Super Bowl chance to beat the odds

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The NFL - like most of American sport's administrative bodies - claims to detest gambling on its games, but yet again they may have the bookies to thank if anyone is still watching at the end of Super Bowl XXX. Dallas, 1-4 with the Tote, are long odds-on favourites to pulverise Pittsburgh in Phoenix on Sunday, but the question for punters is, can they also beat the spread?

The spread in American football - not to be confused with British spread betting - is the number of points headstart the underdogs are given by the American bookmakers in order to produce a competitive betting market. British layers apply the same principle with handicap betting on rugby matches.

In the final moments of last year's Super Bowl, though the 49ers were the obvious winners, Americans were still glued to the screen as San Diego drove deep into San Francisco territory. The reason? A touchdown would have cut the Chargers deficit to fewer than the 17-point spread offered by most bookies, and vast sums would have changed hands.

This year, British layers are offering Pittsburgh with a 121/2-points start - the fraction ensures there cannot be a draw - and betting 10-11 each of two. Even Pittsburgh's good defence will struggle to contain the multi-faceted Cowboys attack, but Dallas too can be expected to concede points, leaving the fate of backers in the hands of Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell.

Representing more than even an eight-point touchdown and a field goal, 121/2 is quite a start. Indeed, it might be wise to sacrifice another point with the Tote in order to back Pittsburgh at evens getting 111/2. Anything but a Dallas blow-out will leave Steelers backers celebrating.

SUPER BOWL XXX: Ladbrokes: 1-5 Dallas, 100-30 Pittsburgh, or 10-11 each, Pittsburgh +101/2. Tote: 1-4 Dallas, 11-4 Pittsburgh, or 4-5 Dallas, evens Pittsburgh +111/2.