Denver Broncos 1.80, Seattle Seahawks 2.05 (starts at 23.30 GMT)
We’re moving ever closer to the end-of-season showpiece that is the Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. Here’s why our NFL expert Mike Carlson is backing Seattle…
The week of build up to the Super Bowl is a festival of cliches as ten times as many journalists covering the big game as covered any of the season try to come up with some reason why you should read them.
The storylines are usually simple, and sometimes fanciful; often the press make each other the big story, and Richard Sherman was clearly No 1 on the media hit parade at the big media day on Tuesday.
But after that things settle down, and the reality is that this Super Bowl is a great matchup. The top two seeds for the first time since 2009 (Colts-Saints, kind of putting paid the idea that defense wins championships - although if you remember the big plays in that game were an onsides kick and an interception of Peyton Manning).
Some metrics rate the Seahawks' pass defense as the best since the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2002: and they cruised to a Super Bowl win over the top offense in the league, Oakland's.
It helped that Bucs' coach Jon Gruden had built the Oakland offense, and Raiders' coach Bill Callahan didn't bother to make any changes in it, but still...that was one of the few games where that top defense really did win by shutting down a top offense.
More often, when a top offense and top defense collide, it's the other side of the game where the game is won and lost. When Miami's top offense, led by Dan Marino, met San Francisco's top defense, it helped the Niners that they had Joe Montana and some weapons on the other side of the ball.
Similarly Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense had Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and company to tilt the balance in their favour.
Watch Richard Sherman’s epic rant:
In this game, the top matchup is Denver's four receivers, the best group in the league, against the Seattle secondary.
Seattle will likely cover Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker man for man on the outside, and how they deal with Wes Welker in the slot and Julius Thomas at tight end will be crucial. But on the other side of the ball, Denver's weakest point, the secondary, is faced by Seattle's receiving group which lacks a big play threat. They require Russell Wilson to keep plays alive to give his receivers time to work open, so the pass rush for Denver becomes crucial.
This is the only game in town, so a best bet ought to simply come down to putting your money where your mouth is. I'm picking Seattle to win this one, which makes it easy..
BEST BET: Seattle (+2) at 1.88.
The match bet at 2.05 might be more tempting, since two points isn't much of a spread. I see the Seahawks' defense getting a couple of big plays, and converting them into enough points to win.
VALUE BET: Seattle to win by 1-6 points at 4.75.
You can see what I'm doing here, building a whole pyramid of risk based on my idea that the Seahawks are going to win, and also that the game is going to stay close. I don't see Seattle generating enough offense to pull away from Denver, even with a couple of gifts from their defense. But the overall strategy carries some risk, and you might want to hedge with a bet on a wider margin, or even a Denver win.
OUTSIDE BET: Most valuable player: Russell Wilson at 4.00, Marshawn Lynch at 5.50.
If you're predicting a Seattle win, the MVP is usually a QB, so Wilson would be the choice. But Lynch has been the Lynch-pin (sorry…) of the Seahawks' offense, and a flutter on both would not be amiss. If you think Denver will win, Manning is almost inevitable, and the 1.90 reflects that.
I also like the first score being a field goal or safety, at 2.25, but watch the weather conditions, which could work against accurate kicking in a windy stadium. Both teams' kickers have strong legs, so a bet on the longest field goal being over 44.5 yards might seem a good one, but note that neither team will want to turn over the ball at the spot of the kick if they miss. No three consecutive scores, at 3.00 also seems like a decent risk; it's hard to see Seattle allowing three straight, and hard to see their offense getting three.
ONE TO AVOID: This is the Super Bowl. What's to avoid?
This is my last column of the season—thanks for following along, and I hope you've gained some insight over the course of the season, and not done too badly as result. The beauty of the NFL is that logic and a little knowledge can reap some decent rewards. I'll be bringing you coverage of the match on Channel 4 (UK only) starting at 22:30 GMT Sunday night, thanks for watching this season, and for reading and betting here.
Follow Mike Carlson on Twitter.