2022 Super Bowl Betting Preview

Justin Dunbar previews the Bengals-Rams Super Bowl matchup from a betting perspective.

It’s finally here! I have to say, the first Sunday with true football (sorry Pro Bowl) definitely is an uncomfortable one. However, for the last time this season, we have a game to analyze!

At the beginning of the season, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believed the Bengals would be one win away from winning the Super Bowl. Their win total was set at 6.5, while head coach Zac Taylor was the betting favorite to be the first coach fired. Remember, this is a team that won just two games in 2019! I guess that’s just the power of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase!

Then, there are the Rams, who are quite the opposite of the underdogs. By acquiring stars such as Matthew StaffordJalen RamseyVon Miller, and Odell Beckham Jr., they’re added a lot of talent on top of superstar players such as Aaron Donald, who may be the best interior defensive lineman in NFL history, and Cooper Kupp, this year’s Offensive Player of the Year. This is a team that hasn’t picked in the first round since 2016 when they selected Jared Goff with the first overall pick. If that doesn’t define a team that is “all-in” on winning a Super Bowl title, I don’t what does!

This should be a very exciting game. As per usual, I’m here to break down the best bets to make prior to the Super Bowl. Throughout the postseason, I’ve been providing my top-four bets, but we have to spice things up for the big game, right? Today, we’ll be going over my favorite seven bets to make for this year’s Super Bowl. Whether it will be a teaser, a quirky prop, or a standard player prop, we’ll cover a diverse set of bets to make this game as entertaining as possible while profiting in the process! Which bets stick out? Let’s find out!

Stats via Pro Football Focus

 

Teaser: CIN (+10), Under (54.5)

 

If I had to pick a side in this game, I might take the Rams (-4), but, as you’d expect the line and over/under (48.5) would appear to be quite accurate for this game. Usually, I’d say to just lay off of the spread and the total, but it’s the Super Bowl! With that in mind, here is a teaser that can serve your needs.

Let us start with the Bengals’ side of things. There is a lot to be worried about from their perspective. The Rams have the highest-graded pass-rush from Pro Football Focus (86.6) in the NFL. On the other hand, the Bengals rank in the bottom ten in pass-block grade (57.3). To top it off, Joe Burrow converted pressures into sacks at the third-highest rate, which could lead to problems for Cincinnati’s offense. This mismatch makes me wary of them covering the four-point spread on their own, but I’m much more confident when you add six points.

At the end of the day, Burrow is PFF’s highest-graded quarterback and is averaging the most yards/pass attempt for a reason- he’s a truly special player. The Rams are a defense that loves to blitz, and that’s exactly what Burrow takes advantage of. The 25-year-old is averaging 11.2 yards/pass attempt when blitzed, in addition to an 8% big-time throw rate and a 92.9 PFF grade.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s defense is likely to drop back and rush with three players often, which could be problematic for Matthew Stafford. When not blitzed this season, Stafford’s turnover-worthy play rate (4.1%) spikes up, while he is significantly worse (77 PFF passing grade) than when he is blitzed (88.2). I could see Stafford getting impatient in this one, and as Jay Croucher of Points Bet recently stated on the NBC Sports Edge Good Football Show podcast, an interception can change the line by five points. Given Stafford’s overall volatility, the ten points, which can also be covered in backdoor fashion, feel safe.

As for the under, there’s a lot to like here, even with the presumed strengths of these two quarterbacks. Both head coaches, Zac Taylor and Sean McVay have been known for being conservative. That’s problematic when it comes to scoring consistently, especially since both of these defenses tend to play with lighter boxes and entice teams to run the ball. That is a trap that each coach has fallen into consistently this season, so why would it change in the biggest game of the year? If anything, the stakes of this game could cause them to be even more conservative.

On the surface, the spread and over/under total appear to be accurate. However, by believing in Burrow, embracing Stafford’s volatility, and taking advantage of these head coaches’ conservativeness, we can take advantage of a six-point teaser that, in my opinion, is extremely bullet-proof. If you believe this is going to be a low-scoring game, as many believe it will be, then the chances of a blowout decreases significantly. Thus, you’re playing into the most-likely game scenario, which is a winning formula. That sounds good to me!

 

Odell Beckham Jr. (Under 63.5 Receiving Yards)

 

This is a line that I believe has been spiked up due to some recency bias. After all, in his last time games, Odell Beckham Jr. has posted 69 and 113 receiving yards in his last two games, respectively. That being said, that hasn’t been the norm for him this season.

Even when excluding his first game as a Ram, where he ran just 11 routes, Beckham Jr. is only averaging 52.3 receiving yards/game and has gone under this total more often than he has gotten over it. Yes, he’s gone over his total in back-to-back games, but that was with much-more pass-heavy game scripts, something I don’t expect here.

As we discussed earlier, Cincinnati is likely to play conservative defense in this game, rushing three players and putting eight in coverage. That is likely to entice Sean McVay to run the ball much more often. For Beckham Jr. to go over this total, he’s needed Matthew Stafford to attempt an average of 41.5 pass attempts in those two games. For the season, Stafford is attempting 35.05 pass attempts per game, and that includes a more pass-heavy offense at the beginning of the season. If the Rams establish an early lead, as expected here, it’s hard to see receivers not named Cooper Kupp getting the volume they need to goer this total.

I wouldn’t necessarily bet the under on Beckham Jr. on 5.5 receptions- he can sometimes be used more often in the intermediate game. Going up against Chidobe Awuzie, a top-20 cornerback based on PFF coverage grade, will not be an easy test; not only will the volume likely not be there, but there efficiency may not be either. Beckham Jr.’s renaissance with the Rams has been extremely fun to watch. That being said, this might not be the game where he produces at a high level.

 

Tee Higgins (Over 69.5 Receiving Yards)

 

For most of the season, Tee Higgins has been seen as a volatile player, and there is some validity to it. In the wildcard round against the Raiders, he was held to 10 yards on one catch, while his performance has gone up-and-down this season.

As they say, though, go big or go home! For the season, even with some poor performance, Higgins is still averaging 76.5 receiving yards/game. Since they’ve shifted their offense to be more pass-heavy, starting in Week 16, that number is up to 93. In other words, a standard Higgins performance gets us to this number.

Then, the matchups come into play. We’re expecting Jalen Ramsey to spend a lot of time shadowing Ja’Marr Chase who struggles much more against two-high coverages, which the Rams run often, according to Hayden Winks of the Underdog Fantasy. That could mean more targets for Higgins, who likely will face Darious Williams on a significant amount of his snaps. Considering Williams earned just a 58.5 PFF coverage grade this season and 89.29 receiving yards/game, that’s certainly a matchup that leans in Higgins’ favor.

You could bet Higgins’ over 5.5 reception prop. That being said, he’s only averaging 5.17 receptions this season, and there a lot more avenues to getting over 69.5 receiving yards with one big play over the top. For context, in Week 17, he only had three catches, but still managed 62 receiving yards in that game. If his 14.8 yards/reception sticks, it’d mean he’d need 4.7 receptions to go over this total, meaning the receiving yards prop offers more value. Expect a big game from the contested-catch specialist here.

 

Joe Mixon (Over 3.5 Receptions)

 

If you use season-long data, this isn’t a bet to make. For the year, Joe Mixon is averaging just 3.26 receptions/game, and hasn’t consistently been involved in the passing game. However, context is key.

What do I mean by this? We have to look at our recent sample size, where Mixon has become much more involved in the passing game:

 

Joe Mixon Receiving Production Splits

 

As you can see, Mixon’s routes have gone up, which has caused a spike in receiving production. For perspective, Mixon had just 29 receptions in his first 14 games of the season. In his past five games, though, he’s almost matched that number with 26 receptions. Furthermore, he’s gone over his receptions prop in four of his past five games, and the one time he didn’t consisted of coming within just one reception of going over.

Given the Rams’ strong pass rush, we could see Burrow under a lot of pressure in this game. In fact, we could see a similar scenario to what we saw in the team’s divisional round game against the Titans, where Burrow was sacked nine times and under consistent pressure- Mixon had seven targets and six receptions in that game. Maybe we see Samaje Perine get more involved in the passing game or Mixon go back to his old ways. However, it’s clear he’s being used differently than he was in the past, and while the prop market hasn’t fully caught up to that, we can take advantage.

 

First Half Field Goals (Over 1.5)

 

We discussed how conservative each of these two coaches are, and one area that shows up is their fourth-down decision making. The Rams and Bengals each rank in the top-six in field goals combined per game, and they’re averaging 4.1 field goals combined.

By simple math, you would figure the two teams would go over the total, but if there is a time that the conservativeness is going to be magnified, it’s in the first half. Both Evan McPherson and Matt Gay rank in the top-seven in PFF kicking grade this year; not only are they trusted by their coaches, but they have done a strong job at converting their attempts into made field goals this season.

McPherson, in fact, is by far the top kicker in field goals made (12) from 50+ yards out. Given Zac Taylor’s fourth-down decision-making, McPherson could get here on his own, but Taylor isn’t the only conservative coach here. This is precisely why the under is likely to happen in his game, and could lead to even some frustration from the average viewer. That is, besides those who bet the over on 1.5 field goals in the first half!

 

First Touchdown Scorer Jersey Number (Under 23.5)

 

We’ll make this nice and simple. Let’s group the offensive players in this game into two groups: jersey number under 23. and over 23.5

 

UNDER 23.5

  • WR Cooper Kupp (1 TD/Game)
  • WR Ja’Marr Chase (.74 TD/Game) (Excluding Week 18-Ran 4 Routes)
  • WR Odell Beckham Jr. (.55 TD/Game With Rams)
  • WR Van Jefferson (.3 TD/Game)
  • RB Cam Akers (.5 TD/Game)
  • QB Matthew Stafford (.1 TD/Game)
  • QB Joe Burrow (.105 TD/Game)

 

OVER 23.5

  • WR Tee Higgins (.35 TD/Game)
  • WR Tyler Boyd (.32 TD/Game)
  • TE CJ Uzomah (.35 TD/Game) (Excluding Conference Championship- Ran 6 Routes)
  • TE Kendall Blanton (.3 TD/Game When Prorating TD/Routes Run To 30 Routes)
  • RB Joe Mixon (.85 TD/Game)
  • RB Samaje Perine (.16 TD/Game)
  • RB Sony Michel (.25 TD/Game)
  • RB Darrell Henderson Jr. (3rd String Back)
  • Any Offensive Lineman (N/A)

 

Group 1 (3.295 TD/Game) comes out with the lead over Group 2 (2.58 TD/Game), but that isn’t the only way to look at this. On the surface, it appears you’d be rooting for the Rams to be the team that scores a touchdown, as almost all of their skill players have jersey numbers below 23.5. However, you’re also on the side of the Bengals’ top skill player, which only adds more to the advantage. To be fair, though, if you’re not on the side of Cooper Kupp, you should probably switch sides. Luckily, that’s not a concern for us!

 

Cam Akers (Under 64.5 Rushing Yards)

 

In the conference championship, I cited the under on Cam Akers‘ rushing prop at 61.5 rushing yards. After failing to exceed that  total, his prop has gotten higher? That doesn’t make complete sense to me.

The Bengals do have PFF’s tenth-worst run defense grade, so you’d assume they’d have issues against the run. However, that isn’t the case. They are allowing the fifth-fewest rush attempts per game this year, in addition to the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game. Plus, it isn’t as though Akers has been very effective. He has just a 39.6 PFF rushing grade since his remarkable return from his Achilles injury, and is only averaging 2.6 yards/attempt- not good, to say the least.

It appears that Akers might not be ready to take on the role as the true lead back, which head coach Sean McVay may realize. Sony Michel factored more into the game plan in the Conference Championship vs the 49ers, and now Darrell Henderson Jr. is back from injury. Plus, McVay didn’t exactly endorse Akers as his lead back, per Pro Football Talk:

 

 

With this news, it’s very surprising that Akers’ rushing prop remains this high. He has failed to go over this number once, and now faces stiff competition within his own backfield. His story is fantastic, but when you can bet against an inefficient rusher in a three-back committee, you have to do it. The Rams may have success running the ball in this game, but it likely won’t result in Akers going over 64.5 rushing yards.

 

 

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

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