pocket doesn’t feel like much, experienced gamblers know that it’s much more about the rate of return. Depending on how you look at it, earning $977.30 on $800 of wagers is an investment of capital on your football acumen that in this case ultimately ended up yielding a 22.16% return on investment.
Now let’s take a look at some of the prop bets that we mentioned purely for purposes of a fun diversion, not at all with the intention of believing the bet to be a sound investment. Let’s look and see which of these fun bets paid out, which didn’t, and which of the bets that offered a crazy return paid out despite being completely unexpected.
“Fun” Prop Bets
The first category of fun prop bets includes bets that were non-football related:
How long will it take for Luke Bryan to sing the U.S. national anthem?
- Winner, under 2 minutes, 9 seconds (Bryan ended up at 2:04)
How many times will Arthur Blank be shown on TV during the live broadcast?
- Winner, Over 2 times, -120
How many times will Robert Kraft be shown on TV during the live broadcast?
- Winner, Over 2.5 times, -120
How many times will Giselle Bundchen be shown on TV during the live broadcast?
- Winner, Over 1.5 times, +110
If New England wins, will Kraft, Belichick, or Brady be seen shaking Roger Goodell’s hand on TV?
- Winner, Yes, -180
What color will the liquid be that is poured on the winning coach?
- PUSH; no Gatorade was dumped on Bill Belichick during the live TV broadcast
Who will the Super Bowl MVP mention first?
- God, +200
- Winner, Team/teammates, +200
- Coach, +900
- Family, +900
- Owner, +900
- Donald Trump, +2000
- Does not mention anyone above, +250
What color will Lady Gaga’s hair be when she comes on stage for the halftime show?
- Winner, Blonde, -400
- Any other color, -250
The second category of fun prop bets covers all of the football-related props that would have been extraordinarily difficult to predict before-hand, but which ultimately turned out to be very lucrative for those who somehow managed to wager on them:
Who will record the most receiving yards in the game?
- Julio Jones (ATL), +175
- Julian Edelman (NE), +200
- Chris Hogan (NE), +600
- Taylor Gabriel (ATL), +750
- Mohamed Sanu (ATL), +1000
- Devonta Freeman (ATL), +1200
- Martellus Bennett (NE), +1400
- Tevin Coleman (ATL), +1600
- Dion Lewis (NE), +1600
- Winner, James White (NE), +1600
- Austin Hooper (ATL), +2500
Will either Brady or Ryan record 415 or more passing yards to break the Super Bowl record?
- Winner, Yes, +400
- No, -700
Will any player other than Brady or Ryan attempt a pass?
- Winner, Yes, +250
- No, -400
Will the game go to overtime?
- Winner, Yes, +750
- No, -1500
Will there be a missed extra point after a touchdown?
- Winner, Yes, +300
- No, -400
Will a PAT or field goal hit the goalpost? (At Caesars Palace only)
- Winner, Yes +425
- No -550
Will there be a special teams or defensive TD scored?
- Winner, Yes, +160
- No, -200
Exact number of QB sacks in the game:
- Winner, 9 or more, +1200
Largest lead of the game by either team: 16.5 points
- Winner, Over -120
- Under, EVEN