NFL Super Bowl preview, props and picks – In The Pocket

We’ve finally reached the pinnacle of the 2010 season, and we’re headed to Texas for the Superbowl. In one of the most even matchups in years, opinion is largely split on the winner of this one. Will Green Bay continue their miracle run, or will the Steelers take care of business? In The Pocket looks at the game itself, and at the myriad of prop bets available as options for the game that in many cases provide better value than the game result itself.

Green Bay Packers versus Pittsburgh Steelers

The Green Bay Packers have continued their hot streak to end the season, and have the support of the betting public. After dealing with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons on the road, they came out and defeated the Chicago Bears in the NFC Conference championship game. Their offense, led by QB Aaron Rodgers, started extremely fast and tore out to a very quick lead before the Bears’ D could get properly into the game – and in the end, that lead was the difference. The Bears shut down their offense in the second half and staged a comeback despite playing their 3rd string QB before the 4th quarter, but in the end, the Packers’ defense bailed the offense out of jail with two timely interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. It wasn’t the most convincing finish to the game, but once again Green Bay did enough to get the win on the road.

The Steelers have had a similarly flawed road to the Superbowl, but again have done enough. Lapses against the Ravens kept that game close, and despite a stellar running game behind RB Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh also couldn’t put the game away against the Jets. Star safety Troy Polamalu continues to struggle with his Achilles problem, and is unable to fly to the ball with wrecking ball speed as is his usual norm. However, the Steelers are a fearsome defensive unit who absolutely lock down the opponents’ running game and force teams to make passing plays, often inducing gambles and turnovers. Their patchwork offensive line has gotten worse with the injury to C Maurkice Pouncey against the Jets, meaning Pittsburgh are now on their backup centre, left tackle and right tackle. A team without their depth on the offensive line would never have gotten close to getting this far. QB Ben Roethlisberger also remains one of the most talented scrambling quarterbacks at the league, evening his odds somewhat even if his offensive line is leaky.

As is typical with this inter-conference game, these teams did not meet during the regular season. We have to go back to 2009 for the last time the teams played, and the somewhat surprising result of a 37-36 Steelers victory on the heavy turf of Heinz Field. The absence of Polamalu for that game would have assisted the high score, but even so this goes against the expected result of two dominant defences going against one another. Similar thoughts pop to mind when you consider the widely available Total Points spread of 44.5 – dominant defences bring the Under to mind (as it has consistently all post-season for the Steelers), but with multiple turnovers forced and defences that can score in their own right… the Under may be too risky a play at that number. The 1.93 available for the Over at Luxbet may present a little more value.

The conditions at Arlington Stadium, Texas will provide a faster game than those seen in the conference championships, and this may provide extra scoring opportunities as well – see the Packers’ red-hot performance in Atlanta for what Green Bay’s offense can do on a quick deck. The Steelers’ ability to shut down the run will likely mean that the Packers will come out in a spread offense, forcing Pittsburgh to adjust and play extra defensive backs to cover all the options. When the Packers’ passing attack is clicking, the short slant routes to WR Donald Driver and Greg Jennings for 5-7 yards can be just as consistent as a running game anyway. When the Steelers have the ball, they will use Mendenhall to establish a running game against a Packers’ D that wants to have extra defensive backs on the field all the time. With some success, they’ll then let Big Ben do his thing with the ball, dodging blitzers and looking deep for WR Mike Wallace. When in trouble, TE Heath Miller can come up with big plays in the middle of the field for Big Ben against the smaller Green Bay defensive backs.

The game opened in Vegas with the Packers favoured by 2, and quickly found itself in that difficult spot between 2.5 and 3. For those who like the Steelers with the points, Centrebet currently have them available at +3 @ 1.76, whereas Packers punters would prefer Sportingbet’s current odds, giving up the 2.5 @ 1.91. In The Pocket leans towards the Packers, due to the advantage they have going against the weakened Steelers’ offensive line.

In such a tight Superbowl however, sometimes you can find better value sniffing out bargains amongst the many proposition bets available for the game. Australian bookmakers do not offer as extensive a smorgasbord of prop bet options, but there are still sufficient to whet the appetite of an interested punter. Currently Centrebet, Sportingbet and Sportsbet have the most comprehensive listing, but other sites are still posting theirs so shop around before you commit.

The most obvious prop bet is for the Most Valuable Player. Traditionally, this award goes to quarterbacks over half the time (and offensive players almost always) – and the obvious play for those that favour the Packers is to back QB Aaron Rodgers for the MVP. Accordingly, he’s at a prohibitive $2 @ Centrebet, and not much better at 2.15 at Sportingbet. You’re better off considering a longer shot if you want to play in this market. For the Packers, veteran WR Donald Driver ($23 @ Sportingbet) is a possibility of having a big game if the Packers win. His skill set sees him outpace physical cornerbacks, and overpower fast cornerbacks – and the likely reliance on a passing attack to move the chains means he should be a regular target for Rodgers. For the Steelers, a big game from Rashard Mendenhall ($8 @ Centrebet) on the ground could see him lift the trophy, and a genuine long shot in TE Heath Miller ($81 @ Centrebet) is not beyond the bounds of realism.

Traditional NFL prop bets revolve around quarterback and running back performance. Completions, pass attempts, rushing yards, receiving yards, head to head comparisons are the bread and butter of the Superbowl bookie. Some interesting options jump out amongst the typical though.

Centrebet have a few head-to-head markets worth consideration. Heath Miller (1.60) is a near certainty to have more receiving yards than his Packers’ opposite, Andrew Quarless. Similarly, Donald Driver (1.86) should easily outdistance opposing Steelers’ vet Hines Ward. Driver has an over/under for receiving yards of 45.5, consider playing the Over (1.87) for him with confidence. Heath Miller’s line is at 40.5, and he should also go Over (1.87). If you don’t mind cheering for an Under, consider Hines Ward at Under 42.5 (1.82) – he has become almost a tight end in the amount of time he spends blocking on plays these days, and his receptions are often check-downs for short yardage rather than as a feature of the offense.

Sportsbet currently have a mortgage on some of the more esoteric options, but there are still a few worth considering. The team first penalised for holding should have the patchwork Steelers offensive line as a heavy favourite, but they are surprisingly good value at 1.80. The odds of a defensive or special teams touchdown (2.25 for Yes) with such strong, turnover causing defences is intriguing. One to be wary of is the Most Tackles market – linebackers traditionally dominate here, but in this game a lot of linebackers spend time on the bench as nickel and dime defences are on the field more often (Green Bay only plays it’s traditional 3-4 defence on 25% of snaps). Safeties like Ryan Clark (8.50), Nick Collins (11.00) or even cornerback-cum-extra safety Charles Woodson (8.50) are probably better value here.

In The Pocket’s best plays:
Packers -2.5 @ 1.91 (Sportingbet)
Over 44.5 Total Points @ 1.93 (Luxbet)
Donald Driver Over 45.5 receiving yards @ 1.87(Centrebet)
Heath Miller more receiving yards than Andrew Quarless @ 1.60 (Centrebet)
Steelers first penalised for holding @1.80 (Sportsbet)

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