In case you had not heard, the Super Bowl will happen this weekend. That means the 2018/19 football season will end in less than 72 hours and this is the last installment of Football Friday for a while. So, let me get to it … [Aside: I know the AAF will kick off a week from Saturday and I wish the folks involved in that enterprise well. However, I will reserve judgment on the magnitude – or even the viability – of that new league within the US sports landscape for a while.]
NFL/Super Bowl General Comments:
Before I get into my commentary, I want to point you to a column by Brad Rock in the Deseret News earlier this week. We can all be amused by – or mystified by – the “super-fans” who attach themselves to teams. You know who I mean’ the guy who spends a couple of hours painting himself to look like the team logo before going to the game and acting like a maniac in the stands or the guys who turn their bloodstream into a 20-proof concoction of plasma and alcohol only to bear their chests to reveal the team name while the temperature is in the single digits. There are a few of them at just about every game. Brad Rock’s column uses the results of a national survey to describe a set of “super fans” that take “super-fandom” to mind-numbing extremes. Please take a moment and follow this link; when you have read the column and have finished shaking your head, come on back for the rest of this Football Friday.
For the last 2 weeks, I have been reminded at least a bazillion times that the Patriots have been to the AFC Championship game in each of the last 8 seasons. The team has received abundant and sufficient praise for that achievement. However, here in Curmudgeon Central, we always try to look through the other end of the telescope; therefore, here are the teams that have not been to a Conference Championship Game since 2000:
- NFC: Cowboys, Lions, Skins
- AFC: Bills, Bengals, Browns, Dolphins, Texans
Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had a series of short takes/observations about the spectacle of the Super Bowl with some gems buried therein. I will present several of them here as “rant interludes” for your amusement:
“Super Bowl wagering is popular, especially the prop bets. Because the NFL refs are so traumatized by the negative reaction to missed penalties in the conference championship games, the over-under on the number of pass-interference penalties called on the first scrimmage play Sunday is 3. Bet the over. You’ll win, even if it’s a running play.”
There have been reports that the NFL – in its ongoing fervent pursuit of the integrity of the games – is upset by prop bets offered by various sportsbooks. For the Super Bowl there is a tsunami of prop bets related to the game and to the length of the national anthem and to whether the halftime performers will moon the audience during the first number or the third number. The NFL position is that prop bets are far easier to “manipulate” than game outcomes. To underscore the league’s distaste for prop bets, one of the league execs in Congressional testimony several months ago told Congress that it should enact legislation allowing the league – in conjunction with the sportsbooks – to ban proposition wagering as they relate to the stats for an individual player.
Let me stipulate that indeed it would be easier for ne’er-do-wells to “fix” a prop bet than a game spread or a total score. Having said that, I have not heard or read about any evil-doers accomplishing such a betting coup. Moreover, since prop bets during the regular season are limited in number and get only a tiny fraction of the handle for any given game, it is hard to see how a “fixer” would make enough money off prop bets to make it worth the time, trouble and risk. In addition, many sportsbooks limit the size of the wager that they will take on any of the prop bets.
Here is another interlude from Scott Ostler:
“The average American will gain 6 pounds between now and Sunday night. But don’t worry, it’s mostly temporary weight, which easily can be shed with liposuction.”
Fans who attend the game in Atlanta will probably be surprised to see how low the food concession prices are at Mercedes Benz Stadium. During the regular season, the Falcons instituted something called “Fan First Menu Pricing” which featured a whole bunch of concession items at prices that harken back to the 1980s. For example, you could buy a cheeseburger for $5 and refillable soft drinks for $1. Those prices are going to remain in effect for the Super Bowl attendees; the news item there is that there are no plans to gouge the people who may have already paid “four figures” for a seat in the stadium. Kudos to Falcons as the hosts here…
One more comment from Scott Ostler, if I may:
“During the Super Bowl telecast, there will be no commercials for medicinal marijuana. That ad was rejected by the network, which wants to protect America from the evils of weed. There will be dozens of commercials for booze, bacon cheeseburgers, junk snacks, toxic colas, candy, large automobiles that hasten global warming, and wonder drugs designed to treat the ailments cause by all the other stuff being advertised. The wheel of life.”
In fact, CBS rejected an ad that would have touted the benefits of medical marijuana. Acreage Holdings is a company involved in the “cultivation, processing and dispensing” of cannabis; they proposed a 60-second ad focused on medicinal uses for their product and supposedly sent the storyboards to CBS; CBS said they would not be accepting any advertising for medical marijuana for this year’s Super Bowl telecast. Too bad …
Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had his own comment about the rejection of the medical marijuana ad – but he believes the pain that will be felt exists beyond the target audience of people suffering from various medical maladies:
“CBS has rejected a Super Bowl ad for medicinal marijuana.
“But if you thought the pot moguls were upset about the news, you should’ve seen the folks at Frito Lay.”
According to adage.com, there will be 8 ads during the game from Anheuser-Busch for a mixture of its brands of beer along with 8 more “quick plugs” of 5 seconds each while the game is ongoing. For people who focus more on the ads during the game than on the game itself, they are going to see lots of frothy beverages poured and admired during stoppages of play. And that fact leads directly into another of the comments from Scott Ostler about the game this weekend:
“Everyone watching the beer commercials will muse, ‘How come this stuff doesn’t make me young and beautiful and hip? I must not be drinking enough of it.’”
I suspect that is exactly the conclusion that the advertisers hope that the audience draws from their presentations…
With regard to the telecast itself, the networks – and the sponsors – got the pairing that they would have preferred. Boston and LA are the two largest TV markets by far of the 4 markets represented by the teams in the Conference Championship Games. Nielsen identifies 210 “Designated Market Areas” for the US. Los Angeles is the second largest market; Boston/Manchester is the tenth largest market area. For comparison purposes, Kansas City is 32nd in the rankings and New Orleans is 50th on the list.
In addition to playing to much larger “home audiences”, the opposition of Boston and LA can allow networks and the league to allude to the rivalry of those two cities in the NBA orbit. It may have been a while ago, but more than a few sports fans recall the intense rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers when it was Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson…
Now, if anyone reading those last two paragraphs begins to think that there might be a linkage between these preferences and the outrageous officiating calls in last week’s Conference Championship Games, please take your tinfoil hats with you as you go to see a therapist about your paranoia.
In each of the last 5 seasons, both Conference Championship Games had been won by the home teams; last week, both home teams lost the Conference Championship Games. Fans of those home teams that lost can feel as if they were robbed – and there were plenty of questionable officiating decisions in both games. However, let me present a couple of stats here that might suggest that the right teams advanced.
- At the end of regulation, the Rams had gained 363 yards to 296 for the Saints AND the Rams averaged 5.7 yards per play to 4.9 yards per play for the Saints. Those are not insignificant differences.
- The Pats dominated the Chiefs on the stat sheet. In regulation time, the Pats gained 449 yards to the Chiefs’ 290; the Pats were 13-19 on third-down conversions; the Pats held the ball for 40 minutes and 41 seconds.
Regarding the betting lines here, the spread opened two weeks ago with the Rams as 1-point favorites in the game. Evidently there were plenty of folks with plenty of money who thought that was the wrong line because in less than an hour the lines had flipped to the Pats as 1-point favorites. The action must have abated a bit at that point because it was not until the next morning that the line reached Pats – 2.5. There are a couple of offshore sportsbooks where the spread is Pats – 3, but for the most part, the line has stayed constant at 2.5 points since Monday a week ago.
The Total Line opened at 57.5 and early money went overwhelmingly to the OVER, so the Total Line briefly peaked at 59.5. From there the line has dropped back over the last two weeks and this morning it sits at 56 points.
There is a report that someone placed a $2M bet on the game at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The sportsbook acknowledged taking the bet but refused any other comment or details. Speculation is that it was a bet on the Rams plus the points.
With betting now legal in 8 States – as opposed to last year when it was legal only in Nevada – estimates are that the legal handle might triple compared to last year. According to the Nevada Gaming Commission – the regulatory body that oversees the casinos and sportsbooks in Nevada – the handle for the Super Bowl last year was $158M. If indeed the legal handle nationwide triples, that would bring the total close to half-a-billion dollars.
The Nevada Gaming Commission data revel something else about Super Bowl wagering:
- In the 28 years (since 1991) that the Commission has tracked Super Bowl wagering as a specific line item, the sportsbooks have beaten the betting public in 26 of those 28 years.
- Don’t be surprised; that is how those folks stay in business…
Here are a couple of interesting – but certainly not important – tidbits related to the game:
- I have not checked all 52 previous Super Bowl games, but I am confident that this is the first Super Bowl where the quarterback for one of the teams (Tom Brady) is 8 years older than the head coach of the other team (Sean McVay).
- Todd Gurley and Sony Michel were teammates at Georgia in 2014; they will face one another in this game.
- Tom Brady has started more NFL playoff games than Jared Goff has started in total.
- Brandin Cooks was on the Pats team that played in last year’s Super Bowl; he will play for the Rams this weekend.
- The last NFL team from Los Angeles to participate in the Super Bowl was the Raiders when they beat the Skins in 1984.
- Both the Rams and the Pats ranked in the Top 4 in the NFL in points scored this regular season. Notwithstanding that stature, neither team has paid off as OVER bets this year. Counting the playoffs, the Pats are 7-11 to go OVER in 18 games and the Rams are merely 9-9.
New England – 2.5 vs. Rams (56) Game is in Atlanta: I like this game to go OVER – notwithstanding the stat cited directly above. Also, I cannot convince myself to bet against the Pats in this situation, so I’ll take the Pats to win and cover – – but with less conviction than the pick regarding the Total Line. By happenstance I have two trends going for me with those selections – even though I am not a trend watcher:
- Pats are 7-1 to go OVER in their last 8 playoff games
- Pats are 9-3 against the spread in their last 12 playoff games.
Finally, let me close with one last Super Bowl observation from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:
“Halftime entertainment is Maroon 5 and rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi. Fine performers all, no doubt, but old-timers will pine for the simpler extravaganzas of years gone by. Like the 1988 halftime show featuring the Rockettes and Chubby Checker, a man with three career hits: ‘The Twist,’ ‘Let’s Twist Again,’ and ‘Let’s Twist One Last Time, I Swear, for My Retirement Fund.’”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………