There’s a long list of intriguing elements to Sunday’s Super Bowl 2021 between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of course there’s the quarterback showdown between 43-year-old Tom Brady, playing in his 10th Super Bowl and trying to win his seventh ring, and 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes, who is looking to become the youngest quarterback to win multiple Super Bowl titles.
There are crusty coaches. Bruce Arians, a football lifer from Paterson, N.J., who is a head coach in the Super Bowl for the first time at age 68. He goes up against Andy Reid, 62, who could never win the big one with some very good Eagles and Chiefs teams and now has the chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a second year in a row.
There’s lots of star power with the likes of Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. And there are veterans who have been down various NFL roads, both lit and dim, from Jason Pierre-Paul to Ndamukong Suh to Antonio Brown to Rob Gronkowski to Le’Veon Bell, and more.
But for me, as I tried to handicap this game, the most intriguing thing about this Super Bowl was the point spread. The New York Post’s Bettor’s Guide uses the line provided by BetMGM as of Thursday evening. This selection orginally appeared in Friday’s editions of The Post. At the time, BetMGM listed the Chiefs as 3.5-point favorites with an Over/Under of 56.5. The vig, or the juice, was -105 on Chiefs -3.5 and -115 on Buccaneers 3.5. This suggested that the next line move would be to 3, removing the half-point “hook.” The BetMGM line had held steady at these numbers for more than a week after the book opened at this number, dropped it to Chiefs -3 after some early sharp betting, then restored the hook early last week.
Why is this interesting?
Looking at the aggregate of sportsbook lines at nypost.com, VSiN.com and VegasInsider.com, only Stations and the Mirage in Las Vegas were with BetMGM at Chiefs -3.5 as of Thursday evening. All other books (including William Hill, Wynn, Golden Nugget, DraftKings and the Westgate SuperBook) listed the Chiefs -3 with vigs at -115 or -120. All of those books had been teetering on the edge of increasing the line to 3.5, but seemed hesitant to hand “the hook” back to Bucs backers.
(As an aside, bettors going to the window at sportsbooks or betting on mobile apps can get down on any point spread they want to bet. For instance, at BetMGM, Chiefs backers can lay 3 points but would have to pay -115 vig (as opposed to getting even money at -3.5). Bucs bettors can get -105 at 3, -120 at 3.5 and -125 at 4. You can actually bet either team anywhere between 17.5 and -17.5 if you’re willing to accept the juice).
Here, however, the selection has to be made with the spread at the time, and I got the idea from this analysis of the market that the extra half point is extremely valuable. My thoughts were confirmed on Friday when all of the sportbooks that had been at 3.5 reduced their lines to three. Even more interesting was the news that Houston furniture store magnate Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale had wagered $3.46 million on the Bucs 3.5. He bought the extra half point at -127 vig, meaning he stands to profit $2.72 million.
The Chiefs defeated the Buccaneers, 27-24, on Nov. 29 in Tampa. Kansas City was a 3.5-point favorite at kickoff, according to covers.com, and rushed out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter on touchdown passes of 75 and 44 yards from Mahomes to Hill. Hill would catch a 20-yard touchdown pass to put K.C. up 27-10 midway through the third quarter, part of his unstoppable 13 receptions for 269 yards. But in the end, the Buccaneers covered the spread — by the margin of the hook — as Brady found Evans for touchdowns of 31 and 7 yards in the fourth quarter.
Does the regular-season meeting between these teams mean anything now or portend how Sunday will go?
In this postseason, the Buccaneers avenged two double-digit losses to the Saints with a 30-20 victory in the divisional round. They then followed up their 38-10 home wipeout of the Packers in Week 6 by winning in Green Bay, 31-26, in the NFC Championship.
The Chiefs have had one rematch in this postseason, beating the Bills, 38-24, in the AFC Championship after winning 26-17 in Orchard Park in Week 6. So it’s a mixed bag, but if you choose to view the Buccaneers’ double-revenge win over the Saints as the outlier, you can come to the conclusion that the regular-season results and postseason rematches have been pretty similar for both Super Bowl contestants.
Handicapper Adam Chernoff wrote an interesting deep dive on the lessons of the first Chiefs-Buccaneers game at VSiN.com. He noted that this season, the Buccaneers blitzed 39 percent of the time, fifth-highest rate in the NFL. But against the Chiefs, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles elected to send extra pass rushers just 17 percent of the time. Mahomes still threw for 462 yards against this overly cautious, uncharacteristic Bucs defense.
Heading into this game, Arians is talking about his “No Risk It, No Biscuit” philosophy. It would figure he would want to bring the Buccaneers’ normal aggressive, blitzing defense to the party and see what happens that way. Vita Vea, Tampa Bay’s massive, 347-pound defensive tackle, missed the first meeting. He’s back now, and his presence will free up the pass rushers and blitzers to get after Mahomes. Factor in the injury absence of left tackle Eric Fisher and the general attrition on the Kansas City offensive line, and you can see how this could turn into a difficult day for Mahomes, even if the opportunity for some big plays will be there.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Mahomes finds a way to pull out the victory. But going in, I’m expecting another close game between these teams and believe that extra half point I was fortunate to get due to good timing might really end up mattering.
Super Bowl 2021
Buccaneers 3.5 and Under 56.5.
Super Bowl 2021 prediction
Championship Sunday: 0-2 vs. spread, 1-1 Over/Under