Carolina (17-1) vs Denver (14-4)
When: Sunday, February 7th 2016
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Time: 6:30 ET | TV: CBS
It all comes down to the top two teams in each conference as the Denver Broncos (14-4) meet the Carolina Panthers (17-1) in Super Bowl 50 from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. This will match the number one scoring offense in the league in Carolina against the top-ranked defense in Denver. The Panthers arrived here by dispatching both the Seattle Seahawks (31-24) and the Arizona Cardinals (49-15). The underrated defense overwhelmed both Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer and prevented both from getting anything going on the ground. Linebacker Luke Kuechly returned interceptions for touchdowns in each playoff game to give Carolina the momentum they needed on the defensive side. Carolina led the league with 24 interceptions this season. When star WR Kelvin Benjamin went down with a season-ending injury in training camp, many people thought the Panthers season was doomed from the start. That’s when Cam Newton decided to take the offense over and have what many expect to be an MVP season. He and RB Jonathan Stewart have teamed up to give the Panthers the second best rushing attack in football at 142.6 yards a game. Newton threw 35 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions and ran for another ten scores. He made wide receivers Ted Ginn, Jr. (44 receptions, 10 TDs), Philly Brown (31 receptions, 4 TDs), and Devin Funchess (31 receptions, 5 TDs) look like All-Pros. Of course, Newton probably wouldn’t be an MVP without one of the best tight ends in the game. Greg Olsen led the team with 77 catches and 1,104 yards, while finishing second to Ginn with seven touchdowns. The offense averaged a league-best 31.2 points a game and scored over 38 in four of their last six games. Carolina will look to get off to another quick start against Denver as they outscored the Seahawks and Cardinals 55-7 in the first half.
Peyton Manning will be the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl (39) and will also come in with worst stats of any QB in Super Bowl history (9 TD, 17 INT – regular season). Manning battled a foot injury this year and started nine games going 7-2, while Brock Osweiler went 5-2 in his seven starts. Denver hasn’t been blowing anyone out this season as they have 11 victories by 7 points or less including the playoffs – most by any team in the Super Bowl era. The Broncos are also the first team to overcome a 14-point deficit and win against three teams that eventually made the playoffs. So, how did Denver win 12 regular season games and manage to beat both the Steelers and Patriots in the Playoffs? DEFENSE! This is one of the best all-around defensive units we’ve seen in a while. They were the top-ranked defense in total yards allowed (283.1) and in passing yards allowed (199.6). They finished third in rushing defense (83.6), but surrendered a league-low 3.3 yards per carry. In the Playoffs, they’ve allowed just 64.5 rushing yards a game, but that stat is skewed a bit for the fact that the Patriots don’t really run the ball at all. They have two All-Pro cornerbacks in Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib, who have combined for five interceptions and have returned three for touchdowns. The running back combo of Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson have taken some pressure off of Manning with their play of late. Anderson has been seeing the bulk of the carries lately and is averaging an eye-popping 5.6 yards a carry in his last four games.
It’s been no secret where the money is going in this game. The Panthers opened up as 3.5 points favorites and were immediately bet up to 4.5 by the next morning. The line continues to grow and as of now (Wednesday night) sits between 5.5 and 6. Carolina was 13-5 ATS this season, while Denver was 9-8-1 as they played a lot of close games and were favored in most. Both teams were 5-3 ATS away from home. I really do think Carolina will win this game, but I’m not about to lay almost a touchdown against the best defense in the NFL. The Broncos have two weeks to prepare for Cam Newton and Denver has beaten plenty of good quarterbacks this season. I don’t like the fact that 88% of the betting public is on the Panthers. The Patriots were a similar public play two weeks ago in Denver and look what happened. This next trend says it all and this is why I’m taking Denver and the points. Teams that score 40 or more points in a playoff game (Carolina 49 against Arizona) are just 5-23 against the spread in their next game. Take the Broncos and enjoy the game.
Pick: Broncos +5.5 (small play on the Under 45)