Super Bowl betting recap: TD agony, a bad beat, and asking 'what if?'
Head coach Kyle Shanahan's opening play script (and first-drive scoring bets) fell apart with a fumble, but the 49ers' defense looked ready for the challenge of Andy Reid's game plan. As a result, a slow-starting Super Bowl LVIII needed a boost.
For many of a certain age, Sunday's halftime show Usher'd us back to a place and time - in college bars and dorms in the early 2000s - when we were "Caught Up" in the rhythmic beat of youth.
It was an all-too-brief, cheerful respite from a game that reminded us of that same era - in the shadows pre-PASPA repeal, with less institutional betting knowledge than we have now - when winning bets were hard to come by. The first half made it seem like every bet on the over was destined to fail and left a haunting feeling that we'd have to let things "Burn" if a minor miracle like overtime (Yes: +1100) didn't come.
Anytime touchdowns... anytime now?
Sure, Christian McCaffrey (-250) kept the world on its axis by scoring his usual touchdown (on a trick play - the first half's lone adrenaline shot). But all the usual suspects (Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Travis Kelce, Rashee Rice, and Isiah Pacheco) were kept out of the end zone.
If you thought you were playing it safe with scorers, the betting ledger in the anytime touchdown category looked more like a list of "Confessions" unless you had a second-tier option available around 8-to-1 (Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jauan Jennings, or Mecole Hardman).
Hardman's game-winning score (as high as +6600 for the last TD) came dripping with irony after his near-fatal fumble in the divisional round sent him to the bench for all but one offensive snap in the AFC title game. The touchdown catch also perfectly capped a contest in which bad became good, down turned up, black felt white, and square was sharp.
Square, don't care
Kelce didn't like that his dad grounded him for staying out past curfew with that woman with the guitar.
At least that's what his first-half tantrum toward Reid might have looked like to a portion of the Super Bowl's "one game per year" viewership. Kelce's props - the "squarest" overs in all the land - were in big trouble when he was largely absent in the first half. It didn't matter, as he and Mahomes meticulously chipped away to go over all their pertinent totals, turning this recap's theme from "Everybody Lost" to "Just Us" (or at least it feels that way):
MVP almost got weird
What if the 49ers had won?
Don't let the social media victory laps fool you, there was no "right side" in Super Bowl LVIII. Needing five quarters, the Chiefs won an often ugly toss-up. A San Francisco win would've left voters with an interesting Super Bowl MVP decision. McCaffrey's 80 yards in two stat columns might have swayed voters. But with throwing and receiving touchdowns, Jennings had the one-game resume to join the Super Bowl annals of flukey MVP winners. Sportsbooks would've loved him to be in this club since it wipes out all the bets on the sensible choices. It's like playing a Vegas roulette wheel and seeing the ball land on green quadruple-zero - a slot that nobody even knew was an option.
The Chiefs also had an off-the-radar MVP candidate, as Harrison Butker (300-1) kicked his heart out. Making four field goals, including immediately topping Jake Moody's Super Bowl record-setter (kicking overs, anyone?), wasn't enough to get the nod and suggests it may never happen for a kicker.
Instead, voters opted for Mahomes. As the greats do on off-nights when the door is ajar, he made the best of his good fortune, loitering long enough to take advantage of an accidental muffed punt (something unaccounted for on the endless Super Bowl prop menu) and a rare short field. Fittingly for this weird edition of the NFL's championship, a play in which nobody directly won or lost a prop bet was the game's turning point.
Mahomes won MVP, validating what was, to be honest, technically a bad bet. Why bet Mahomes for MVP at +130 when you could back the Chiefs' moneyline at +110 (or better) and avoid exposure to Kansas City's metaphorical green spaces on the table?
It depends on what number you got, but one of the most popular prop bets was supporting Brock Purdy to go over 12.5 rushing yards. Despite its early popularity after the Niners quarterback scampered all over the Lions in the NFC title game, Purdy's number came down to 11.5 as the Super Bowl neared.
In what felt like a conservative mistake, Reid opted to kick the game-tying field goal with six seconds remaining rather than try one more play for the win. Butker's kick left a couple of seconds on the clock, and Purdy - sitting on 13 rushing yards - came out for a kneel-down for a 1-yard loss to send the game to overtime. He finished with 12 yards rushing.
A contradictory game
More notes on a contradictory box score for bettors:
- Mahomes (-115) had an interception. Purdy (opened -115, closed -135) didn't.
- Chiefs defenders Chris Jones, L'Jarius Sneed, and Trent McDuffie dominated. They combined for no sacks or interceptions and just ten total tackles. There were no prop markets for passes defended - their critical contribution.
- Samuel had 11 targets and three carries, in line with pre-game expectations, but couldn't turn those into receptions (three) or yardage (41).
Super Bowl LVIII acted as a reminder that unless you're Mahomes, Kelce, and Reid, no matter how prepared you might be, you don't always win the big game.
Matt Russell is the lead betting analyst for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on social media @mrussauthentic.