Is the Wrong Team Favored in Super Bowl LVIII?
Questions: Is there a better big game coach in the NFL than Andy Reid? Is there a better big game quarterback than Patrick Mahomes? Which lineup do you want in a tie game with 2 minutes left on the clock? These answers seem obvious – making Kansas City the smart pick versus San Francisco to both cover and win outright.
Should the San Francisco 49ers be favored over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII?
Most betting sites offer the 49ers as 2-point favorites. San Francisco is also listed at -125 on the moneyline. That price also returns +110 on Kansas City. There's a lot to unpack here. Frankly, these numbers look inexplicable.
The numbers have remained steady throughout the Super Bowl pre-game discussion and debate. It now appears the line will fluctuate somewhere in between -1.5 and -2.5, with -2 as the consensus closing number (however, note that odds are unpredictable and always subject to change).
So, does San Francisco really deserve to be favored this Sunday in Las Vegas? My answer is a resounding – no.
Consider these facts:
(1) First, San Francisco has not looked nor played anything like a Super Bowl champion, especially in recent games. The 49ers looked shaky on both sides of the ball during much of their two home playoff games. They had to rally to win and underperformed according to betting market expectations. In the Divisional Round, San Francisco was down by 7 points entering the 4th quarter against Green Bay. A week later in the NFC Championship game, San Francisco trailed by 17 points at halftime to Detroit. Yes, let’s credit the 49ers for pulling out two wins, but also remember that they failed to cover the spread in either playoff game. In fact, San Francisco has failed to cover the number in 4 of their last 5 games. The 49ers only “impressive” win and cover was a 17-point victory versus lowly Washington.
(2) By contrast, let's look at what Kansas City has done recently. The Chiefs won three straight playoff games, easily covering the spread in all three contests. They also won two tough road games -- thus proving they can perform well away from home (admittedly, this had been a legitimate concern since the Chiefs have enjoyed home field advantages in most postseason games during the entirety of the Reid-Mahomes era). Also note the Chiefs defense mostly shut down two of the NFL's top offenses -- Miami and Baltimore. And speaking of the Ravens, let's remember how both teams performed in recent games versus this common opponent. Baltimore as a visitor destroyed San Francisco by 14 points. However, Kansas City playing at Baltimore won by 7. While San Francisco has been struggling of late, Kansas City appears to be peaking at the perfect time.
(3) In any contest between two strong teams, and this game certainly appears to feature the two most talented in the league, the tipping point could come down to one factor -- experience. Advantage here to Kansas City. The Chiefs are absolutely loaded with a championship pedigree and more big game experience in virtually all areas from the front office to coaching to player personnel. Not only are they the reigning Super Bowl champs, Kansas City has won the title in two of the past four seasons, including a victory over the 49ers in 2020. Is there a better big game coach in the NFL than Andy Reid? Is there a better big game quarterback than Patrick Mahomes? Which lineup do you want in a tie game with 2 minutes left on the clock? These answers seem obvious. In what should be a close game, I'll take the Chiefs.
What are the primary reasons the 49ers are favored in this game? Well, one big reason might be the team records. San Francisco finished 12-5 and rightfully earned the top-seed in the NFC. Meanwhile, third-seeded Kansas City finished 11-6 and did struggle at times, particularly early in the season. Indeed, the 49ers were the better team in September, October, November, and perhaps even into December. However, we’ve moved past January and this is now February. That was then. This is now.
Over and over, year after year, Kansas City has proven itself as a late season closer – and winner. It might be an old cliche to say that any NFL team can simply flip on an imaginary “switch” and win when they want to. However, after a Super Bowl-winning season motivation might have been harder to generate for the Chiefs during 2023, that is, until it became time to play their very best. When pressed to do so, Kansas City performed well and delivered impressive victories.
Could the spread factor in the game? Perhaps, so. Since new extra point rules were implemented prior to the 2015 NFL regular season (thus changing the overall outcome percentages of various margins), 4.4 percent of all games have been decided by exactly 1 point. Furthermore, 4.2 percent of all games have been decided by exactly 2 points. That's a combined 8.6 percent of all games (including playoffs) landing on 1 or 2. Let's also note the actual percentage of 1 or 2 points being relevant is higher in games with lower point spreads. The takeaway here is not to dismiss the points potentially coming into play. In a contest with slim margins and few appreciable disparities an extra point or two might be a gift.
Yes, the wrong team is favored in this game. Kansas City deserves to be laying -2, not San Francisco.
This all means that betting on Kansas City +2 (and/or the Chiefs on the moneyline at +110) appears to be a great value. Super Bowl LVIII is a rare popular opinion and oddsmaker blunder on a game of such a high stature.
Note: This is entirely my opinion. All wagering should be based upon as much reliable information as possible and one's own judgment.