You’ve heard a lot about the “key number” of three through early Super Bowl market coverage. The general public (and some sharps) like New England at -2¹/₂ or better versus the Rams Sunday. Stores that have tested three see Rams money race to the window. That’s the majority of sharps. But, in Las Vegas, a lot of public money races too because LA is so nearby.

Does the three really matter that much? Or, is it just more hype in a fortnight of nonstop exclamation points?

Betting is a percentage game. The fact that three is such a common final victory margin in football (the value of a field goal) really can swing the percentages.

Here’s a theoretical scenario. Let’s say a model spits out the following assessments for Rams-Patriots: New England wins by four points or more 42 percent of the time; New England wins by exactly three points 11 percent of the time of the time; and Los Angeles either loses by one or two points or wins outright 47 percent of the time.

  • At a point spread of Patriots -2¹/₂, the power of three gives New England a 53 percent to 47 percent edge. That makes money over the long haul at 11/10 vigorish (the extra 10 percent on those 47 percent lost bets still doesn’t erase all the profit from winners).
  • At a point spread of Patriots -3, value now switches to the Rams. We have 11 percent pushes where all the money is refunded. Los Angeles wins the non-pushes 47 percent to 42 percent, enough to clear the vig.

So, in our theoretical example, the Patriots are a winning bet at -2¹/₂ , while the Rams are a winning bet at +3.

What are the “real” percentages for this game? That’s the rub. The real world is extremely complex. It’s hard to know for sure how common the three would be in this particular matchup, or how ready the young Rams are for the challenge ahead.

It’s one thing to say “Pats by three” is likely because a favorite of -2¹/₂ should win by exactly three fairly often. But, how often should the Patriots win by three if the “right” line is actually pick ’em? Remember that many sportsbooks opened there, or even at Rams -1. Early betting may have been over-influenced by the Patriots over-achieving expectations in their first two playoff games while the Rams needed a huge officiating break to reach Atlanta.

Sports books are acting as if they believe the “right” line is pick ’em or Patriots -1. Some oddsmakers have told media they don’t mind having a position on the Rams at +2¹/₂, particularly with the 11/10 in their favor. If oddsmakers are right that the public has overreacted, sports books are getting free points and plus odds.

Sharps are acting like Rams +3 is the best of the century! That suggests pro bettors also believe something closer to pick ’em is the right number.

Based on what you know about the skill sets of these teams, and the Patriots’ history of playing close Super Bowls, how would you assess the odds? Take a crack at it and see if it affects your betting strategy this weekend.

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