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Looking Back at Super Bowl 51

If you follow NFL betting at all, you almost certainly watched as the Atlanta Falcons went down in flames on Sunday 5th February 2017 in what had to be one of the most devastating defeats in the history of the game.  Since then, punters and fans have been reeling with shock, still trying to piece together some understanding of what happened.


Didn’t follow the game?  Let me bring you up to speed.  The Atlanta Falcons played in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.  It was the first ever Super Bowl game in history to go into overtime—which is about the last thing anyone could have expected earlier in the game.


At one point during the third quarter, the Falcons had a 28-3 lead over the Patriots.  The Falcons were an incredibly strong team this past season, but taking a lead like that over New England is no easy feat.  To all appearances, the Falcons were on their way to completely trouncing them.


In fact, when there were 9 minutes left to go in the game and Atlanta was leading by 16 points, ESPN’s win probability machine was calculating that the Falcons had a 99.6% chance of emerging as the Super Bowl victors.  That is about as close as you are going to get to a “lock.”  You are probably familiar with the concept .  A “lock” is supposed to be a certain victory, a bet which is so obvious that it cannot possibly fail.


If you were betting live on the Super Bowl, you probably would have figured that a wager on the Falcons to win at that point was easy money.  Of course, you probably would not have found a good deal on it either.


And then, astonishingly … the Falcons blew it.  They swiftly lost their lead to the Patriots, and the game ended up in overtime as a result.  By that point, the Falcons couldn’t seem to do anything right—and New England took yet another Super Bowl victory.


What happened?  That depends on who you ask.  I have seen some analysts chalk it up at least partly to terrible luck.  The Falcons did make a lot of mistakes, however, many of them specific and identifiable. 


The Falcons’ MVP quarterback Matt Ryan is a fantastic player, but his fourth-quarter fumble was a critical error which gave the Patriots an opening to exploit.  Then there was running back Devonta Freeman, who failed to provide Ryan with some much-needed backup, not to mention Robert Alford, who could have halted Tom Brady’s pass to Julian Edelman.  That was an epic pass, and it was the one which brought the game to a tie, pulling it into overtime. 


Why did the Falcons make so many mistakes when they had the capacity to win Super Bowl 51? 


That is yet another question, perhaps even more challenging to answer than the first.  To some degree, bad luck really did play a role—but so did poor performance.  Unlike the Patriots, who now have won five Super Bowls, the Falcons have only been to the Super Bowl twice.  During their first back in 1998, they lost to the Denver Broncos.  This was their second appearance, so there was a lot of pressure to achieve that first ever Super Bowl win.


Sometimes teams choke under that kind of pressure.  In all likelihood, that is part of what happened to the Falcons this year. 


In any case, Super Bowl 51 has been an interesting lesson for punters and online betting sites alike.  The New England Patriots were the favourite to win over the Falcons before the game started. 


So those who had their money on the Patriots accurately predicted that they would win the Super Bowl.  But I strongly doubt that many of those punters could have guessed at how the action would unfold.  In other words, winning their bets might have been partly a coincidence.


Considering that there had never been a Super Bowl game that went into overtime in the history of NFL, no one would have wagered on that possibility—nor would many people have guessed that Atlanta would achieve such an astounding lead only to lose it.  Anyone betting live in the third quarter would never have guessed the Patriots would pull through after all—and that would have been wrong.


In fact, just imagine how devastating it would have been if you’d bet on the Patriots, watched the game, put up a live bet on the Falcons to negate the Patriots bet, and then ended up breaking even (or losing money) instead of winning your original bet!


It just goes to show that there are a lot of possibilities in the world of NFL (and sports in general) which are highly unlikely and which happen anyway.  You can swing between total certainty that one team will win one minute and the sure feeling that they will blow it the next—but all those emotions really are just in your head. 


In sports, nothing is certain, and sometimes the most improbable stories unfold on the field.  So be ready for that when you are betting.  If you do your research, you can make smart, accurate predictions which win more often than not, but the bets you do end up losing are often going to be the last ones you expect. 


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