By Mike Wilkening
Cold, Hard Football Facts Insider Oddsmaking Analyst (@mikewilkening)

The Super Bowl lends itself to excessive analysis, and that is a beautiful thing. The more possibilities considered, the better. Hooray for open minds and spreadsheets filled with data.

That said, when handicapping the Super Bowl between Denver and Seattle, asking and answering a few simple questions might just be the way to go.

Here are five primary issues to weigh as Super Bowl XLVIII approaches: 

  • Who will take the lead first, and how will that affect the opposition?
  • How does each team want to play?
  • How could weather affect the Super Bowl?
  • Regardless of point spread, whom do you believe most likely to win the game?
  • How strongly do you want to press your opinion on the game?

Let’s briefly address these topics:


Follow the leader

An early lead would seem to especially suit Seattle, which has a strong running game and a great defense. The Seahawks are built to close.

By extension, an early lead would augur well for Marshawn Lynch’s rushing total, which has obvious proposition-bet ramifications. If Seattle gets ahead and employs a ball-control approach, Lynch will be very busy.

On the other hand, let’s consider the ramifications of Seattle falling behind early. Can the Seahawks’ offensive line hold up if asked to continue to protect quarterback Russell Wilson time and again? Wilson has been sacked 19 times in the last five games, and his propensity to hold the ball can stress his line.

The Broncos seem to have more versatility than the Seahawks. While their running game is not the primary focus of their offense, it is capable of doing the heavy lifting if Denver wants to work some clock with a lead. Finally, the Broncos have the NFL’s top quarterback in Peyton Manning, which gives them a shot no matter the circumstances. Watching Manning trying to lead a comeback against Seattle’s outstanding defense with the title on the line could be the stuff of NFL lore.

For handicappers, it would also be the stuff that could send the game soaring OVER the current total of 47.5.

That’s why considering how the game could start can guide your assessment of how it ends.


Have a healthy respect for each team’s strengths

If leaning toward the Broncos, know that Seattle’s pass rush and secondary are the best Denver has seen all season. Put on the Seahawks-Giants game tape from December and watch Seattle just flat out take apart New York’s offense. It’s something else.

If thinking about taking the Seahawks, know that Denver has allowed less than four yards per carry both in the regular season and postseason. And what more is there to say about Manning and Co.?


The weather matters — unless it doesn’t

Will it rain or snow on Super Bowl Sunday? Will it be windy? These are questions that might not be safely answered until closer to game time.

And here’s the thing: it may not matter. The current forecast isn’t unfavorable. Nevertheless, it’s something to monitor, especially if handicapping the total.


Before worrying about the point spread or money-line odds, see if you have a conviction about the winner of the game.

Think of the Super Bowl as a match race. Which horse are you banking on to cross the line first?

Yes, this might be something of a silly discussion to be having. Nevertheless, there will be handicappers hung up on laying Denver -2.5 (when the price could drop to Denver -2 or lower if more Seattle money comes in) or taking Seattle +2.5 (when Denver winning by field goal would cause the worst of stomachaches).

Make no mistake: It’s incumbent on handicappers to get the best price. However, if you are sweating a half-point, you must ask yourself if it is just a matter of wanting to get the best value — or if it’s a lack of conviction about the side you’ve chosen.


Finally, when you pick a side, how strong is your dedication to the cause?

Let’s suppose Denver is your play. Well, if you’re headed to Las Vegas for the big game, you will have side, money-line and proposition-bet choices to make. Here’s an example: If you like Denver to take a big lead early and coast, do you take the OVER on Knowshon Moreno’s rushing yards, too? It’s an interesting question.

Really, the Super Bowl is not that much different from fourth race at Suffolk Downs on a Monday. If you have a conviction about the race winner and bet it correctly, you can make a score across multiple betting pools.

However, if your winner finishes fourth . . . well, it’s going to be hard to cash.

There is no shortage of useful data to consider in Super Bowl XLVIII, and Cold, Hard Football Facts can help point you in the right direction. But only you know when you have a handle on the last game of the NFL season.

We all chase winners. But it's especially fun to chase the feeling you get — that feeling you earn, really — when you can back up what you say, whether with cold, hard facts or cold, hard cash.