Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Who Will Score First In The Super Bowl?

Will Marshawn Lynch be the first to score a Touchdown on Sunday?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

I've nailed the "Who Will Score The First Touchdown?" Super Bowl prop bet in each of the last five Super Bowls, and I can even tell you who the winning players were - Anquan Boldin, Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, and The Field (via Gary Russell).

My usual tactic is to identify two players on each team who seem likely to be involved early in the game, but this year that's a far too random proposition to be reliable. Denver has five players who are seemingly always on the field and always a threat - Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker. All five of those players scored at least ten touchdowns in the regular season, and nobody else on the team had more than four. Meanwhile, Seattle has one clear pick - Marshawn Lynch - who scored nine more touchdowns from scrimmage (14) than any other player on the team (five - for Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller); after that, there's nobody on the team that has shown a penchant for scoring touchdowns regularly.

Let's look at each of the lines, and start from the bottom and work our way up.

No Touchdown Scored: 150-1

Last year the odds were 125-1 and I got suckered in, figuring two good defensive teams (in particular, two that had played a 16-6 game in their previous meeting) had better than a one-in-125 chance of going without a touchdown. It didn't happen. This year I have no such illusions. There will be touchdowns.

Danny Trevathan: 150-1
Bobby Wagner: 110-1
Earl Thomas: 100-1
Champ Bailey: 100-1
Richard Sherman: 80-1
Trindon Holiday: 75-1
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: 75-1

None of these are worth it. The two quarterbacks have combined for 20 touchdowns in 36 games, including the postseason, so the odds of them even being intercepted are slim, and from there, turnovers returned for touchdowns are way too random to be reliable. We can move on.

Peyton Manning: 35-1

Unless you think he's sneaking one in, skip it.

Andre Caldwell: 30-1
Robert Turbin: 30-1
Jacob Tamme: 30-1
Jermaine Kearse: 22-1

These are the mildly intriguing choices (save for Turbin). Caldwell isn't on the field very often but 30-1 seems steep - it seems like Vegas is banking on the public focusing only on the usual suspects. Tamme is a bit like that as well, and Manning does love to go to his tight ends in the red zone. Tamme would have paid off two weeks ago in the AFC Championship game. Kearse is Seattle's best big-play receiver, so if you think they're going to bust a 60-yard touchdown score early, he's a nice value pick. The one that makes no sense is Turbin - he only seems to get consistent snaps in blowouts, which this game won't be, and he didn't score at all during the regular season, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. There's no reason for him to be in a position to score the first touchdown of the game.

Zach Miller: 20-1
Golden Tate: 18-1
Doug Baldwin: 18-1
Russell Wilson: 18-1
Percy Harvin: 18-1
Montee Ball: 15-1

Wilson only scored one touchdown during the regular season, and Seattle doesn't run much zone-read in goal-to-go situations, they usually trust Lynch as a deep back getting a full head of steam going forward. Miller, Tate, Baldwin, and Harvin are the likely candidates to score if Seattle scores first through the air, but differentiating between them is near impossible (Harvin is the weakest candidate of the bunch but the other three are effectively identical in terms of likelihood to score).

Ball is an interesting choice, but the fact that there are still five Broncos left to be named, 15-1 doesn't seem like it's good enough to get me to bite.

The Field: 12-1

Let's put it this way: the only regular-down players we haven't mentioned (and aren't about to mention) are lineman and the weakest secondary players on each team. Even the kick and punt returners (Trindon Holiday, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse) have been named. So you're basically laying 12-1 odds that the first touchdown will be scored on defense by a non-star. Not great odds.

Julius Thomas: 9-1
Eric Decker: 9-1
Wes Welker: 9-1

Not surprising, all three of these guys have the same odds.

Demaryius Thomas: 8.5-1
Knowshon Moreno: 8-1
Marshawn Lynch: 6-1

The important thing to note is that Vegas isn't necessarily saying that Seattle is likely to score first because Lynch has the best odds. It's just that Lynch is the heavy favorite among Seattle players to score at all, regardless of what point of the game it is. All things considered, Denver is probably more likely to score first, but their candidates are spread out evenly.

Lynch is the no-brainer pick. You put money on him just to cover your bases. But how to make the other picks is complicated. If you want a second Seattle player, you probably either go with Baldwin or Tate as a long-shot bet, but you're probably better off going with three Denver players. Moreno should be one of them, because he gives you a double-threat option. Demaryius Thomas is a good second choice, if for no other reason than because he led the team in touchdowns. However, Richard Sherman is likely to be opposite Thomas all night. Do you expect Sherman to surrender a touchdown pass? Because I don't.

Here are my picks:

Marshawn Lynch: 6-1
Knowshon Moreno: 8-1
Wes Welker: 8-1
Julius Thomas: 8-1

My basic thought is that the first touchdown of the game isn't going to be on a long play. It's going to take a sustained drive to score a touchdown early. So the big play guys, the ones that are going to be matched up against the opponent's all-pro defensive backs (Seattle's receivers, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas) fall by the wayside. I took both running backs, and my two Denver receiver picks were Welker and Thomas, because (a) they're more likely to have favorable matchups against "weaker" Seattle defenders (I use "weaker" only in comparison to Sherman and Thomas), and (b) they normally occupy the middle of the field, an area where Seattle is sometimes susceptible to crossing routes and slants when they sit back in Cover 3. If anyone on Denver is going to attack those areas, it's going to be Welker and Julius Thomas.

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