Insights from oddsmakers on the opening betting numbers for Super Bowl 51
Greg M. Cooper / USA TODAY Sports

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Super Bowl 51 will feature a franchise with boatloads of Super Bowl experience against one making just its second appearance in the big game – and first in nearly two decades. But the bettors are here, every year.

But the Super Bowl draws in far more than just the serious, professional bettors, and more than the regular folks who just like to have a little action each week. Indeed, the football fiesta attracts many first-time bettors, a pattern sure to repeat itself in this contest.

So Covers will keep all three of those types of bettors in mind as it delves into the opening pointspread and point total, and where bettors are already putting their money on the Feb. 5 showdown in Houston.

Following is a look at the matchup, along with expert insights from Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports for the renowned Westgate Las Vegas Superbook; Scott Kaminsky, director of sports for offshore sportsbook TheGreek.com; and Scott Cooley, odds consultant for Bookmaker.eu, also an offshore site.

Super Bowl 51

New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (+3)

New England is no stranger to these parts, heading to its seventh Super Bowl since the 2001 season and ninth appearance overall, with four victories to its credit. Tom Brady and Co. plowed past Pittsburgh 36-17 on Sunday night, easily covering the pointspread as a 5.5-point home favorite in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots are now 16-2 straight up this year and 15-3 against the pointspread, leading the NFL in both categories.

Atlanta is in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1998-99 season, when it lost to Denver 34-19 as a 7.5-point underdog in the title game. The Falcons advanced by hammering Green Bay 44-21 in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game as a 6.5-point home favorite.

Matt Ryan and Co. are now 13-5 straight up this year and 12-6 against the spread, winning their last six games in a row on the scoreboard, while going 5-1 against those Vegas oddsmakers. But counterpart Brady and the Pats have won nine in a row and gone 8-1 against the pointspread in that stretch.

“No surprises here,” Kornegay said. “After Atlanta’s impressive wood-shedding of the Packers, we were thinking of New England -2.5. But New England looks just as impressive, so -3 it is.”

For those new to the betting game, that means New England is a 3-point favorite, meaning that to win a pointspread bet on the Patriots, they must win by more than 3 points. Conversely, Atlanta is +3, or a 3-point underdog, meaning to win a pointspread bet on the Falcons, they must lose by less than 3 points, or of course win outright. On a standard bet for either team, for each $1.10 wagered, the bettor would win $1 – or, to extrapolate that out, an $11 winning bet would be worth $10, for a total payout of $21 (the original $11 bet, plus $10 in winnings).

And if the pointspread just isn’t your thing, you can also simply bet that a team will win the game outright, which is termed a moneyline bet and has its own “price” – how much you need to bet to collect $1 or $10 or $100, etc. For New England, as the favorite, the price is -160 at the Superbook, meaning it takes a $16 bet to win $10. Since Atlanta is the underdog, the price is a more enticing +140, meaning a $10 winning wager nets an additional $14.

Bettors can also wager on the total, which is the number of combined points of the Super Bowl participants. Kornegay opened the Superbook’s total at 58, a record high for the Super Bowl. Less than an hour after Kornegay posted his pointspread, total and moneyline numbers, bettors were already making their opinions known.

“In the real early going, the first 40 minutes, 70 percent of (pointspread) bets were on New England,” Kornegay said, while noting bettors were also picking the total to go over 58 – so much so that the Superbook quickly moved that number to 59. “It’s a little nerve-wracking, knowing there’s been a lot of scoring in these playoff games.”

The past two weekends – in four divisional-round games and Sunday’s two conference championships – the over has gone 5-1.

Jumping to the offshore betting market, TheGreek.com also opened the Patriots as a 3-point favorite.

“We figure let’s just open 3 and let the smart guys tell us if it’s too low or too high,” Kaminsky said. “Before the New England game started, I would have said I think the public would be all over Atlanta, no matter what the number is. But New England looked so good, I am not sure who the public will bet. But I know they will play the over for sure.”

Kaminsky was prepared for that after posting an opening total of 57.

“The total might be a little light, so I will move the total up quickly if someone so much as sneezes,” said Kaminsky, who indeed adjusted upward to 58 later Sunday night.

Bookmaker.eu also opened the Patriots at -3 and noted this is the fifth time in the Pats’ last six Super Bowl appearances that they’ve been the favorite. The lone exception was two years ago, when New England closed as a 1-point underdog in its 28-24 victory over Seattle.

“There was much debate among our oddsmakers when setting this line,” Cooley said. “Some were as low as Patriots -1 and some as high as -6. We settled on a key number, and we’ll see where the action takes it.”

Atlanta features the NFL’s No. 1 offense, averaging nearly 34 points per game. However, the oddsmakers leaned toward Tom Brady and New England’s postseason experience, while also recognizing that public bettors – the average Joe and Jane who just enjoy making a wager on the game, but don’t bet for a living – have long been big backers of the Patriots.

Kornegay certainly understands that element, but also believes the Falcons will draw plenty of action, both from the sharps – the term for professional bettors – and that broad swath of people who just don’t like New England.

“The Patriots have the historical respect, but the Falcons have the present-day respect. And I’m talking from the sharps and the power rankings,” Kornegay said. “I also think fans have a love-hate relationship with the Patriots. A lot of people will play the Falcons because of their dislike toward the Patriots.”

One of the most popular things about betting the Super Bowl is all the proposition bets that sportsbooks offer. You’ll see everything from who will score the first touchdown to whether there will be a safety or a 2-point conversion, and even some props that mix what happens in the Super Bowl with what’s going on in other sports that day, such as the NBA, English Premier League or the PGA Tour. Those who have no team rooting interest can find numerous other interesting wagers to place.

The Superbook is arguably the most well-known for prop bets, and Kornegay said that the spate of high scoring in the NFL playoffs thus far will affect how his shop handles those this year.

“We’ll definitely take that into consideration when setting the prop numbers,” he said. “People love betting for scoring and betting the ‘yes’ on props. We’re hoping the fireworks can be kept to a minimum in this game.”

Judging from the total having already gone up a point, it’s clear that fans are hoping for more fireworks on Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium.

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Insights from oddsmakers on the opening betting numbers for Super Bowl 51
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