We asked 10 of Vegas' sharpest minds a simple question: If top seeds New England and Dallas hook up in Super Bowl 51, what's your spread?
Their answers surprised us. Oddsmakers usually think along the same lines; they all use similar power ratings to make numbers.
|Patriots-Cowboys Super Bowl Spreads
| Gregg Fischer
| Kenny White
||Vegas odds consultant
| Jay Kornegay
| Jason Simbal
||Pats -4 or -3.5
| Johnny Avello
||Pats -4 or -3
| Hugh Citron
| Chris Andrews
| Nick Bogdanovich
| Jason McCormick
| Tony Miller
But in this case they were all over the map, pegging New England as high as a 6-point favorite all the way down to the game being a tossup.
The question assumed -- yes, a big assumption -- that both teams look equally strong in two playoff wins leading up to the clash.
PUBLIC PERCEPTION KEY
The starting point is how you rate the teams, and then it's all about who you think the public will bet.
With the Cowboys, you've got "America's Team." With the Patriots, you have the top-rated squad that covered inflated spreads this season at an 81.2 percent clip (13-3 against the spread).
Who might you side with when one team has a rookie quarterback against four-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady?
How do you forecast what the masses will play? In the Super Bowl, public opinion rules. The big wagers from wise guys, even $100,000 bets, get drowned out in the sea of public money.
BETTORS LOVE UNDERDOGS
Recent Super Bowl history has shown bettors love taking the points. The last time the books actually lost on a Super Bowl was when the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots as 12.5-point underdogs following the 2007 season.
The last seven Super Bowls have featured spreads of 5 or fewer points, and books won each time.
The biggest question for the casual bettors who make up most of the Super Bowl wagering is whether they think Tom Brady can lose a Super Bowl against anyone but the Giants, and if the Cowboys' fierce offensive line, conservative pass play and running game can beat the Patriots.
My feeling is to start low and let the public drag you past the key number of 3.
I would open it at Patriots -2.5 knowing I might get immediate favorite action, but hold until getting around $200,000 long before jumping to the most key number in the NFL (3).
Why react so soon when you're expecting $5 million at one book? This isn't the regular season or the playoffs. It's the Super Bowl.
The biggest lesson learned over the past couple years is that the initial move in the first few days of action isn't always the way the public will be feeling on Super Bowl weekend.
The best philosophy is to not overreact to early money, because 90 percent of the action will come in the final four days. At the same time, early wagering may be the best time to get your desired number.
For a reference point right now, the Westgate is offering the AFC as a 3-point favorite in Super Bowl 51.