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NFL Picks Using the Golden Rules: Super Bowl Over/Under Edition

This NFL season, I have provided readers with my Golden Rules for betting against the spread. For Super Bowl 50, I have expanded my analysis to cover the over/under.

Sunday February 7, 2016 – Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos o/u 44.5

This season’s Super Bowl features Denver’s legendary quarterback, Peyton Manning, making his 4th appearance on Super Sunday versus one of the game’s most dominating young quarterbacks, Cam Newton, and the Carolina Panthers. However, you can’t ignore what lines up in front of each star pivot on the other side of the ball. Denver and Carolina’s defense has more often than not dictated the game’s outcome, especially whether or not the points go over or under.

The over/under for the big game is at 44.5. Does this seem high for 2015’s relentless Broncos defense? Or perhaps it’s too low for the Panthers team that posted 49 points against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game and 31 in the first half versus the Seattle Seahawks the week before that.

Before analyzing each team separately, I have charted the history of Super Bowl over/unders starting with the Giants/Broncos in Super Bowl XXI following the 1986 season. Note that the year in the chart below refers to the season, not the year in which the Super Bowl took place.


To read this graph, note the position of the black dot (the over/under) in comparison to the silver bar (the actual total points for both teams). The game was “over” any time the silver bar is displayed above the black dot.

Over the past 29 Super Bowls, taking the under has only been profitable in 41% of the games. In fact, the Super Bowl has been over the past three seasons and four of the last five. The games exceeding the over/under did so by an average of 12.1 points. The games that remained under were closer to expected at an average of 9.7 points under.

You now have a sense for the history of over/unders in Super Bowls. You could lean towards the over, but the data isn’t compelling on its own. The better question is what can we expect from this season’s Panthers and Broncos? The next two charts show the over/under results for both teams covering all games from the past three seasons. I have also broken out each team’s over/under results into the past three regular seasons and their combined playoffs over the period.


The Panthers have tended to average over/unders a slight bit below 45 points for the past three seasons. Yet their actual game point totals have been anything but consistent. Carolina’s average game score increased by seven points between 2013 and 2014, and then again by six points between last season and this season. Their playoff tendency is more aligned with their 2015 season as they have exceeded the over/under by an average of seven points over their five playoff games since 2013. The Panthers have only failed to exceed this week’s 44.5 o/u on six occasions this season including the first two weeks.

The following chart looks at the same analysis for the Denver Broncos. I kept the scale of the chart so that you can observe the drastic difference in average total points between the two teams.


If you thought Carolina saw significant changes in the game point totals, then Denver’s movement is astronomical by comparison. The Broncos average game point totals declined by 11 points over each of the past two campaigns. It was only two short years ago, Denver was a sure bet at the over. With a revamped defense, the Broncos are now averaging game point totals just north of 40. Regardless of the season, the Broncos have kept their average point totals on the low end over the last three playoffs.

This leaves the Golden Rules in a bit of a quandary. In a vacuum, the Panthers are a sure bet over and the Broncos are as likely to be an under. I decided to look closer at each team’s most recent 10 games – regular season and playoffs. The Broncos average game point totals over the last 10 is still sub-40 at 39.7 – 4.8 below the 44.5 o/u for Super Bowl. However, the Panthers were involved in four 60+ point games over the final 10-game stretch leading into the Super Bowl. Carolina’s average game point total was 53.4, which is 8.9 points above this week’s over/under. From what I see, Carolina is much more likely to push the score up than the Broncos are to keep the score down.

Golden Rules say to take the over.

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan. 


The data on NFL regular season spreads was accessed directly from or via Sunshine Forecast whose current source is Spreads are collected as close as practicable to game time.

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