02/01/2005 12:00AM

There's a trend to support any theory

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If you've been tuning in early to all the pre-Super Bowl coverage during the past week and a half, you've already been inundated with a bunch of trends.

Here's the most frequently heard one - at least in my household: Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are undefeated together in the playoffs at 8-0. Belichick is 9-1 overall to tie Vince Lombardi for the highest playoff winning percentage.

On the flip side, while Belichick is considered the king of game plans when given extra time to prepare, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid is 9-0 coming off bye weeks.

We're sure to hear plenty more of these in the coming days as the hype builds, such as that the NFC has won 21 of the previous 38 Super Bowls. The pundits will add, however, the AFC has won 5 of the last 7.

But what you won't hear on network TV coverage or in a lot of newspapers is what the records are against the spread, which is what many bettors are trying to figure out with the Patriots favored by 7 points and the over/under total wavering between 47 1/2 and 48. Here is a litany of relevant (and irrelevant) trends.

Super Bowl historical trends

Starting with the trends stated above, the NFC has gone 21-17 straight up in Super Bowls, but it is a slightly worse 19-16-3 against the spread. Of course, even those stats are skewed by the NFC's unbelievable 13-year run from 1985 through 1997 - when the NFC won 13 straight Super Bowls and was 10-2-1 against the spread.

* The AFC has won five of the past seven years and is 4-2-1 against the spread in that span, and 5-2-2 if you go back nine years. Prior to this recent run, the NFC had covered six in a row and nine of 11.

* Despite several competitive Super Bowls in recent years (Patriots-Panthers last year, Patriots-Rams three years ago, Rams-Titans five years ago), many people still believe Super Bowls are often big blowouts won by the favorites. But, in reality, favorites are only 19-16-3 against the spread and a dismal 2-5-2 the past nine years.

* It's usually true that if you pick the outright winner of the Super Bowl you will also have the spread winner. Last year's 32-29 win by the Patriots over the Panthers was only the fourth time in Super Bowl history that a team won the game but lost vs. the spread, with three other years being pushes. That makes the winner 31-4-3 against the spread in all Super Bowls. The other non-covers (or at least not pushes) were the Cowboys' 27-17 win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, the 49ers' 20-16 win over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, and the Steelers' 21-17 victory over the Cowboys all the way back in Super Bowl X.

* When there is a two-week gap between the conference championships and the Super Bowl - as there is this year - favorites are 16-10-2 against the spread, including 6-3-1 the last 10 times.

* Here's an interesting trend pointed out by Peter McEntegart of SI.com: "Of the 38 previous Super Bowls, 25 have matched teams with a human mascot against an animal mascot. The human has beaten the animal in 18 of those showdowns, a whopping 72 percent."

In my own research, I was only able to find 24 such matchups (though McEntegart may have thought the "Jets" represented the gang from "West Side Story" and gave them credit for the Super Bowl III win over the Colts), and the humans are 15-8-1 against the spread.

You think that trend is meaningless, how about this piece of trivia?: There have been a bunch of human-human matchups, but the only animal-animal battle in Super Bowl history was the Broncos' 34-19 win over the Falcons in 1999. I'm still trying to figure out how to classify the Chargers.

* Nevada sports books didn't start taking over/under bets on the Super Bowl until 1982 when they posted a total on the 49ers-Bengals game at 47. That game ended up in a push as the 49ers won, 26-21. Since then, the over holds a 15-7 edge. The trend improves to 13-3 if you just use the games with the two-week gap.

Trends involving the Patriots

The Patriots are 2-2 in Super Bowls, losing to the Bears in 1986 and the Packers in 1997 before their two recent victories. They are 1-2-1 against the spread with the win coming in the 2002 upset of the Rams and the push coming in the loss to the Packers. Those New England squads also were 3-1 with the over.

* As for this year's team, the Patriots are 16-2 straight up and 13-3-2 against the spread.

* When looking at a neutral-site game such as the Super Bowl, it's usually a good barometer to check how the teams fared in road games, since they both have to travel. Including their victory at Pittsburgh in the AFC title game, the Patriots are an impressive 7-2 both straight up and against the spread, including 6-2 as road favorites.

* In totals wagering, the Patriots are now 9-8-1 with the over after splitting their two playoff games, but when you look at just their road games, they were 7-2 with the over.

Trends involving the Eagles

Philadelphia has only been in one Super Bowl, losing 27-10 to the Raiders in 1981 as a 3-point favorite. That was the last year before there was an official over/under in Las Vegas.

* The Eagles, despite their 12-4 regular-season record, were only 9-7 against the spread but have improved to 11-7 after their two playoff wins.

* The Eagles were 6-2 on the road, but they were only 4-4 against the spread, and they lost their only game as a road dog. That can be thrown out, however, as that was in the next-to-last game of the regular season, vs. the Rams, when the Eagles were resting a bunch of their starters.

* Contrary to the Patriots' over trend, the Eagles were 11-5 with the under during the regular season. They were 1-0-1 with the over in the playoffs at home.

Super Bowl by the (betting) numbers

YearFavoriteSpreadO/UScoreBetting result
2004Patriots -738Patriots 32, Panthers 29Dog-Over-NFC
2003Raiders -444Buccaneers 49, Raiders 21Dog-Over-NFC
2002Rams -1453Patriots 20, Rams 17Dog-Under-AFC
2001Ravens -333Ravens 34, Giants 7Fav-Over-AFC
2000Rams -748Rams 23, Titans 16Push-Under-Push
1999Broncos -7.551.5Broncos 34, Falcons 19Fav-Over-AFC
1998Packers -1249Broncos 31, Packers 24Dog-Over-AFC
1997Packers -1449Packers 35, Patriots 21Push-Over-Push
1996Cowboys -13.551.5Cowboys 27, Steelers 17Dog-Under-AFC
199549ers -185449ers 49, Chargers 26Fav-Over-NFC
1994Cowboys -10.550Cowboys 30, Bills 13Fav-Under-NFC
1993Cowboys -6.544.5Cowboys 52, Bills 17Fav-Over-NFC
1992Redskins -748Redskins 37, Bills 24Fav-Over-NFC
1991Bills -740Giants 20, Bills 19Dog-Under-NFC
199049ers -124849ers 55, Broncos 10Fav-Over-NFC
198949ers -74649ers 20, Bengals 16Dog-Under-AFC
1988Broncos -347Redskins 42, Broncos 10Dog-Over-NFC
1987Giants -940Giants 39, Broncos 20Fav-Over-NFC
1986Bears -1137Bears 46, Patriots 10Fav-Over-NFC
198549ers -35349ers 38, Dolphins 16Fav-Over-NFC