For 50 weeks a year, sports gambling isn’t that complicated. People bet on which teams will win, how much they’ll win by, and how many points will be scored. The two weeks before the Super Bowl are different. Bookmakers take one game and unfold it across all 11 dimensions. You can gamble on the exact score, specific yardage totals for players, and whether a kick will clank off the upright. You can even bet on whether that kick will clank once or twice.
Not only can you bet on everything involved in the game, but you can pair those wagers with things happening in other sports. Will Raheem Mostert have more rushing touchdowns for the 49ers than Cristiano Ronaldo will have goals for Juventus on Sunday? Will every college basketball team from New Jersey score more combined points than the total rushing yards in the Super Bowl? Will Jordan Spieth’s fourth-round score at the Phoenix Open be higher or lower than Travis Kelce’s receiving yards?
The lines don’t have to stay inside the lines. If what’s happening in the game doesn’t scratch your gambling itch, you can bet on what is happening around the game. Whose commercial will appear first: Donald Trump’s or Michael Bloomberg’s? Will halftime performer Jennifer Lopez show butt cleavage? Will the price of bitcoin be higher or lower at the end of the game? Will a player propose to their girlfriend on the field after the game? (If it happens in the locker room, that’s a tough beat.)
The Westgate SuperBook, which bills itself as “the world leader in proposition wagering,” issued a prop bet list that is 37 pages long. Bovada already has more than 600 prop bets on its website and is aiming for 1,000 before Super Bowl Sunday, including who will win the MVP—of the Puppy Bowl. As Pat Morrow, the head oddsmaker at Bovada, told The Ringer, “If we can put a price on something, we are absolutely going to put that on the website.”
“This is about driving eyes to Bovada and attracting people who may not be traditional sports bettors,” he said. “And if you’re betting on the Puppy Bowl, you are not a traditional sports bettor.”
For the less traditional sports bettors, we at The Ringer have compiled a less traditional sports betting guide. Some of these bets are good recommendations. More of them are not. All are entertaining. (If you encounter any confusing lines out in the wild, use the Action Network’s odds calculator to understand the payouts involved. All of them were sourced from the Westgate SuperBook, Bovada, or MyBookie.) Let’s dive in.
The Ones on the Game
Patrick Mahomes’s total rushing yards—over or under 31.5
The odds: Over—a $1 bet wins $0.91. Under—a $1 bet wins $0.91.
The bet: Under 31.5
A caveat worth remembering for the rest of these bets, and also for the rest of gambling forever, is that the line does not represent what the bookmaker thinks will happen. The line is a number the bookmaker thinks will draw an equal amount of money on both sides. That way the sportsbook can collect a small percentage from everyone rather than depend on the outcome of a game to make a profit.
This is important to remember for bets that intersect with public narratives. Mahomes’s rushing was one of the biggest stories of Kansas City’s two playoff wins. He had exactly 53 rushing yards in each game, and the most memorable play of the postseason so far is Mahomes’s 27-yard sideline dance for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.
With that play so fresh in people’s minds, drawing equal action on each side of a bet likely required a number higher than what oddsmakers would have normally considered.
Mahomes has started 35 games in his NFL career. He has rushed for more than 30 yards in seven, or one-fifth of his career starts. Even if we remove Mahomes’s first eight games of the 2019 season, when either he was dealing with an ankle injury or it was his first game back from a dislocated kneecap that sidelined him for two games, Mahomes has rushed for more than 30 yards in six of 27 starts. The last two weeks belie the fact that Mahomes typically scrambles to extend passing plays, not pick up yards.
The 49ers do not give up a ton of rushing yards to quarterbacks. They allowed just three quarterbacks to breach 29 yards this season: Lamar Jackson (who had the most rushing yards of any quarterback ever), Kyler Murray twice (who was second in rushing among quarterbacks), and Russell Wilson (who ranked sixth). Mahomes is not a statue, but he is not nearly the rusher those players are. San Francisco’s defensive line and linebackers have elite speed, so Mahomes may not have the room to scramble he enjoyed in his first two playoff games. He also managed a lot of his yardage running when opponents were in man coverage, but the 49ers play zone the second most of any team. Defenders are more likely to be facing the quarterback in zone coverage, rather than turning their backs in man coverage. Notably, when these teams played in Week 3 of 2018, Mahomes rushed five times for 7 yards, and that was before the 49ers had Nick Bosa or Dee Ford.
Chiefs -0.5 in the second quarter (second-quarter scoring only)
The odds: A $1 bet wins $1.10
The bet: Chiefs win the second quarter
The Chiefs used to start fast. In 2018, Kansas City led the league in first-quarter scoring (147 points) and first-quarter-scoring margin (91). This year, the Chiefs needed a little longer to get going. They ranked no. 5 in first-quarter scoring (90 points) but led the league in second-quarter scoring (177) and second-quarter scoring margin (plus-110). In the playoffs, the Chiefs have fallen behind the Texans 21-0 and the Titans 10-7 in the first quarter, but won their second quarters by a combined 42-10 margin. The next-best team in second-quarter scoring margin is the 49ers, but the Chiefs nearly double the 49ers’ figure (110 vs. 60) and that does not even include their playoff totals.
First penalty—Kansas City Chiefs
The bet: Chiefs $1 wins $0.83
If Kansas City’s offense struggles in one area, it’s holding penalties. That might sound like picking nits, but the Chiefs seemed to frequently face second-and-20s this season.
The Chiefs led the league in defensive holding penalties. They’ll also be at risk for a number of offensive holding penalties while trying to block the 49ers front.
The Ones Around the Game
How many times will the Patriots’ 28-3 comeback be mentioned? (Over or under 0.5 times.)
The odds: Over—a $1 bet wins $0.60. Under—a $1 bet wins $1.35.
The bet: Smash the over like your life depends on it.
Apple stock in 1980. Bitcoin in 2016. The over on this bet in 2020. These kinds of opportunities don’t come around often, but when they do, they can change the lives of everyone you know and love. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons team that blew that 28-3 lead just three years ago. That game was announced by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who will also be announcing this year’s Super Bowl. The idea that neither Buck nor Aikman would mention that game during a four-hour broadcast is unfathomable.
Will the broadcast show the video of Andy Reid doing the punt, pass, and kick competition as a child?
The odds: Yes—a $1 bet wins $2.50. No—a $1 bet wins $0.25.
The bet: Yes
If you have not had the good fortune of seeing 13-year-old Andy Reid (or, as the video spells it, “Andrew Ried”) tower over his competitors in a dominant pass-punt-kick performance, please treat yourself.
That isn’t a feat of perspective or a particularly small child next to him, either. Here’s Reid next to all the other kids.
This is Mark Ingram standing next to Derrick Henry or Aaron Judge standing next to José Altuve or Yao Ming standing next to J.J. Watt or the way they filmed Lord of the Rings to make Elijah Wood look under 4 feet tall.
Will Andy Reid eat a cheeseburger before the end of the Super Bowl broadcast?
The odds: Yes—a $1 bet wins $12. No—a $1 bet wins $0.01.
The bet: Stay away.
When Reid was a kid, he could eat five chili cheeseburgers from Tommy’s, an L.A. fast food chain. That story is more believable given the photos of him as a kid, but he still enjoys his cheeseburgers. One day after the Chiefs won the AFC championship game, Reid was asked how he celebrated the victory. “[Had a] cheeseburger and went to bed,” he said.
If Reid wins the Super Bowl, it’s not hard to imagine an assistant—or wise burger sponsor—handing him a cheeseburger on the field. But does he have to finish the cheeseburger to win the bet? Or will one bite suffice? We called the head oddsmaker at Bovada to clarify.
“If he takes a bite, I feel like that would be pretty rough on us to say he didn’t finish it,” said Pat Morrow, the head oddsmaker at Bovada. “So I will go on record and say if he takes a bite out of a cheeseburger, we will grade that 12-1 [bet] as a winner.”
Will the winner of the Iowa caucuses tweet about the Super Bowl during the game?
The odds: Yes—$1 wins $1.50. No—$1 wins $0.50
The bet: No
Four candidates are in the mix to win the Iowa caucuses on Monday, according to FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Biden and Sanders have a 70 percent chance combined.) Would any of those four tweet during the game? Tweeting about football would be off brand for all four of the candidates. Tweeting during the game but not about the game comes across as out of touch. Unsurprisingly, none of the four candidates has tweeted about either the 49ers or the Chiefs this season. Back in February 2016, Bernie did not tweet during the Broncos-Panthers Super Bowl.
It would seem the most likely course is the four refrain from tweeting for that four-hour window, but one of the candidates may hop into the fray to respond to President Donald Trump’s Super Bowl commercial. The Trump campaign purchased 60 seconds of ad time for roughly $10 million earlier this month to match spending by Michael Bloomberg’s campaign, which will also have 60 seconds of ad time. But any tweet responding to a commercial is unlikely to mention the game itself.
Though we won’t know the winner of the caucuses when the game ends, it’s likely none of the four main candidates mention the actual game during it.
Who will win Puppy Bowl XVI?
The odds: Team Fluff (-7.5) vs. Team Ruff (+7.5)
The bet: Team Ruff (+7.5)
Oddsmakers are a lot like the Wizard of Oz. We defer to their authority because they know so much that questioning their judgment seems futile. Who are we to wonder why the Chiefs are favored by 1.5 points instead of 2.5? The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken.
This week, Bovada released a line for the Puppy Bowl with Team Fluff as more than a touchdown favorite over Team Ruff. This is one of those bets where you wonder whether the people setting these lines are just people behind a curtain. What possible metrics could they be using to come to this conclusion? We called them to find out.
“It’s certainly a less scientific process,” Pat Morrow, head oddsmaker at Bovada, told The Ringer about the Puppy Bowl line. The line was set by a Bovada propmaker who perused the Puppy Bowl roster online, which you can do yourself at this link. Here is what one “player” on each of those rosters looks like.
“Based on his, uh, pseudo-expert belief, [he] determined which team would be favored in that game,” Morrow said. “These Puppy Bowls are generally high-scoring.”
You may be wondering why Bovada offers bets on the Puppy Bowl. (At least I hope you are.) In fact, Bovada has been taking wagers on the game for roughly (ruffly?) five years. The tradition began when some employees who were anxiously waiting for kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday turned on the Puppy Bowl before the game. “Being a bunch of degenerates ourselves, we thought, ‘OK, how are we going to pass the time?’” Morrow said. So they began gambling on the games.
They had such a blast gambling on the Puppy Bowl they figured they might as well put it on the website. Believe it or not, they are close to the desired 50-50 split with money on both sides. As of Wednesday, 60 percent of money had been placed on the favored Team Fluff versus 40 percent on Team Ruff.
It’s not just oddsmakers and the early money who thinks Team Fluff has the upper paw. Simon Morris, Puppy Bowl XVI executive producer and showrunner, said Team Fluff deserved to be favored. “Team Fluff has a lot to prove this year, after last year’s defeat, so they’re coming out with all the fire in their bellies and the biggest pep in their step,” Morris wrote via email. “Plus, Team Fluff has some formidable players like Bert, who’s a Weimaraner/Great Pyrenees mix, with some impressive athletic prowess and strength coming from that combination of breeds.”
That’s encouraging to hear, but on a neutral field it’s wise to take the points with the underdog. It’s even wiser to take the points when the favorite was decided by one guy who clicked through a slideshow of 42 dog pictures. It’s wisest of all to remember The Wizard of Oz. Neither Dorothy, nor Scarecrow, nor the Cowardly Lion, nor the Tin Man saw through the Wizard’s ruse. It was Toto the little terrier who pulled back the curtain.
Who will be named Most Valuable Puppy of Puppy Bowl XVI?
The odds: Over 17.5 weeks—$1 wins $1.30. Under 17.5 Weeks—$1 wins $0.59
The bet: Under 17.5 weeks
Yes, there are more Puppy Bowl bets. The game features puppers of ages 11 to 21 weeks old. The older pups would seemingly fare better, but Morris, the Puppy Bowl executive producer, says this is not the case.
“We’ve found that age hasn’t factored much in performance in the past,” Morris wrote. “Often we do see pups performing true to their breed characteristics—like more traditionally ‘chill’ breeds like bulldogs (this year’s Betty!) will be apt to lounge on the sidelines.”
With this key nugget of inside info, Morris provided us with his MVP picks.
“[Team] Ruff’s Cafecito is a strong contender for MVP,” Morris wrote. “His boundless energy comes from being part Chinese crested and part Yorkshire terrier, both breeds famous for their sprightliness.”
Obviously Cafecito is a gamer.
Cafecito hails from Miami-Dade Animal Services, so the Super Bowl is in his hometown. If Cafecito doesn’t take it home, Team Ruff has another MVP favorite.
“[Team] Ruff’s Gina is also in the [MVP] mix,” Morris wrote. “She has a lot of smarts and is very quick on her paws, so watch out for her too.”
Gina is 12 weeks old, while Cafecito is 15 weeks old. That means the smart move is to hammer the under on 17.5 weeks for the MVP. While we’re at it, also take “A-J” for the first letter of the Puppy Bowl MVP’s name instead of K-Z.
The Reckless (Stay Away From These, for the Love of God)
Will Andy Reid coach the Super Bowl in a Hawaiian shirt?
The odds: Yes—$1 wins $14. No—$1 wins $0.01
The bet: For the love of God, stay away from these.
Andy Reid wore a Hawaiian shirt to media day. That prompted a bet that would let people wager on whether Reid would wear a Hawaiian shirt during the Super Bowl. Obviously he won’t, but the return on a “no” bet is laughably low—1-100 odds, or a 1 percent return on investment. That means to win $10, somebody would have to risk $1,000 that Reid would not wear a Hawaiian shirt. To put this type of financial decision in context, The Ringer interviewed Josh Brown, a financial adviser based in New York City who has worked on Wall Street for 22 years.
“There is absolutely no reason any sentient person with a working brain should make that bet,” Brown said. “Even though it seems like it’s free money, if there is even a .01 percent chance that he could do it, you’ve just literally made the most foolish bet imaginable. It’s a fat-tailed distribution of risk. Meaning you’re picking up nickels in front of a steamroller … even if you win, you’re still a schmuck.”
Darwin Thompson to win Super Bowl MVP
The odds: 200-1
The bet: Dude.
Thompson is Kansas City’s backup running back. A rookie sixth-round running back, Thompson has not had more than 44 yards in a game this season.
“I guess I would just say to people placing these types of bets: get help,” Brown said. “Call a hotline, explain to them what you’re thinking about doing or what you’ve just done, and get counseling.
“You end up watching the game and you’re the asshole rooting for some weird shit to happen like a safety for the Chiefs and that’s all they score. The people around you trying to watch the game are going to want to kill you.”
Still, Brown is sympathetic to prop bets—and wants everyone to forget he said this if Thompson wins Super Bowl MVP.
“These are not investments,” Brown said. “These are people just having fun. A lot of this is symptomatic of the bull market and the economy being as good as it is. People just have more money to do stupid shit with.”