When ESPN approached me to start doing gambling content, I was reluctant because I knew it would inevitably end up with me giving picks out. This is a challenging thing to do for many reasons. First off, we all know consistently beating the lines is extremely difficult. But if you add to it the construct of having to make picks, even if there is little value and having to make picks at a certain time each week, it becomes even more difficult. Such is the life of a "Predictive Analytics Expert."
This Super Bowl is a perfect example. I liked the Carolina Panthers when this line opened at -3.5/-4, but now the line is -5.5/6. Much of the early money was on Carolina and when the line reached -6, Denver money arrived and forced the line back down. I think there will be more Denver money on game day, so if you want to bet Carolina, I would wait and hope.
There isn't much value on the spread in this game at the current line, but I do think that Carolina wins this game by more than a touchdown simply because Denver's offense is terrible. If you look at the four units in this matchup -- Denver offense, Denver defense, Carolina offense and Carolina defense -- the only one that is weak is the Denver offense and we have a lot of evidence that this isn't a fluke. The Broncos are averaging a pedestrian 5.2 yards per play for the season and are not trending up despite their recent success. Against New England, they actually posted a pathetic 3.8 YPP. I don't expect Denver to score more than 17 points in this game.
If forced to make a play on this game with the current spread, I would take Carolina on the money line at -230 or better. I think they will win this game and there is a bit of value on the money line in Super Bowls -- as many have mentioned -- as the public tends to like taking the underdog. If the line drifts back to -4 or better, I would take Carolina minus the points.
The total in this game is a similar case. I liked the under earlier in the week when it was 45.5. These teams are the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the league in terms of YPP allowed, and I expect both teams to have more success running the ball than passing. Running success uses more clock up and tends to produce lower scoring games. Couple that with what I mentioned regarding Denver's offensive struggles, and under 45.5 is a solid bet. With the total at 44, I think much of the value is gone so let's hope that the total goes up before game time.
Now, here are the prop bets I like:
4.5 different Panthers have a rushing attempt* (O: +130, U: -150)
Only half of the Panthers games saw four or fewer players have a rushing attempt, so with this simple analysis, you could say that getting plus money on the over is good value. Of course, many of the Panthers games were blowouts, so you had rushes from backup QB Derek Anderson, which will not likely happen in this game.
But if you deconstruct this, we can be pretty sure that Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert will all rush the ball. And the Panthers will more than likely attempt at least one reverse or end around to one of their WRs. So we just need one more player such as Fozzy Whittaker or Cameron Artis-Payne to get a rush. With Stewart coming off injury, that seems likely to me.
The pick: Over
*Not counting conversions
235.5 total passing yards by Peyton Manning (O/U -110)
Manning's median passing yards per game was 239, so this line is fair when you take into account the Panthers are better than average defensively. Still, I think there is value on the under, as the way to attack Carolina is on the ground. The Panthers are second in the league in yards per pass attempt allowed, but only ninth in yards per rush attempt allowed.
I think Denver will try to attack on the ground and will do their best to take the pressure off Manning. The main concern with this bet is if the Broncos gets down by a lot in the game and become pass heavy. As long as their defense can keep this game within reach, this is a solid bet to go under.
The pick: Under
33.5 total receiving yards by Owen Daniels (O/U -110)*
I like the under on Daniels' receiving yards. His median receiving yards for the year is only 21.5. If you limit that to the games in which Manning played, it drops to 15. His season average was 25 yards, which is still a lot less than 33.5.
Add to that the terrific collection of linebackers that the Panthers have, and I think the oddsmakers are getting sucked in by the recency bias of Daniels' big game versus New England.
The pick: Under
*Under wins if no receptions
58.5 total rushing yards by C.J. Anderson (O/U -110)
Due to Anderson's recent success and Ronnie Hillman's recent struggles, I think a lot of people are expecting Anderson to get a lot of carries. The reality is that these two backs really do split carries.
In games when both have been healthy, Anderson has never had more than 55 percent of the work, and I expect Hillman to get his share of the carries here. Add in the fact that if Carolina is leading -- as I mentioned earlier -- Denver will have to become pass heavy, which gives us another way to win this bet.
The pick: Under
*Under wins if no rushing attempts