Chiefs-Eagles Super Bowl: Why one sportsbook struggled to choose an opening favorite

Tammy Ljungblad/

Jay Kornegay, executive vice president for SuperBook Sports operations, says his company takes pride in delivering some of the first-to-market NFL betting lines each week.

So when Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was getting flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty on Sunday that set up a potential Kansas City Chiefs game-winning field goal in last weekend’s AFC Championship Game? Kornegay says discussion began immediately at his Westgate headquarters in Las Vegas.

“There was a flurry of activity in the back room,” Kornegay said, “trying to figure out where we’re gonna go with this line.”

Kornegay gathered with five other handicappers to determine what they thought the opening number should be. In this instance, viewpoints on a Kansas City-Philadelphia Super Bowl were split, the opinions divided almost exactly down the middle.

Two oddsmakers thought the Chiefs should be favored by one point. Another liked KC by 1 1/2, while Kornegay thought the Eagles should be favored by two.

The other pair in the group shared they thought the game should be a pick ’em — meaning no points would be given either way while indicating the matchup was almost 50-50.

After a quick discussion, the six came to a consensus: They would start the line at SuperBook — which operates in seven states — as a pick ’em for Chiefs-Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.

They didn’t waste any time getting it up, either, with Kornegay joking that they posted that number right around when “the ballboy caught the ball” from Harrison Butker’s game-winning 45-yard field goal in KC’s 23-20 victory.

“You’re talking about hairs when you’re talking the difference between Philadelphia and Kansas City,” Kornegay said. “It’s kind of a relief for bookmakers, as we expect a lot of action on both sides. It’s comforting to me, knowing that it’s really going to be a heavily bet game but an evenly bet game.”

Kornegay said that first number still brought about an initial spike in activity.

Some sportsbooks’ numbers moved to Kansas City favored by one or two. The SuperBook, meanwhile, immediately went in the opposite direction, going to Philadelphia favored by one then two.

“It was a little bit all over the place,” Kornegay said, “for the first 90 minutes or so.”

Since then, the line has settled a bit. SuperBook went up to Eagles by 2 1/2 briefly — Kornegay said the line remained there for about half a day — before shifting back to two and then Philadelphia by 1 1/2, which is where it stood Wednesday.

Kornegay explained that sportsbook lines are prone to more movement when they are between some of the expected numbers that usually make up the difference in the final scores, like three, four and seven.

Because this game opened as a pick ’em — and never reached that three-point mark for either side — it had higher volatility and moved more frequently than would otherwise be expected.

“Anything under three (points),” Kornegay said, “is a very tight game.”

The starting line as a pick ’em is rare in itself. Kornegay couldn’t remember an example of a Super Bowl matchup opening that way, and data from indicates that no Super Bowl matchup has ever had a closing line where neither team was favored.

So why did Kornegay like the Eagles as a two-point favorite at first blush?

Start with this: He said if the Chiefs were fully healthy, he’d lean toward them as a slight front-runner in this contest.

Sunday’s KC game provided many unknowns, though. The Chiefs had a few injuries that could keep some players out of the Super Bowl. At the same time, Kornegay was impressed with what Philadelphia did offensively Sunday against San Francisco’s elite defense.

“A lot of people that I talk to — guys that I respect — they’re pretty impressed by Philadelphia’s running game and how they can run,” Kornegay said. “And they’ve been running pretty much on everybody.”

Kornegay’s biggest reservation with his number remains Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Kornegay watched Sunday as Mahomes played better than expected on a high-ankle sprain that, at times, didn’t appear to affect him much in the second half.

“It’s tough for me to make Mahomes an underdog — it’s just tough for me to do that, because I know how great he is,” Kornegay said. “I mean, he’s the one that won the game for them. He was just making play after play and (had) some incredible decision-making.”

In the end, Kornegay said he stuck with an initial impression of being higher than the consensus on the Eagles this season. Add in the Chiefs’ uncertainty with injuries, and it pushed him to that two-point number.

Not that he’s overly convicted. Kornegay said the fact that, out of six handicappers in his initial meeting, he was the only one on the Eagles’ side demonstrates just how close these teams likely are.

“There were a couple of guys in our room that said pick ’em,” Kornegay said, “and that could be the right number.”