The Conference Championships were, on the one hand, perfect and yet not so profitable. Both winners were those predicted, and by the exact spread predicted as well. That would have been impressive had I left it there, but unfortunately my best bet predictions failed to come in, so a mixed bag in the end. But attention now turns to the Big Show on 2nd February.
The match between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks promises to be one of the closest for some time. This is what is likely to happen when the number 1 offence (Broncos) meets the number 1 defence (Seahawks). Even comparing the weaker side of things offers little help, as the Broncos had the 19th ranked defence compared to the Seahawks 17th ranked offence. Both teams had a 13-3 record during the regular season, but how comparable are those? The combined record of the Broncos’ opponents was 120-136, or 0.469. For the Seahawks this was 125-130 or 0.488. Hardly an Earth shattering difference. It can be argued, though, that Seattle had a harder division with the 49ers (12-4), Cardinals (10-6) and Rams (7-9) combining to 29-19 whilst the Broncos’ AFCW combined to 24-24. It would indicate that the Seahawks 13-3 was slightly more impressive.
In terms of momentum I am not a great believer in the concept of momentum carrying through from the end of season when looking at a team that hasn’t had to play in the wild card weekend. That week off gives a team to recharge and refocus as much as to lose focus. But comparing the Divisionals and Conference matches might give us a better indication. In the Divisionals both teams had relatively close wins with the Seahawks just too strong for the Saints, and the Broncos edging a surprisingly good Chargers. The Conference matches were also similar with neither team blasting past their opposition, although arguably the Broncos victory was more ‘impressive’, whilst a similar argument could be made that the Seahawks were facing a more difficult opponent in the 49ers. The bottom line is that the scale, and nature of the victories in the post season does little to differentiate the teams.
So we have two teams that are evenly matched when on the field, had very comparable regular seasons and post-season performances. What about the key personnel? In simple terms (and that is what my knowledge requires it to be) that means the head coach and quarterback. The Broncos are coached by John Fox who took the Panthers to the Superbowl in the 2003-04 season. Four more post season appearances haven’t got to the Superbowl, but he has secured top place in the AFCW for the last three years before losing in the Divisionals. Pete Carroll, in charge of the Seahawks has (yes, you can guess) a comparable record, although has never been to the Superbowl. Not as though one or the other has recent experience of lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
Quarterback could be the difference. Peyton Manning, leading the Broncos, has had what can only be described as a glorious season. Leading the league’s number one defence has seen a return to his best that may not have been expected after the injury absence of 2011. 68.3% completion ratio and a league leading 55 TDs contributed to a 115.1 rating, a rating that can represent performance but not the experience of his 16 years in the NFL. Russell Wilson, on the other hand, is only in his second season. However, in that time he has avoided most of the media circus that has surrounded his compatriots such as RG3. This season saw a completion rate of 63.1%, 26 TDs and a rating of 101.2, his second season with a post 100 rating. He can also scramble, although such activity can be an issue with fumbles not being unheard of. He is certainly an exceptional talent, but without the experience that Manning has. In a close competition of youth versus experience, the edge usually goes with experience.
What does this all mean? Unfortunately it means that the two teams are very closely matched in all departments. And this is reflected in the odds. The Broncos are 2 point favourites which, given that represents the minimum score possible, is about as close as it can get. Even the standard money line is only 1.80/2.05. But one interesting concept is the MVP market. This is almost always awarded to the QB of the winning team – Manning is at 2.00 whilst Wilson is at 4.20. Interpreting that to meant that Manning will make more plays – longer drives and more scores, it would indicate the markets are expecting Manning to do more.
It is very tricky to call, but in a match up with so little to call between the teams I fear that it is experience that will show, and the Broncos will win the match. I say fear, but that is only because I want the Seahawks to win (always had a soft spot for Seattle). With it being so close, I wouldn’t look to back the winner market. The total points (known as the over/under market) is currently priced at 47 (1.90). This seems just a bit too high – my numbers predicted 44. Either backing under at 1.90, or selling the spread (which stands at 46-49 on Sporting Index) might be a better value option.
Prediction: Broncos (+10)
Best Bet: Sell spread on total points (46-49)