The way the Super Bowl pointspread is set has changed a lot over the years. Ricky Rothstein runs the numbers.
The day of the Super Bowl blowout is gone. Historically, the Super Bowl has trended towards a big number on the favorite. Of the 48 Super Bowls, 14 of them, 29%, have been in double digits. This contrasts with the regular season, where 11.7% of lines over the past four years have gone into double figures.
But the trend is on the wane, and then some. There have been only three double-digit Super Bowl favorites since the mid-nineties, and not only did they not cover, they all lost straight up. Firstly John Elway finally broke through when Denver won as an eleven-point dog against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII, and then there were two of the biggest shocks of all time. The Greatest Show on Turf Rams lost as a two-touchdown favorite to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI, and then the Patriots themselves saw their perfect season go up in smoke against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Those big spreads existed for two reasons – firstly, so many of the Super Bowls were blowouts and secondly, the Super Bowl is the ultimate fun betting event in North America, where people who never bet all year make a pick for the Super Bowl. Linemakers have to compensate for that by giving the favorite some extra points to cover.
There’s never been a pick’em Super Bowl, but there has been one with a line of just one point – the 49ers were one-point favorites in their first ever Super Bowl against Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI. San Francisco won and covered, 26-21, and a dynasty was born.
Eighteen is the highest number a team has been asked to cover in Super Bowls, and it’s been set twice. The Baltimore Colts were an 18 point favorite against the New York Jets in Super Bowl III back when the NFL and AFL were separate Leagues. It was an endorsement of the crew-cut, all-business Colts against the flashy AFL Champions with their bigmouth quarterback, Broadway Joe Namath. The Jets’ upset victory legitimised AFL football, and changed the face of the game forever.
It was a different story when the 49ers were asked to cover 18 against San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. San Diego shocked Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game to get to the Super Bowl, but they had nothing left to stop a Niner team that cut through them like a buzz saw. San Francisco won, 49-26, and Steve Young finally got that monkey named Montana off his back.