The Curious Case of Super Bowl Touchbacks: Why There is a 10% Super Bowl Touchback Rate Since 1994

Super Bowl Touchback
Super Bowl Touchback

Around 60% of all regular season games in the NFL this term saw a touchback at kick-off, but the recent history of the Super Bowl reveals a surprising anomaly.

Incredibly, 27 of the 29 Super Bowl kick-offs since 1994 have not resulted in a touchback. This means over the past three decades just 10% of all the end-of-season deciders have seen this occur.

Last year’s contest between the Bengals and the Rams was the most recent example of this Super Bowl rarity. While 2017 and 2013 also saw the opening kick-off spotted at the 25-yard line as a result of a touchback.

So, this ultimately begs the question, what is it about the Super Bowl and touchbacks that seemingly don’t go hand-in-hand?

Super Bowl Touchbacks

Although the past 29 Super Bowls highlight an overwhelming majority in favour of ‘no’ to an opening touchback, sportsbooks continue to offer the shortest price for the opposite. This is very intriguing, with NFL games more often than not seeing it occur at kick-off.

Those bettors who are frequent risk-takers will be licking their lips at a selection that could lay the foundation for a high value parlay, but also one that has proven successful in over 90% of the Lombardi Trophy deciders over the past 30 years.

This year is no different. Current odds across NFL betting sites reflect a favourable price of +120 for there not be a touchback, while ‘yes’ holds very little value at -150.

According to former Colts punter Pat McAfee, much of the mystery lies in the the ball itself.

McAfee says kickers are usually seen handling the ball prior to the start of the game, allowing them to ‘break in’ the leather of the K-Ball – a newer model introduced just over 20 years ago which allows for further kicking in the hope of increasing the likelihood of a touchback, and thus reducing injuries at the start.

However, at the Super Bowl, the ball is carried out fresh, ready to be punted before being collected for preservation in the Hall of Fame, meaning it is supposedly much harder to kick.

Chiefs and Eagles Touchback Rate

Both Philly and Kansas hold near-identical touchback rates so far this season, and as is seemingly the case with all stats originating from these two, there is very little to split them.

The Eagles have a 65.45% touchback rate, which is the 11th highest in the league, while the Chiefs rank just below them with 64.55%.

However, Kansas kicker Butker’s opening punt in the 2011 Super Bowl barely reached the end-zone, and is one of eight to have conceded a return since the decision to move kick-offs to the 35-yard line back in 2011.

Elsewhere, Eagles kicker Jake Elliot holds a 69.2% touchback rate which is in direct contrast to the Super Bowl anomaly, but whoever is on opening kick-off duty has a chance of cutting short a fair few savvy bettors’ selections.

What Does This Mean For Super Bowl LVII and a Potential Touchback?

That is the million dollar question.

Despite the 60% touchback rate in regular season NFL games, just 10% of Super Bowl’s have seen this occur. This begs the question – why?

In short, who knows. One thing worth mentioning is the fact that is most definitely value in the touchback betting market. As previously alluded to, there seems to be more value in betting on there NOT to be a touchback in Super Bowl LVII tonight as the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles lock horns.

Given the fact that 27 of the last 29 Super Bowl finale’s have not resulted in a touchback, it is tricky to see why this is the less likely bet. Have the bookmakers missed a trick here? Possibly!

Nevertheless it is an intriguing statistic. So, if you are betting on whether or not a touchback will occur on Super Bowl Sunday, the value is with the ‘no’ market.

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