Finally, the Super Bowl is upon us, and when you head out to that neighborhood party this Sunday, you may need some fabricated incentive to have a rooting interest in the game. I get that.
Sure, you can do it the ultra-lame way by buying a couple squares for five bucks and hoping that you randomly secure the second digit of each teams' score at the end of each quarter. (And I mean ultra-lame with a capital ULTRA.)
Or you can get your sports fan pick-me-up through the exotic world of proposition wagers, a much more civilized, intelligent, "thinking man's" way to amp up the intrigue-o-meter.
So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite prop bets for this weekend and my pick for the game:
6. Kelly Clarkson National Anthem Rendition UNDER 1:34 +100 While Jeremy Shockey might be a little angry that one's focus would be divided during the Star Spangled Banner, I say what's more American than wagering on the length of the national anthem? The only thing more American is actually taking the time to scout previous Kelly Clarkson national anthem performances, and embedding them in this post.
So here you go:
Got her at an NFL game....
...an NBA Finals game....
....and a baseball game.
All three performances went under (barely) 1:34. I don't feel great about this bet, mainly because the gargantuan stage that is the Super Bowl lends itself to the singer's drawing out long notes to remain the center of attention for every possible second he or she can. The flip side is that Kelly Clarkson performs this song so often, she has her way of doing it where it's almost like pressing play on a recording. Even in the third video above, she draws out the word "wave" for an extended scream, and it still goes under.
So let's go with efficiency and history, and hope we cash in.
5. Giants score or punt first -- SCORE +115 The reasons I like this bet:
1. The last time these two teams played in Week 9, the game was scoreless at halftime. Second times around tend to go opposite of the first. This game should have more scoring, so inherently +115 on "Score" feels good.
2. The Patriots have been notoriously slow starters this season in several games. All we need here is for their defense to let the Giants in field goal range early in the game.
3. It's "score or punt," so anything other than those two (turnover, missed field goal) is sort of like a foul ball in baseball where the bet stays alive. The way the Giants are playing offensively, if they have a drive end in a "stay alive" result, I like them much more to subsequently score after that than have to punt.
4. Longest touchdown scored UNDER 51 1/2 yards -115 Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com in his prop bet opus does the heavy lifting on the empirical statistics for this one and the numbers are very favorable. The teams combined for only 11 touchdowns longer than this all season (actually longer than 49 1/2 yards, which was Barnwell's number) and combined only gave up five.
The Patriots play a "bend but don't break" style of defense, and offensively will try to move the ball with quick, short passes to keep the Giants' pass rush off of Brady. Both of these are highly favorable traits for this bet. (WARNING: I had this same bet sewn up back in Super Bowl XLIV and Tracy Porter's pick-six did me in. Long scores can be spawned many ways. Just know that going in.) 3. Total 3rd-down conversions in game OVER 11 1/2 +100 The thing to remember here is that we're talking third-down conversions, not merely converting to another first down (which can theoretically happen on first down, second down and fourth down). This number sounds low, until you realize that in a high-scoring game, a lot of series of downs don't even make it to third down. I see this game kind of going like the Giants game with Green Bay, which had 14 third-down conversions. I'll take my chances.
2. Eli Manning TD Passes OVER 2 1/2 +160 Eli's gone over this number in three of his last four games. I love the value on this one at +160. And a decent hedge against it is...
1. Brandon Jacobs Carries OVER 7 1/2 -120 If the Giants aren't scoring touchdowns through the air, chances are they're trying to bang it from in close with Jacobs. Frankly, this one has a great chance of hitting if the Giants are ahead in the second half and trying to burn clock. We know Coughlin will try and pound the run in the first half, so Jacobs is bound to get four or five carries by accident.
Giants +3 over Patriots You can sit here all day and break down the various matchups. Can the Giants four-man front put constant heat on Tom Brady? Will the Giants be able to run the ball as consistently as they have over the last five weeks? Who will make a big play on special teams?
To me, this game boils down quite simply to whether or not you believe that Eli Manning has made the leap to (here it comes) an ELITE level quarterback. The last four weeks' worth of football combined with gaudy total-yard numbers for the season (some racked up out of elite-level performance, some racked up because the Giants had no choice but to throw the ball) have many of us calling shotgun on the Eli bandwagon. Go back and look at his game log and you'll see that he's only six weeks removed from a three-interception, no-touchdown game against the Redskins, and five weeks removed from going 9 for 27 against the Jets.
In short, our collective love affair with Eli Manning is only about a month long for many of us. In many ways, he's like a totally different quarterback now, so it's kind of like that first month or so when you're really falling for someone and they can do no wrong. Just remember, Eli is always one ill-timed pick away from reverting back to dopey pizza-delivery-boy-faced guy.
The thing is, I don't think New England is defensively capable of sending Eli back into "pizza boy" mode. There are just too many guys on that Giants offense who can get open against this New England secondary, and if guys are open, Eli will find them. In fact, it's not hard to make the argument that this is actually the easiest defense Eli has faced in the postseason. (Even Green Bay's porous excuse of a defense at least has a few playmakers on it.)
On the other side, I'm not sure I side with Jason Pierre-Paul that Tom Brady is feeling "phantom pressure" against that Giant front seven, but I do think they'll bring heat and force a mistake or two. As great as Tom Brady is, he hasn't played well in the postseason in the last few years except in the Denver rout this season.
In the end, I think the Giants win, and we're left with a whole offseason of inane arguments that Eli is better than Peyton. (Hint: Win or lose, he's not.)
Giants 30, Patriots 21
Last week: 2-2 Season record: 70-53-1
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.