NFL Picks Against the Spread: 2011 Super Bowl and Prop Bets

Updated from Feb. 1 with additional Super Bowl prop bets.

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- With Super Bowl XLV five days away, experts at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas suggest there will be a drain in worker productivity leading up to the big game. I couldn't be more thrilled if this article will contribute to that slacking off.

I had my second perfect week of the playoffs with correct picks against the spread for the AFC and NFC championship games on Jan. 23. My playoff record against the spread is 8-2, which puts my overall record for this season at 50-44, with one tie. My success rate is 52.6%, shy of the magical 53% threshold. A bettor typically needs to win 53% of his or her bets in order to profit, based on the idea that you have to wager 110 units in order to win 100 units.

A winning pick against the spread for Super Bowl XLV, which has the Green Bay Packers favored by 2.5 points over the Pittsburgh Steelers, would push me over the 53% threshold and allow me to end the season in the money. Sadly, I've lost my shot at a perfect 11-0 run.

The same cannot be said about Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site PredictionMachine.com, who is a perfect 10-0 in the playoffs so far. The Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread. So far, the model has gone 8-0 in the playoffs.

How profitable would a 10-0 run in the playoffs be if you were in Vegas during the NFL playoffs? If you placed $50 on the first playoff game this season and just kept letting your winnings ride, that $50 would have turned into $38,400. So what is Bessire's matchup analysis between the Packers and Steelers?

"While luck usually comes from turnovers, especially when the two teams are otherwise evenly matched, balance is critical to success," Bessire says. "In this case, balance does not necessarily mean that a team must pass as often as it runs, but that it must find the right mix of decisions to exploit the other team's weaknesses while hiding its own."

With that, let's tackle (no pun intended) Super Bowl XLV and figure out why the Packers, the NFC's sixth seed with a regular season record of 10-6, are favored by nearly a field goal against the Steelers, the AFC's second seed with a 12-4 regular season record. Once again, my pick against the spread is for entertainment purposes only. And as always, I've enlisted the help of PredictionMachine.com's Paul Bessire.

I've also collected commentary on the big game from Bookmaker.com CEO Mickey Richardson. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by his oddsmakers and a look at where the public and professional money is moving before the game. These are necessary tools for bettors on the hunt for inefficiencies and value based on betting trends.

Also, please join TheStreet as we live-blog the Super Bowl on Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. ET. I'll be joined by several colleagues as we break down the biggest gambling moments of the game and critique some of the blockbuster commercials set to air during breaks in the action.

Now, before we get to my pick against the spread for Super Bowl XLV, let's first take a look at some of the funniest and most intriguing prop bets for the big game.

Funniest Prop Bets for Super Bowl XLV

A Punter Hits the Cowboys Stadium Scoreboard (10:1 Odds)

When Jerry World opened earlier this year, the talk wasn't about how great the enormous television screen was. The 72-foot-wide Jerry-Tron was instead mocked after a Tennessee Titans punter hit the video screen with a punt during the first preseason game at the new Cowboys Stadium. At 10-to-1 odds, it would be pretty hilarious to win a bet that results in Jerry Jones looking foolish. Unfortunately, only intrepid gamblers would be wise to take this bet. During the entire regular season, not one punt plunked the oversized television.

Looking at the teams in this year's Super Bowl matchup, Packers punter Tim Masthay is more of a directional kicker, as he typically aims for the sidelines. After the regular Steelers punter went down with an injury, Jeremy Kapinos stepped in for four regular-season games. Kapinos previously played for the Packers, and was noted for a lack of leg strength with a below-average hang time for punts, perhaps an indication he would have difficulty mustering the leg strength to kick a ball high enough in Cowboys Stadium.

Fergie Performs During the Halftime Show in Cheerleader Garb (5:1 Odds)

As a music snob, I use the term "performs" very loosely when referring to any member of the Black Eyed Peas, the music act slated to appear during the Bridgestone Halftime Show this year. Love or hate the songs, bettors may feel they find value in the wardrobe selection of the Black Eyed Peas' only female member, Fergie, as Vegas has put odds on whether she'll dress as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. PredictionMachine.com's Bessire points out that Fergie was a cheerleader herself when she was younger. He also notes that Fergie, as a minority owner of the Miami Dolphins, once modeled a bedazzled Dolphins cheerleader outfit. She even posted a photo on her own blog. Bessire says his model projects a 25% likelihood that Fergie will be waving pom-poms, which is slightly better than the 5-to-1 odds Vegas is giving.

B.J. Raji Plays On Offense (Yes, -175)

Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji made headlines when he intercepted a pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown in Green Bay's win over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 23. Vegas oddsmakers now are attempting to bait the public into betting that Raji, drafted in 2009 by the Packers, will play at least one down on offense for Green Bay. Turns out, it wouldn't be his first time on the opposite side of the ball. During Green Bay's second-round playoff win at the Atlanta Falcons, Raji played as a goal-line fullback. At 337 pounds, Raji performed well as a lead blocker for running back John Kuhn, who scored on that play. But does the bet have enough value? Bessire thinks it may, as his PredictionMachine.com model has a 69.8% chance that Raji will line up on offense at least once.

Over/Under Times 'Brett Favre Is Mentioned (2.5)

If Vegas offered odds on how many times Brett Favre was mentioned on SportsCenter, the line would be at least 12. For that reason, it's hard to believe that Fox, which loves to drive trivial storylines into the ground, won't mention Favre at least three times during the Super Bowl broadcast. Given that this is the Packers' first Super Bowl appearance since Favre's divorce from the team, it seems a no-brainer that Joe Buck won't mention his name at least once. The storyline of Aaron Rodgers fighting through adversity to ultimately get backing over Favre from Packers management will certainly force another mention. And as the Packers are favored to win the big game, there will no doubt be archived footage of Favre passing against the Patriots in his lone Super Bowl win, which will force yet another mention. Bessire says the model isn't as confident, projecting a 54.1% chance that the number of Favre mentions tops 2.5.

Over/Under Length of the National Anthem (1:50)

Christina Aguilera will be singing The Star-Spangled Banner before the start of this year's Super Bowl game, and if history is any indication, it's very likely that it will go over the line of one minute, 50 seconds. A resourceful gambler need only refer to several YouTube clips of Aguilera's renditions of the National Anthem to see that she frequently hits the two-minute mark. During Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year, Aguilera sang for about one minute, 55 seconds, according to my best estimation. In another clip, she goes for one minute, 58 seconds. Sure, it may be a dumb bet, but at least there are heaps of historical data to help guide a bettor in making a decision. PredictionMachine.com projects that Aguilera will stretch the National Anthem out to 1:59.

The Coin Flip (Heads -101, Tails -101)

This is, without a doubt, the dumbest possible prop bet a bettor could make in any NFL game. The Super Bowl makes the coin flip a much bigger production than, say, a regular-season game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. But the last time I checked, there was a 50% chance of getting heads and a 50% chance of getting tails. But to win $100, you would have to risk $101, regardless of whether your best was heads or tails. Bettors are better off leaving the sports book for the casino, where they would get a better risk/reward by betting on black in roulette.

Best Prop Bets for Super Bowl XLV

Ben Roethlisberger Throws an Interception Before a Touchdown (+160)

Let me first say that these prop bet picks aren't necessarily the likeliest to pay out, but instead offer the best value. For instance, PredictionMachine.com views a bet that Ben Roethlisberger throws an interception first as more attractive than if he threw a touchdown first, despite the fact that the model projects a 49% likelihood in the former. That's because bettors would have to risk $200 to win $100 on the bet that Roethlisberger throws a touchdown before an interception.

Over/Under Receiving Yards by Antwaan Randle El (15.5)

This seaon, Randle El caught 22 passes for a grand total of 253 yards. Out of 16 regular-season games, he surpassed the 15 receiving-yards milestone only five times. In his only appearance this postseason, he managed to fumble while accumulating zero yards. This prop bet seems almost too good to be true.

Greg Jennings Named Super Bowl XLV MVP

According to Bessire, this is purely a value pick. The PredictionMachine.com gives Jennings a 7.8% chance of being named Super Bowl MVP, but the bet becomes attractive as Vegas is giving him 12-to-1 odds. Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, has a 21.5% projected chance of being named MVP of the big game, but the line is only 7 to 4.

Over/Under John Kuhn Total Yards (19.5)

In 84 rushing attempts this season with the Packers, Kuhn has accumulated 281 yards. In Green Bay's 16 regular-season games, Kuhn surpassed 20 total yards only seven times, with another coming in three playoff games. According to Bessire, his model has Kuhn racking up only 10 total yards in Super Bowl XLV.

Rashard Mendenhall Scores a Touchdown (No, +125)

Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall scored 13 touchdowns during the regular season with another three in two postseason games. For that reason, it might be a smart bet that Mendenhall rushes for a touchdown. However, Pittsburgh only runs the ball 48% of the time, instead relying on the arm of Roethlisberger. Sure, Mendenhall ran all over the New York Jets in the AFC title game, but the Jets offense stunk. The Packers are a high-scoring team that will force the Steelers to rely more on passing than running. Bessire's PredictionMachine.com ran the Super Bowl 50,000 times and found that Mendenhall rushes for an average of 0.7 touchdowns. At +125, the "no" bet appears to have far more value than "yes."

Over/Under Hines Ward Receiving Yards (47.5)

This one looks a little too good to be true, so I'm a very wary. That said, Hines Ward had more than 48 receiving yards only five times in the regular season in games against the Falcons, Dolphins, Browns, Bills and Bengals. In other words, not exactly the cream of the NFL crop. Ward has only 39 total receiving yards overall in the playoffs this year, and it's hard to believe he'd tally a lot against a strong Packers defense considering Big Ben has better targets, like Heath Miller.

Mason Crosby Misses a Field Goal Attempt (+400)

Shaun Suisham Misses a Field Goal Attempt (+300)

Almost identical bets with big payouts for being correct. The one difficult thing to project is how well either kicker will do considering the roof of the Cowboys Stadium will be closed during the Super Bowl. Given how strong both defensive units are, there may be several field goal attempts, which increases the chances of missed tries.

Suisham was added to the Steelers roster in Week 11 after the team dumped kicker Jeff Reed, and he missed only one field goal attempt in the regular season and another in the playoffs, although both attempts were from beyond 40 yards. Crosby, on the other hand, missed six field goal attempts in the regular season and one in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers (-2.5)

And now it's on to the big game itself. The Green Bay Packers are favored by 2.5 points and, becausae Cowboys Stadium is home to an NFC team, the Pack is considered the home team. For Green Bay, this will technically be the team's fourth straight road game, as the Packers have yet to play this postseason at Lambeau Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers, on the other hand, will be on the road for the first time in this season's playoffs.

This Super Bowl game is most interesting to the betting public as it is the lowest spread in a championship game (2.5 points) in 27 years, the last time when John Riggins and the Washington Redskins were 2.5-point favorites over the Los Angeles Raiders. From a much bigger historical perspective that speaks volumes about how close this score could be, only three Super Bowl games previously had a spread lower than a field goal.

Why the Steelers Could Beat the Spread: If you're a stock market bull, historical data will have you rooting for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. And despite being road underdogs in the big game, it isn't inconceivable that we could see Roethlisberger earn his third Super Bowl ring.

While the Steelers and Packers have yet to square off against each other in the Super Bowl, the two storied franchises last played each other on Dec. 20, 2009, which resulted in a 37-36 victory for the Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won the regular-season game on a last-second 19-yard pass by Roethlisberger to wide receiver Mike Wallace.

That regular-season game was a high-scoring affair, although most pundits aren't expecting to see that many points put up in Super Bowl XLV. That's because both the Steelers and Packers have what are among the top-ranked defensive units this year. The Steelers' defense allowed the fewest number of points this season (232) and the second-fewest number of yards (4,429) to opposing teams. The Steelers' defense ranks first in essentially all categories when stopping the running game of opponents.

That outstanding defense is lead by Troy Polamalu, who earned the title of Defensive Player of the Year for his play in the 2010-11 season. Despite missing two games with an ankle injury, Polamalu notched 49 solo tackles this season with one sack, seven interceptions and one touchdown.

And though this game may be close thanks to two superb defenses, don't forget that Roethlisberger has been outstanding since returning from a four-game suspension related to off-the-field conduct. Roethlisberger passed for 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions in the regular season. He was sacked 32 times, which raises more questions about Pittsburgh's offense line than it does about Roethlisberger's ability.

The question mark, though, is whether the Steelers and running back Rashard Mendenhall can run all over the Green Bay defense the way they trounced the New York Jets in the AFC title game.

"The Steelers do have an opportunity to exploit the Packers in the running game," Bessire says. "However, Pittsburgh is not good enough to rely on the running game, and the Packers are not bad enough against it to allow an opponent to win the game on the ground."

In another good sign for the Steelers, the Madden NFL 11 simulation by Electronic Arts ( ERTS) has Pittsburgh defeating the Packers, 24-20. According to EA's press release, the Madden simulator has successfully picked the winner of the previous six Super Bowl games.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers (-2.5)

Perhaps I glossed over a major weakness for the Steelers, one that could be detrimental enough to ensure a Packers win in Super Bowl XLV. Given that Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey is on crutches with an ankle sprain suffered in the AFC championship game, things don't get much easier for the Steelers against a stout Packers defense.

"If Pittsburgh can protect the quarterback and limit mistakes on offense while keeping the Packers from hitting big plays in the passing game, the Steelers will have their best chance to win," Bessire says. Easier said than done.

But unlike the Steelers, the Packers haven't made a good case that they are a dominant team capable of winning the Lombardi Trophy. The closest the Packers came all season to looking like an NFL championship-caliber team was the second-round playoff win over the Atlanta Falcons. But remember, this is the same Packers team that lost to the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins in consecutive weeks. This is the same Packers team that managed only a 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears during the last week of the season in what was a must-win game.

So why, then, are the Packers favored to win this Super Bowl matchup against the Steelers?

Why the Packers Could Beat the Spread: When it comes to planning for this game, the formula for the Packers is simple: take down Ben Roethlisberger on defense, and let Aaron Rodgers throw on offense.

"Between two ultra-aggressive teams, the more aggressive team, Green Bay, happens to also be the team less prone to making costly mistakes," Bessire says. According to the PredictionMachine.com's 50,000 outcomes for the Super Bowl, the Packers commit just 1.2 turnovers, compared to 1.7 turnovers by the Steelers. "Sticking to the passing game and avoiding major mistakes is critical to the Packers' offensive efforts."

Aaron Rodgers is one reason why Green Bay is less prone to big mistakes. During the season, Rodgers threw 28 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions. Bessire points out Rodgers' "tremendous efficiency against great defenses in the playoffs," adding that the Packers have overtaken the Patriots as possessing the NFL's most potent offensive passing attack.

On the other side of the ball, Green Bay has an edge in its defensive play. Green Bay's defense ranks second and fifth in points and yards allowed, respectively. When it comes to turnovers, the Packers have a +10 differential, thanks to 32 turnovers by the defensive unit.

Bessire says that Green Bay's greatest strength against the Steelers is its pass defense, as Pittsburgh's offensive line is in rough shape. "This matchup is actually the greatest reason why the Packers win at such a high percentage straight-up," he says.

According to his data, the Steelers' offensive line is projected to allow 9% of all dropbacks by Roethlisberger result in a sack. By comparison, the Packers' defense is expected to record a sack 9% of the time an opposing quarterback drops back, above the NFL league average of 6.1%. In other words, Bessire says, the Packers are 50% more likely than average to sack a quarterback while Pittsburgh is 50% more likely to allow a sack.

"The Packers have more to exploit in the Steelers' pass offense," Bessire says. "The only teams that grade as poorly in pass protection as Pittsburgh are Carolina and Chicago. The Panthers were the worst team in football, and the Bears just had two quarterbacks knocked out of the game by the Packers in the NFC Championship. Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to win just about every broken play/pressure situation to win this game."

That isn't to say that the Packers don't have vulnerabilities. Green Bay certainly falls short in the running game, and that has been the team's weakness all season. In recent weeks, running back James Starks has emerged as a decent rusher, but it's hard to imagine he'll have success against the Steelers' defense. Similarly, the Green Bay defense isn't effective against opposing running backs, allowing a total of 1,838 rushing yards in the regular season, or 4.7 yards per rushing attempt.

So will Roethlisberger and Hines Ward travel to Florida to Disney World again, or will Rodgers truly step out from Favre's shadow and win his first Super Bowl ring? Before I get to my pick, let's turn to the experts for some last-minute commentary:

Bessire's Take: "The Predictalator has played Super Bowl XLV 50,000 times before it's actually played. The Green Bay Packers win outright 60.5% of those games and by an average score of 22.4 - 18.7. As 2.5-point favorites, who win by just over three points on average, the Packers (-2.5) cover the spread 55.7%, which is weak, but playable and would warrant a $35 play from a normal $50 player. With two exceptional defenses -- probably the best two all-around defenses in the NFL this season -- the under (45 points) is a strong play, covering 58.9% of the time, which would warrant a $68 play from a normal $50 player.

"According to the Predictalator's numbers, this game is extremely close in general and to the expectations of the point spread. That being said, as entertaining and dramatic as this game shapes up to be, there is a decisive winner. One of these teams is more aggressive, more talented and deeper and should win this game far more often than not: the Green Bay Packers."

Bookmaker.com Take: "Bookmaker.com opened the Green Bay Packers as a two-point favorite over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 16. Posting a line on the Super Bowl is a unique event not just because it's the championship game, but the number stays posted for two weeks until kick off and this can lead to line manipulation for the pro bettors. It is very hard for the line makers not to get this number right because it is the last game of the year with more analysis than any other North American sporting event.

"The early money backed the Packers and pushed the number to Green Bay -3. Many people believe the smart money is backing the Cheese Heads, although it should be noted the public side with more national appeal is the Steel City. It is more logical the smart money is trying to push the spread to an even 3 or 3.5 early before the rest of the public wagers on the game. The reason for this is provide a hedge opportunity for the sophisticated player backing the Packers -2 and taking the Steelers +3.5.

"With five more days until kickoff, the majority of the public has yet to place a wager on the Super Bowl. Currently, there is more head count on the Steelers, and this should stay true until kickoff. However, the books are lopsided with smart Packer money. Chances are the pro money will continue to back Green Bay until 24 hours before kickoff when the market increases the wagering limits and slams Pittsburgh to get off the side and root for the number to land.

"Bookmaker.com will do everything in its power to stay on the number 3. It is predictable the closing number will go back to the original opener of Green Bay -2"

The Pick: Packers -2.5. The better team always wins the Super Bowl, right? In my estimation, the Green Bay Packers are healthier than the Steelers. The Packers' defense is playing better than the Steelers'defense. And while I'm not in love with the Green Bay offense, I'm truly worried that offensive line problems will hamper Pittsburgh. The only reason I'm not 100% confident in this pick is because the Steelers have plenty of Super Bowl experience, and they don't get rattled in big games. For instance, they fought back and ultimately defeated Baltimore in the second round of this year's playoffs. That said, Rodgers is the better quarterback. He can scramble out of the pocket just as well as Roethlisberger, and he should have no problem finding open receivers to move down the field and score. Packers 27, Steelers 21

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Robert Holmes.

>To follow Robert Holmes on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/RobTheStreet.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.