Sharps, squares face off in Super Bowl

If there is a betting storyline the public hates to hear more than any other, this is it. The squares are on Peyton Manning and the sharps are on the underdog. The battle line has been drawn.

It’s the Super Bowl, and it doesn’t get any bigger than this, so let’s play up the feud. Dogs and cats, Hatfields and McCoys, Red Sox and Yankees, Regis Philbin and Rick Reilly — all bitter rivalries. And the sharps and squares are going head to head in a classic sports book Civil War.

“The public has been betting Denver,” VegasSportsAuthority.com handicapper Jim Kruger said, “while most professional bettors favor Seattle.”

Kruger’s quote sums it up. True or not, that’s the perception heading into Super Bowl XLVIII weekend. While that perception is never the entire reality, we’re talking about majority opinion.

“There are definitely some sharps betting the Broncos,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said, after admitting the sharps on the Broncos are in the minority.

Denver is a 2½-point favorite over Seattle at every Las Vegas book, and the line seems more likely to drop to 2 than rise to 3 between now and Sunday’s kickoff. But with crowds of amateur bettors about to hit the Strip for the weekend, who knows for sure?

“It’s been slow, but it’s starting to pick up. It will be big the next few days. I think someone out there will go to 3,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “All of the square money is on Denver. But all of my large bets, $20,000 and up, have been on Seattle.”

Who do you like in the Super Bowl? I’ve been asked that question countless times in the past 10 days. My answer is never resolute. I can see arguments for Manning and the Broncos and can make a case for Richard Sherman and the Seahawks’ defense.

“If this was a regular-season game,” Kornegay said, “most guys would pass on this game.”

But it’s the biggest game of the year, so you can’t pass. Everyone is obligated to make some sort of prediction.

“The Week 15 schedule had eight games that were more promising than this one,” said Micah Roberts, an analyst for “The Linemakers” on SportingNews.com and a former book director.

Roberts is not a square, but he’s picking the Broncos by 11. The so-called squares hate being called squares because it implies the sort of unsophistication that comes with saying you’re from West Virginia. Not everyone from West Virginia is unsophisticated, but that might be the perception.

The square side — usually a public favorite — cashes a lot of the time in the NFL. The sharp side — usually the underdog but not always — tends to cash slightly more frequently.

“We always make a big deal about the sharps and the public,” Kornegay said. “The sharps will hit around 55 to 56 percent of the games, and the public will hit around 50 percent or so. Everybody likes Manning. But almost everybody who really knows football, the majority of them like the Seahawks.”

The public also likes Sherman, the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the league. Will Sherman intercept a pass? Kornegay said the public is pounding the “Yes” side of that proposition at plus-210, and never mind that probably 90 percent of those bettors had no idea who Sherman was two weeks ago.

The LVH opened Seattle as a 2-point favorite before an early flood of Broncos money flipped the odds. Professional bettors see value in a line like this when the team that arguably should be favored is the underdog.

“The line really should be Seattle as a slight favorite,” Kornegay said. “The perceived value is on the Seahawks, but value does not equal winners. I’m not sure how much value you’re getting when you make it minus-1 and you’re getting 2½. If you get a TV on sale, that doesn’t mean it’s the best TV. It would be different if you made it 2 and the line is 4.”

If the line moves to 3, that is a different story, because getting plus-3 with the Seahawks is more valuable. But several prominent offshore books dropped the line to 2 and 1½ on Thursday, when the total was bet from 47 to 48 and 48½ because of more reliable reports of mild weather on game day.

“Usually when the offshores move that way, it’s a pretty good indicator of where it’s going to go,” Kornegay said. “It’s unlikely it’s going to go to 3.”

Book directors are reporting about a 65-35 ratio in dollars wagered favoring Denver. At the LVH, Kornegay said, with the line at 2½, two-thirds of the tickets are on the Broncos, but the money is basically dead even. That indicates more sharp money is on the Seahawks.

“We’ve got several six-figure bets so far. We have not had a monster seven-figure bet yet. We’re getting really good, strong action, about 5 to 10 percent ahead of last year’s pace,” said MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood, who picked the Broncos, 24-23.

“I’ve kind of gone back and forth on it,” Rood said. “But I think the Seattle defense will play really well, and Manning might have to rally in the fourth quarter for a comeback win.”

I’m going with the Seahawks, but that’s not necessarily a sharp opinion.

Check out Sunday’s paper for a comprehensive prediction poll of Las Vegas oddsmakers, handicappers and media. None are squares, even the ones siding with Manning and the Broncos, but the sharp-square storyline is always a heated rivalry and especially when the game is this big.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.


With the Super Bowl line sitting at 2½ and possibly ticking up this weekend, it’s time to look at the significance of NFL point spreads in the 3-point neighborhood.

During this regular season, 38 of 256 games (14.8 percent) landed on 3.

For the six previous seasons of 2006 through 2012, a total of 223 of 1,536 regular-season games (14.5 percent) landed on 3.

Of the 256 games in this regular season, 23 of the 38 games that landed on 3 were won by the favored team — 9.0 percent of all games and 60.5 percent of the 38 games that fell 3.

Of the 1,536 regular-season games between 2007 and 2012, 128 of the 223 games that landed on 3 were won by the favored team — 8.3 percent of all games and 57.4 percent of the 223 games that fell 3.

Now, let’s look at games in which the closing line at the LVH sports book was 2½, 3 or 3½.

In the 2013 regular season there were 87 games in which a team was favored by 2½, 3 or 3½ points. Of those 87 games, the favored team won by exactly 3 points nine times (10.3 percent).

Between 2007 and 2012, there were 491 games in which a team was favored by 2½, 3 or 3½ points, and the favored team won by exactly 3 points 38 times (7.7 percent).

During the 25 seasons from 1988 through 2012, including postseason games, 15.7 percent of all games landed on 3. Favorites (of any size) have won 56.2 percent of the games that fell 3, or 8.8 percent of all games. Restated, 8.8 percent of all games have seen the favored team win by exactly 3 points.

During the 25 seasons from 1988 through 2012, including postseason games, favorites of 2½, 3 or 3½ points won games by exactly 3 points 8.9 percent of the time (of 6,359 games, there were 1,939 instances of a team being favored by 2½, 3 or 3½ points with those teams winning 172 of the 1,939 games by exactly 3 points, or 8.9 percent).