Carolina Panthers (17-1 SU, 13-5 ATS) vs. Denver Broncos (14-4 SU, 9-8-1 ATS)
Super Bowl 50
Date/Time: Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 6:30PM EST
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CAR -6/DEN +6
Over/Under Total: 45
The Carolina Panthers meet the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium on February 7. It is a matchup of the top two seeds from each conference. Carolina, on the strength of winning 17 of 18 games this season, is the favorite. But a salient case can be made for either team. Let’s take a look at Super Bowl 50 and see what we can come up with.
Carolina has been impressive in the postseason, which followed a 15-1 regular season. They smashed two pretty good defenses with wins over Seattle and a 49-15 smashing of Arizona in the NFC Title Game. Since head coach Ron Rivera came into town, Carolina has always been a team with a nasty defense, but they added a lot to their offense this season and were actually the league’s top-scoring offense this season. And they’ve been pretty consistent in terms of scoring, surpassing 31 points in 7 of their last 8 games.
Carolina has a quarterback in Cam Newton who has morphed into perhaps the most legit dual-threat player at that position. Between him and Jonathan Stewart, they run the heck out of the ball. Carolina has a pretty nice aerial attack, despite having only a good tight end in Greg Olsen and a bunch of role guys at wide receiver. This offense gets the most out of what they have, bolstered by a stout and playmaking defense that can have a big impact on the results of games.
Denver has a Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning who might be facing his last game. He missed a lot of time, but came back in the second half of week 17 to lead Denver past the Chargers, before notching a pair of playoff wins to get to his 4th Super Bowl. This team was in the Bowl two years ago and there’s a lot of big-game experience on that sideline. Meanwhile, Carolina’s sideline is filled with guys who will be seeing this for the first time.
Denver managed to become a top team in what was really a transitional season, as they moved away from a quarterback-centric approach, putting more responsibility in the hands of the run-game and a defense that became the top-rated unit in the game. On one hand, their offense seemed a lot flatter this season, but the results speak louder than anything, as they’re in the Super Bowl. A big assist goes to what is really a good Denver defense that looks to have peaked at the right time.
Carolina faces a major challenge with this Denver defense. And when looking at their schedule, it’s not like the Panthers beat a ton of good defenses this season. In the playoffs, Pittsburgh and New England both struggled against this Denver defense. The Denver pass-rush, led by Von Miller, could very well become a major factor in this game. The Denver defense was the top-rated pass-defense and there are numerous matchup issues for Carolina heading into this game.
Carolina was excellent this season at 15-1 and 2-0 in the playoffs. But when something looks too good, we are forced to take a peek around the still and see if we can’t find another way of looking at it. Let’s look at Carolina away from home for a second. In the last five weeks of the regular season, they had three road games—beating sub-.500 teams like the Saints and the Giants each by a field goal, before losing to Atlanta by 7. We’ve seen them romp at home in the playoffs as the NFC’s top-seed, but let’s not forget that things can be different when taking the show on the road and there’s ample evidence that Carolina could be a diminished force away from Charlotte.
When a team like Carolina wins 17 of 18 games and covers 13 spreads, it might be hard to make the case that they’re overrated. But when scanning their schedule, it is striking how many soft teams they faced. And even the better teams they beat weren’t playing very well at the time they met the Panthers. Carolina deserves credit for having only one really bad game the whole season, but there is some variance in how they play at home, as opposed to on the road.
We hear people talk about experience, without really being clear on how that will resonate in a game. With Peyton Manning, the Broncos benefit from having one of the sharpest football minds in the sport actually on the field. His arm isn’t what it used to be and there’s no guarantee he will even make it through 4 quarters against this hard-hitting and difference-making Panthers’ defense. But there is no one better at identifying weaknesses in opposing defenses and in a game of this magnitude, having a calm-thinking veteran like Manning with his off-the-charts football IQ behind center can be invaluable. It’s almost like having a coach on the field. Since coming back in week 17, Manning has actually looked pretty good, even more so against New England in his last game, which showed that he might be rounding into shape at just the right time. The time off he had during the season can start paying off now.
Terms like “overrated” and “underrated” are thrown around a lot, but they might apply to this game. People see Denver barely scraping by with a quarterback on his last legs and it causes them to make rash conclusions about their championship viability. Meanwhile, when the public looks at Carolina, they see a team with a great record, coming off two pretty conclusive postseason victories. It creates an image of Carolina being vastly superior and that might have little or no connection to reality. Not to impugn Carolina, which is a good team in all phases, but I look for the championship mettle, experience, and knowledge of Manning to play a big role in this game, with Denver’s better defense keeping Carolina in-check. I like the Broncos to cover the spread.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Super Bowl 50 Point Spread: I’m betting on the Denver Broncos plus 6 points.
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