Saturday, January 27, 2007

Colts will win SB XLI; margin another matter

The Indianapolis Colts will win Super Bowl XLI. The question is whether they will win by more than seven points.

Neither the Colts nor Chicago Bears care about the margin. But we do. You care because Vegas is within driving distance - and the Internet is within fingertips. I do because I pick every NFL game to entertain the masses - and to torture myself.

The conflict in Super Bowl XLI is fairly simple: Either the Colts will dominate because the pressure is actually off them now, or the motivated Bears will make a game of it because they feel disrespected.

Resolving the conflict is the hard part. Both arguments are valid.

The '06 Colts are in the same position as the '94 San Francisco 49ers. Once Steve Young and the 49ers finally beat Dallas in the NFC Championship Game, the Super Bowl was almost easy. The 49ers trounced the San Diego Chargers, 49-26, and if you remember that game, it wasn't that close.

Peyton Manning and the Colts defeated their Cowboys on Sunday, at long last exterminating the New England Patriots, 38-34. ("Exterminate" is an appropriate verb because the Belichick-Brady Patriots are like roaches - they never die. This is meant as a compliment.) If you extend the corollary, the Colts should crush the Bears.

Beyond the 49ers factor, Indianapolis represents the more powerful AFC, which went 40-24 against the NFC this season. Amazingly, only one NFC team, Dallas, had a winning record (3-1) against AFC teams. The AFC also has won the past three Super Bowls.

Here's yet another pro-Indy stat: In games against common opponents, the Colts went 6-0, the Bears 3-2.

Ah, but these Bears feed off doubt. Many of us supposed experts picked New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game, and the Bears used that to their advantage. In the parity-driven NFL, where the talent is pretty equally distributed and every team has the same hard salary cap, even the slightest psychological edge can make all the difference.

"It bothered me," Bears safety Chris Harris said after Sunday's game. "Everybody said we couldn't match up with this team. You get tired of hearing that after awhile."

Lovie Smith made sure they heard about it.

Ask certain coaches about the point spread, and they will tell you they're unaware of it or that it doesn't matter. Chicago's Smith isn't one of them.

"If you look at what the Colts bring to the table, I could see why they would make us underdogs," Smith told reporters this week. "But we've been in that role before, and our guys like the underdog role. I wouldn't bet against the Bears if I were a betting man."

Smith isn't, but many are. Even those with a casual interest take note of the Super Bowl spread. And several interested parties have asked me why it's so big.

Tossing all the aforementioned statistics aside, guesses Sunday night ranged from 3-4 points - especially after the Bears manhandled the Saints and the Colts barely survived the Patriots.

But you have to remember, the Super Bowl spread isn't a true spread. It's artificially inflated.
So confirmed Mike Seba, senior oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which sets the line for about 90 percent of the licensed Nevada sports books.

Seba and his cohorts pump up the Super Bowl line to try to draw action on the underdog. The general public generally bets the favorite, and the general public bets on the Super Bowl more than any other game.

If you lose your bet, you have to pay an extra 10 percent. If the sports books can attract the same number of wagers on both sides, it will in theory stand to make 10 percent no matter who wins Super Bowl XLI.

Thus, Colts by seven.

"If it were a regular-season game on a neutral field, I'd say four or 41/2," Seba said. "We know the money normally comes in on the favorite. If you take the underdog in the Super Bowl, you're probably getting more value. But it doesn't mean you'll cash a ticket."

Nothing is guaranteed, but last year's Super Bowl broke a string of four in a row in which the underdog covered - including two outright winners.

This season went to the 'dogs, who covered at a 54percent clip, Seba said. Last season favorites came in 57percent of the time.

If it were as simple as that - favorites one year, underdogs the next - "the sports books would go out of business," Seba said.

But sometimes it isn't that complicated.

The Colts beat better teams to get here, are peaking at the right time and have a decided advantage at quarterback. But the Bears aren't chumps, or the '94 Chargers. Chicago is sturdy in the trenches, has a very good defense and has won games on special teams alone.

It all adds up to this: Colts win, Bears cover.