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Odds, National Anthem, Preview - All You Need To Know About Superbowl LIII

Odds, National Anthem, Preview - All You Need To Know About Superbowl LIII
Tuesday,January 29,2019

Between the start of September and the end of December, 256 regular season games decide which 12 of the 32 NFL teams would progress to the January playoffs. Those teams then have 10 knockout games between them, in order to determine which two compete in the 267th and final game of the season: the Super Bowl. This game sees the winners of each half (Conference) facing off to decide which is the world champion for that year.


As annual sporting events go, this is as big as it gets. It’ll be watched by over 175 million people around the world and on a variety of devices. More than half of those viewers will be in the US, but the global market is expanding, compared with, say the Champions League final, which has similar total numbers but a more established global audience.


If you’ve been to one of the London games (or indeed, crossed the pond to see one in the States), you’ll know that an NFL game is treated as more than purely a sporting contest; it’s a spectacle, with pyrotechnics, blaring musing between plays, audience interaction in the breaks, sounds and songs for different parts of the game and myriad other ways to ensure that you feel a true part of what you’re watching for three and a half hours. Magnify that by a hefty chunk and you’re getting close to the pomp and spectacle of the Super Bowl.


Commercial value


If you’re an advertiser, you would love to be part of the night, given the scale of the audience watching. An unmatched level of exposure awaits. How much will it set you back for a 30 second commercial? Supply and demand has pushed the price up from about $40,000 for the first Super Bowl in 1967. It could be around $5million this year, so you’d best make it worth it. Companies prepare their best adverts, whether featuring big named stars or revealing brand new products, and save them for this special occasion. There’s a natural push to go viral now, so adverts have explored odd worlds and tried to tap into markets they wouldn’t bother with in ordinary football games; the whole family will be watching and a successful advert will be viewed millions upon millions of times on social media. It’s a huge competition and the results each year even get their own wiki page.


If you find yourself at a loose end, YouTube Super Bowl commercials and you’ll see what I mean. Kia’s A Dream Car for Real Life is my favourite.



The anthem


Every sporting event in America seemingly, from the high school games to the professional leagues, has the national anthem introduce it. Super Bowl LIII’s will be performed by 74-year old Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight.


It takes just under two minutes to sing the US national anthem at a Super Bowl, though you’ll soon notice that they could do it a lot faster if they needed to. An ordinary rendition is usually about 20 seconds less. Why am I telling you this? Well, the length of the anthem performance in the Super Bowl is one of umpteen gazillion things you can bet on. What factors should you take into account? Well, a singer with big lungs can hold a note for a heck of a long time and this is the chance for some to showcase themselves in front of an audience much of which might otherwise have little care for their music. P!nk did it in 1:53 last year. Billy Joel (2007) tinkled the ivories for 1:30. Alicia Keys (2013) took 2:35 and the players probably had to warm up again before kick-off. “Oi! Alicia! Any chance? We’re waiting to play a game, here!”


Searching online for previous times that performer has done the anthem will help you get to a time for this one. You can usually add a few seconds to any of those, given the majesty of the occasion, as the singer will pause to compose themselves before the big finish, often allowing the crowd to give a premature whoop. Gladys Knight did one in 1991 that lasted 1:32.


One final point to note is that the clock, for betting purposes, starts at “O” […say can you see] and finishes at the end of the first “brave” (some singers will do a little coda at the end with a few “braves”; the bookies don’t count those). Don’t get cheering in the overs, when the singer decides to thrown in an extra “brave”. Trends fans will want to know that unders have landed in 9 of the last 12 years and that was helped last year by the knowledge that P!nk had been suffering with ‘flu the week of her performance.


Halftime show


Imagine watching the FA Cup final. It’s 0-0 after a typically turgid first half, but the crowd are hopeful that they’ll see their side press for a winner in the next 45 minutes. An announcement is made: “Ladies and gentlemen, for your entertainment at halftime, brought to you in association with Yorkshire Tea and Homebase, please welcome…Phil Collins!” The stadium is plunged into darkness. 80,000 phone lights go on, then, just as he says “It’s all been a pack of lies” and the drum solo from In the Air Tonight blasts out, the lights are back on and the pitch is full of people cheering the former Genesis drummer turned frontman on. He belts out 13 minutes of his greatest hits for your enjoyment. He finishes with Against All Odds and there’s not a dry eye in the house. The fat bloke to your left with the club crest tattooed on his bald head hugs you and tells you he loves you. I mean, yes, it will make the second half a little awkward, granted, but, win or lose, at least you’ve made a new friend.


This is not as much a parody as it sounds. The Super Bowl includes the Pepsi Halftime Show and it features the biggest acts in the world these days, albeit with a few Black Eyed Peas thrown in every now and then. Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, U2, Prince, Madonna and it was Justin Timberlake last year. This year’s seen difficulties getting a booking, with the NFL not short of political controversy right now. We will see Maroon 5 play in the interval and they will have no trouble filling the time with songs you’ve heard of, even if you didn’t realise it was them. We can expect Moves Like Jagger and This Love to feature prominently. You can bet on the first song they sing. There is a market on what footwear lead singer Adam Levine is wearing. No seriously, there is.


Other props


If you can think of it, you can probably bet on it. Colour of Bill Belichick’s hoodie? Which team kicks off? Will any scoring drive take less time than the anthem? What colour tie will the main commentator be wearing? (Jim Nantz has a clothing line) You can easily find yourself with a big sheet of bets, concentrating like it’s a school exam and yet somehow barely watching any of the actual football. We do this for fun, we tell ourselves.


A common bet for the Super Bowl is which colour gatorade the winning team will pour over the winning coach. Doug Peterson, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, got yellow all over him last year. The last ten years have been: yellow, orange, orange, purple, none poured, orange, blue, orange, none poured, yellow. This was preceded by a run of four consecutive lots of clear gatorade, though. If you bet on a colour, check the terms with your bookie, but, if no gatorade is poured, you usually get your money back as a void bet.


In case you were wondering, the pre-game coin toss has come up tails four of the last five times. The winner of the toss has lost the last five Super Bowls, but let’s not forget that correlation doesn’t equal causation, before you pile on.


Do they actually play ‘football’?


Oh ok…if we must. This year’s Super Bowl sees the AFC Champions, the New England Patriots (boo! Don’t worry, they’re used to it), take on the NFC Champions, the Los Angeles Rams. The Patriots won games against the LA Chargers (41-28: a near blowout) and the Kansas City Chiefs (37-31: winning the toss in overtime proved key) to book their place. The Rams beat the Dallas Cowboys (30-22: two players got over 100 rushing yards) and the New Orleans Saints (26-23: an overtime win with a brilliant interception, but the game will be known forever for the refs failing to call a blatant case of pass interference).


As I have intimated already, the game will be in the Mercedes Benz stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons. It’s a dome, so there will be no weather effects or wind problems. Kicks can be aimed straight and true and in Stephen Gostkowski and Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein the teams have two of the best kickers in the league.


The Rams started as 1 point favourites, when the markets opened, but that didn’t last, as the punters threw themselves into their local establishments around the world, piling on the Pats. The price has swung the other way, so now New England are favoured by about 2 points. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big difference, but I’d be surprised if the Patriots didn’t start as favourites on the night.


It is worth noting that New England v Los Angeles is the biggest rivalry in US Sports, across the spectrum. Celtics v Lakers, Red Sox v Dodgers. The areas love it and if there’s one thing that’ll make Los Angeles sports fans fired up for the newly-acquired Rams, it’s the chance to do over the guys from the north-east.


Think of the Patriots like Fergie’s Man United: they play winning football and seem to find a way to win in situations where they have no right to; they sometimes have players who are unquestionably all-time greats, but they can also do extraordinary things with a team that should have no chance, by rights, of getting close; they have a siege mentality that the world is against them, which spurs them on, irrespective of whether the world actually hates them…which it doesn’t, because they’re the most supported team in the world in their sport, so it’s completely absurd to say everyone hates them. You get the idea. In recent weeks, the Patriots have been talking to the press about how much people hate the Patriots and said they can’t win. This is a classic Belichick move to motivate the players. It’s tried and tested, the squad has bought into it and they’ve been producing superb performances of late.


Carrying the mail


One of the most interesting features of the game is likely to be the run game. Both teams like to run the ball and run it well. The Rams have Todd Gurley, who’s suffered a little with injuries this season, but the bringing in of CJ Anderson (pretty much off the street – on his third roster this season) has worked wonders. Gurley ran for 1,251 yards during the regular season and CJ Anderson has bested him 167-125 in the postseason.


For the Patriots, rookie Sony Michel has rushed for 242 yards in the Pats’ two playoff games this month. Using fullback James Develin to make first contact in front of Michel, they’ve run straight at the interior linemen and have been able to get solid yards relentlessly. This is a product of brilliant coaching, perhaps borne of necessity of what is an offense relatively light in talent, at least by Patriots standards.


On defense, despite having two of the best defensive tackles in the game in the ferociously brutish Ndamukong Suh and the mesmerising Aaron Donald, the Rams have been poor against the run (28th per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric). The Patriots are 19th by the same metric, so it’s not like they’re great at it, either. The offensive lines have been dominant in the run game, with the Patriots having the third best run blockers in the league and the Rams the absolute best. Of interest in the stats is the Rams are first at second level blocking (the area 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage), while the Patriots are 21st. The message? Get Gurley into open space and he can fly.


Running the ball well means you control the clock. Because the clock doesn’t stop after a run play (where it does after an incomplete pass), the clock will keep ticking down when a team runs a lot and runs well. The teams are seventh (NE) and eleventh (LA) in time of possession stats, which reflects their offensive performance but also how well they run the ball. We have the top two fastest ball snappers in the league in the first half (about 26 seconds each), but they are 14th and 20th in the second half (taking a second to a second and a half more).


These things make a difference to lots of markets, from which half has most points to over/under on team points to QB passing yards and WR receiving yards. If you find you have a view on one thing, it’ll lead you to have a view on lots of other lines, so be aware of that. Will the Patriots and Rams try to control the ball by running it a lot? If so, will it work? If so, that’s suggesting fewer drives than the bookies predict, so you probably want to be on under the points total. And so on.


Tricky offenses


The final four teams have made use this season of clever ways to catch their opponents by surprise. It’s useful for the quarterback to know what style of defense they’re facing on a given play - are they marking man for man or just covering areas? Are they stopping the run or are they all about to launch at me? There are ways of getting clues on this, including having someone run between the line of scrimmage and the quarterback before the ball is snapped. If he attracts an opposing player to do the same, then it’s likely that it’s a “man coverage” scheme; if not, it’s a “zone” scheme”. You will see this quite a bit on the night. You will have heard the debate in soccer about zonal marking versus man marking during corners. It’s the same thing. Leaving it until the last second to snap the ball also forces the opposing team to show their hand in some situations. New England are masters of this and the Rams have been having fun with their schemes on offense this year, too.


The quarterbacks


Jared Goff is under center for the Rams. He was the first overall pick in 2016 but had a terrible first season under coach Jeff Fisher. When Fisher was replaced by Sean McVay, we got to see a new Goff. It wasn’t obvious at first, but we came to learn that McVay was directing all the plays from the headset that he and the QB share. A coach can talk to a QB on a one-way radio up to 15 seconds before the play clock ends. McVay would give Goff the details of the play and the Rams would snap the ball in good time, having received the instruction of what to do. Teams got wise to it but, by this time, Goff was developing as a player and was growing in confidence. This season, he’s been excellent and McVay’s inventiveness and nous have given him the tools Goff has needed to succeed. It was interesting to watch him against the New Orleans Saints, as the crowd noise was so loud Goff was struggling to hear McVay.    


Against him is arguably the greatest sportsman America has produced. I say this without hyperbole, as his record is at least in the conversation with Michael Jordan, Ed Moses, Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, whoever you want. Tom Brady owns more records than is frankly fair, he has dominated for nearly 20 years a sport that is designed to rotate good and bad teams, specifically to prevent what his franchise has done, and his best games seem to come when it matters most, including in the last month.


His physical ability isn’t what it was at his peak, but he remains an elite game-manager and can read a defense as well as any around. The emergence of the Patriots’ run game has forced defences to deal with that, rather than focusing on the passing game, which has allowed Brady more time to make passes, facing less pressure. None of this happens without the head coach, Bill Belichick, but the enduring partnership of the greatest coach and the greatest quarterback football has seen is in equal parts a joy to behold for fans of the game and a royal pain in the backside for opposing fans.


Defense wins championships


The Rams have the better defense on paper. Aaron Donald might be the best player in the NFL this season and he leads a superbly coached, crafty and aggressive band of brothers. Wade Phillips adjusts during games as well as any defensive coordinator and, with Aqil Talib back alongside Marcus Peters, the Rams have the diversity of skill they need at cornerback to deal with any sort of threat. Talib likely will be keeping an eye on Rob Gronkowski, as both are very physical. Julian Edelman running shorter routes could find himself followed by the short and quick Nickell Robey-Coleman, who has been the centre of attention this week for his late hit in the critical play in the Championship Game against the Saints.


The Patriots are more about system than individual talent. They use linebackers prominently, often at the line of scrimmage, confusing quarterbacks as to how many will be rushing him and how many will be there as decoys. If you are watching defenders, you’ll miss open receivers. If you ignore them, you’ll get clouted every now and then by a seventeen stone lump of muscle you never saw coming. Bringing an extra defensive player to the line of scrimmage means that the QB no longer has a numerical advantage in protection. If the outside defender forces the offensive tackle to move inside slightly to cover a gap, it leaves the QB exposed to an extra rusher round the edge. The Patriots did this to great effect against the Chargers.


How about some predictions, then?


All these might change with all the news and gossip coming out of Atlanta, so keep an eye on what’s going on out there. But let’s have some fun with some predictions:


The Lombardi Trophy is held aloft by Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, for his sixth Super Bowl win.


The anthem takes 1 minute 40 seconds.


Brady and Goff each pass for under 275 yards.


Robert Woods of the Rams gets the most recieving yards.


Rex Burkhead scores a TD for the Patriots.


Animals is the first song played at halftime by Maroon 5.


The team winning at half time wins the game.


Todd Gurley gets more rushing yards than CJ Anderson.


Yellow Gatorade is poured on the winning coach.


The final score is 27-17.


The Lombardi Trophy is held aloft by Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, for his sixth Super Bowl win.


Place to be


As you would expect with an event of this magnitude, we’re offering games for all levels of bankroll and interest at i-pools. Make your predictions, book Monday off work, settle into your most comfortable chair and, above all, enjoy the game.



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