Thirty-three years ago, on January 26, 1986, two of the most beautiful things in NFL history happened: The New England Patriots were throttled in the Super Bowl, and the proposition bet became a gambling sensation. As a publicity stunt, oddsmakers offered bets on whether Bears defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry would score a rushing touchdown in Super Bowl XX, giving bets paying out as high as 75-1. Shockingly, Perry did score a rushing touchdown. The bet sparked a wave of prop bets, which have become an international phenomenon in the past three decades. An estimated $4 billion–plus will be wagered on the Super Bowl, and roughly a quarter of that amount will come via proposition bets. That’s more money on prop bets than the Rams were valued at when Stan Kroenke bought a controlling stake in the team in 2010.
Traditional betting offers odds on things that nobody cares about, like “Who will win the game?” or “How many points will be scored?” Meanwhile, prop bets have captured the public imagination by getting to the heart of what matters, like “What will be the first song performed by Maroon 5?” “How many times will the broadcast mention Sean McVay’s age?” and “Will the Chick-fil-A in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome be open on Sunday?” We’ll run through some of these crucial bets and discuss how to win them, but first a quick rundown on what this gambling lingo means:
Over/under: A bet on how often an event will happen. If the number 0.5 is used for something where a half is impossible (i.e., “Jared Goff over/under 0.5 interceptions”) it is eliminating the possibility of a tie. Zero Goff interceptions is a win for those who bet the under, and one or more interceptions is a win for those who bet the over.
Odds: The odds are just a fancy (and unnecessarily complicated) way of communicating the payout. For example, “Will Big Boi and Adam Levine perform ‘Mic Jack’ at halftime?” offers two odds: “Yes: -400” and “No: +250.” For Yes, -400 means 1-to-4 odds, so $4 on a winning bet would net a $1 profit. For No, +250 means 2.5-to-1 odds, so $1 on a winning bet would net $2.50. The smaller the payout for a prop (some are as small as -2,500, or 1-to-25) the more confident the bookmaker is that that side will win. The same is true vice versa (i.e., the odds for betting that no touchdowns will be scored is +10,000, or 100-to-1, indicating that oddsmakers are extremely confident there will be a touchdown).
Bets on Sean McVay
How many times will the broadcast mention Sean McVay’s age?
This is an easy bet considering Super Bowl LIII is just an elaborate excuse to discuss McVay’s age. He’s the youngest head coach in the league and the youngest to ever win a playoff game. When Brady famously slid to the sixth round, McVay was 14. The last time the Rams played the Pats in the Super Bowl, McVay was playing on the field for his high school. In college, McVay played a game against Pats receiver Julian Edelman. It’s a guarantee that McVay’s youth will be mentioned throughout the broadcast, but the devil is in the details. “Mention Sean McVay’s age” likely means the number 33 has to be explicitly mentioned; it won’t count if the announcers just mention that he’s young. McVay turned 33 on Thursday (making him exactly half Belichick’s age), so it is a virtual lock that his exact age will come up at least once. The question is whether the announcers will use the exact number twice. If the Rams win, it’ll be a massive talking point, but the “broadcast” likely won’t count what happens before the game starts or after the game ends, so we need Jim Nantz or Tony Romo to slip in an extra “the 33-year-old coach” or some other similar phrase after their initial discussion. Even this is tricky. Does it have to be in multiple conversations? Or can it be mentioned twice in the same back-and-forth? There are reasons to be skeptical, but this is not the time to be betting against people talking about McVay.
The Bet: Over 1.5
How many replays of Ted Rath holding back Sean McVay will be shown?
McVay may be an offensive savant with a photographic memory, but those gifts come at the cost of spatial awareness.
McVay’s body man is named Ted Rath. (“Body Man Ted Rath” sounds like the main character in a John Wick Netflix knockoff movie. In fact, Netflix, if you’re reading this, I give you permission to take that idea.)
This is a strong bet, though not as good as mentioning McVay’s age. It’ll probably be mentioned just once, but they might talk about it at length, and if they do talk about it, they’ll likely show a few instances of it happening and play them back-to-back-to-back rather than just one.
The Bet: Over 1.5
Halftime Show Bets
What will be the predominant color of Adam Levine’s top at the start of the halftime show?
Any other color: +150
Levine wears a lot of black, but these are pretty good odds on the entire visible spectrum of light. Darkness (the Patriots) versus light (everyone else) is the oldest story there is.
The darkness has more territory, but the light is winning.
The Bet: Light
What song will Maroon 5 perform first?
“One More Night”: +300
“Makes Me Wonder”: +500
“Girls Like You”: +600
“Moves like Jagger”: +600
“Don’t Wanna Know”: +700
“She Will Be Loved”: +1,500
“This Love”: +1,500
“One More Night,” “Makes Me Wonder,” and “Sugar” don’t have compelling enough payouts to be enticing bets. Starting with “Animals” would likely resurface questions about the song’s problematic lyrics. The smartest song to play would be “Girls Like You” featuring Cardi B (the music video has 1.7 billion views on YouTube), but “Girls Like You” is not a good song to start the halftime show. The best halftime performances begin with something upbeat and high tempo—a bop, as the kids call it. Bruce Springsteen started with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” (total bop).
Coldplay started with “Viva La Vida” (the bop to end all mid-aughts bops).
The halftime performer reliably starts with something upbeat (Lady Gaga’s performance is the exception, but Lady Gaga herself is an exception). The wrench in this plan is when the artists use a song as an intro for 45 or so seconds before transitioning to something more upbeat. Beyoncé did this by beginning with the first moments of “Love on Top,” but then immediately pivoting to the far more upbeat “Crazy in Love.”
The best bet for the upbeat song that Maroon 5 starts with is “Moves Like Jagger” at 6-to-1 odds. It’s a song everyone knows, it’s got the speed to get people going immediately, it can be transitioned out of quickly, and it’s got twice the payout of “One More Night.”
The Bet: “Moves Like Jagger”
The Dream: Levine uses Cardi B as a bridge to bring out her estranged husband, Offset (whom she said this week she wants to get back together with), and the rest of Migos, who are gods in Atlanta, and then they do a Migos song for 30 seconds before switching the beat into “Sicko Mode.”
Will Louisiana attorney Frank D’Amico Jr. win his lawsuit over the missed call in the NFC championship game?
Spoiler alert: The members of Who Dat Nation will not be compensated for “loss of enjoyment of life” for the Saints’ loss to the Rams last week.
The Bet: Sadly, don’t bet on justice here.
Will Fyre Fest organizer Billy McFarland be caught selling counterfeit Super Bowl tickets?
“If you’ve never been out on bail before, that’s the time in your life when you want to be committing the least number of crimes,” McFarland says in the Hulu documentary Fyre Fraud. He hasn’t elaborated on how many crimes you should commit while in prison.
The Bet: Avoid anything where your money depends on Billy McFarland.
How many plays will Tony Romo correctly predict during the game?
Romo (a.k.a. NostraRomos) ascended to another plane last week when he predicted 15 plays and got 12 of them correct during the AFC championship game. Almost all of his predictions were about the Patriots, so he should have a strong chance once again with plenty of time to prepare. But almost all of his calls last week came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime. If you had taken this same bet for Romo in the Pats-Chiefs game, you’d have been sweating it out just as much as if you had bet the Rams to win the NFC championship game. Not to mention that Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was so bad at adjusting at the end of the game (and throughout the season) that he was fired on Tuesday. It’s unlikely that Wade Phillips will do anything as predictable as Sutton did. Romo may make some excellent calls during the Super Bowl, but expecting eight-plus correct calls is a tall order.
The Bet: No
The Actual Game
How many interceptions will Jared Goff throw?
Fine, we can look at some that actually involve the players in the Super Bowl. Goff played extremely well in McVay’s system in the first half of the season, but he declined after beating the Chiefs on Monday Night Football and getting wrecked by the Bears. Goff has the tools to make every throw, but he often waits to pass until after his receiver has created space, rather than anticipating when the receiver will get open and throwing ahead of time. That could be dangerous against Bill Belichick. Every time Goff has put the ball in the air 30 or more times since that Chiefs game, he’s had at least one interception. If the Rams can minimize obvious passing downs, it’ll help Goff out a bunch, but the staff that gave Malcolm Butler the information to jump Russell Wilson’s pass in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks will be well prepared to jump on any of Goff’s throws this time around too.
The Bet: Over
How many pass attempts will Tom Brady have?
The Patriots offense is likely to counter the Rams pass rush with the dinks and dunks and papercut passing, and that lends itself to the over here. If you think Brady is the key to the game, then the over here is solid.
The Bet: Over
Will James Develin score a touchdown?
The Pats fullback has four rushing touchdowns on six carries this season. He’s on the field for the Pats often in short-yardage situations, and the odds of him getting a goal-line carry are better than his +5,000 odds to score first suggest. Ten years after Gary Russell scored first in Super Bowl XLIII, Develin can redeem the Russell faithful.
The Bet: Yes
Financial Instrument Bets
What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?
I can’t decide this one for you.
How will the S&P 500 perform by market close on the Monday after the Super Bowl?
Patriots win the Super Bowl and S&P 500 Index closes above previous close: +200
Patriots win the Super Bowl and S&P 500 Index closes below previous close: +200
Rams win the Super Bowl and S&P 500 Index closes above previous close: +270
Rams win the Super Bowl and S&P 500 Index closes below previous close: +270
You’re better off betting on the coin toss.
Will the price of bitcoin go up or down during the game?
Price increases: -130
Price decreases: -110
Betting on this is a half measure. Buying bitcoin is a full measure. No more half measures, Walter.
Which will finish first?
Super Bowl 53: -120
James Harden’s 30-point-game-streak: -120
Harden is averaging 17 3-points attempts per game since Chris Paul got hurt on December 20. He is pushing the limits of basketball and has invented a new kind of triple-double in the process. Do not bet against him.
The Bet: The Super Bowl. (Seriously, this is the best one on this list.)
Will Jim Nantz or Tony Romo say “Philly Special”?
If I had to bet my life on one of these, it might be this one.
The Boring Bet
Who will win the Super Bowl?
I cannot predict the future. Ask Tony Romo.