by Aengus Moorehead
Broncos: 17-1 SU,13-5 ATS
Panthers: 14-4 SU,8-7-3 ATS
When: 6:30 PM ET, Sunday, February 7, 2016
Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
All the chatter and prattle about the biggest single day in American sports will finally come to a halt Sunday evening with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers trading words into actions February 7 for Super Bowl 50 set to take place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Carolina will be in search of the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy in its second appearance, while Denver is now tied with Dallas, Pittsburgh and New England for the most appearances with eight. The Broncos (2-5 in Super Bowls) are looking to become the ninth franchise in NFL history to win at least three Lombardi Trophies while a loss would only extend their lead in that column.
And while a great deal of the attention leading up to the game will focus on the quarterbacks, this matchup is much more than Cam Newton vs. Peyton Manning. For starters, while this is the 12th time since 1975 that the two top seeds in each conference meet in the Super Bowl, it’s somewhat rare in that it pits the league's top scoring offense (Carolina) against the stingiest defense (Denver).
The Panthers, who led the league in scoring during the regular season at 31.3 points per game, put up a whopping 80 points in just six quarters against the Seahawks and Cards, the No. 3 and No. 4 defense this season. Of course, 14 of those points came from two Luke Kuechly pick-sixes. Turnovers have been the name of the game for the Panthers all year. The Carolina defense led the league with 39 turnovers forced and has added nine more this postseason, with seven coming against the Cards alone.
Cam Newton has separated himself as the best quarterback in football, running away as the likely MVP winner and playing just as well in the playoffs. After totaling 45 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the regular season, Newton has five scores and one pick in the postseason for a 113.4 passer rating. His ability to throw and run the ball might be too much for Denver to handle, though its defense was able to shut down both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers this season.
Newton won’t have to put up monster numbers in order for the Panthers to prevail on Sunday. The Broncos’ defense has carried the offense and Manning, who’s looked like a shell of his old self, even in victory. The quarterback threw two touchdown passes in Sunday’s win against the Patriots, but he still completed just 17 of 32 pass attempts for 176 yards. Things won’t get any easier for him against the Panthers, who forced Carson Palmer to throw four interceptions in the NFC title game.
Whether it’s been Manning or Brock Osweiler under center for Denver, the offense has been nothing special this year. Only once has the team scored at least 30 points in regulation. The Panthers have one of the best defensive lines in football, and they’ve put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this postseason with eight sacks. If Manning faces the same kind of pressure, he could have another nightmare Super Bowl performance.
As important as quarterback play will be in Super Bowl 50, the running games certainly can’t be overlooked. For one, running the ball is a big part of the Panthers’ offense, especially when you take Newton’s contributions into consideration. Carolina finished second in the regular season in rushing (142.6 ypg) and has picked up nearly 300 yards on the ground in its two playoff victories.
Denver may not have the overall numbers that Carolina does, but the Broncos have been more effective running the ball lately, averaging 132.8 yards per game since Manning reclaimed the starting job in Week 16. Denver (third in NFL) and Carolina (fourth) both did a good job against the run in the regular season and have been even stingier in the playoffs.
Both Carolina and Denver are able to create some pressure without relying too heavily on the blitz. The Panthers have a fairly deep front that’s capable of making plays, while the Broncos have Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware bringing the heat from the edges. The Panthers’ pressure not only produces sacks (44 in regulars season, eight in playoffs), but it also helps create turnovers. That was never more evident than in the NFC Championship Game where Carolina forced Arizona into seven miscues.
On the other side, pressure was a key to Denver’s AFC Championship Game win over New England, as Miller, Ware and others harassed Brady (4 sacks, 23 hits, 2 INTs) all afternoon. Newton is certainly more mobile than Manning or Brady, not to mention a lot tougher to bring down, but that doesn’t mean Denver’s pressure can’t be successful in disrupting Carolina’s offensive rhythm while also potentially frustrating its dynamic quarterback.
If there is a concern for Denver, it’s both starting safeties were injured. Darian Stewart left with a right knee injury and T.J. Ward had an ankle injury. While Manning was not exactly having a banner season (2,249 yards, 9 TDs, 17 INTs), his receivers haven’t always helped.
Demaryius Thomas struggled with two catches for 12 yards in the AFC title game. They’ll need more from him because it will be difficult to run C.J. Anderson (72 yards against the Pats) and Ronnie Hillman (16 yards) all game with success against a Panthers’ defense that ranked 4th (88.4ypg) against the run.
Carolina has a few injury issues heading into the playoffs as well. Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis broke his right arm, though he says he’ll play with it in the Super Bowl. He missed the entire second half because he injured his right arm with 7:28 left in the second quarter, when he hit Cardinals tight end Darren Fells after a catch. Safety Roman Harper also left the game in the first half after getting hit in the eye and did not return, though he also expects to play.
Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos Early Odds & Betting Lines
Live NFL Super Bowl 50 Odds & Scores - Click here
The Broncos were a 20-18 winner in their most recent outing at home against the Patriots. They covered the +3-point spread as underdogs, while the total score (38) made winners of UNDER bettors.
In their last action, Carolina was a 49-15 winner at home against the Cardinals. They covered the -3-point spread as favorites, while the combined score (64) was profitable news for OVER bettors.
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Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos NFL Betting Odds & Trends
Current Streak: won 3 straight games.
Carolina is 7-1 SU in its last 8 games on the road
The total has gone OVER in 12 of Carolina's last 16 games on the road
Carolina is 11-4 ATS in its last 15 games
Current Streak: won 4 straight games.
Denver is 1-3-1 ATS in its last 5 games at home
Denver is 16-3 SU in its last 19 games at home
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Denver's last 5 games at home
When it comes down to it, the Denver defense has all the potential to take control of the game and put Manning in a position to win. But if either side of that equation falters, the Broncos would be lucky to avoid getting blown out, let alone. win the game.
Manning hasn't shown enough over his three games back, especially with an elite complementary defense propping him up, to inspire confidence. Newton will lead the offense and a top defense will force multiple turnovers and Carolina appears poised to not just win, but win big on Sunday.
Take Panthers -5½ and the over 45
Aengus NFL Super Bowl Prediction and Pick: Carolina -5½ & Over 45 at MyBookie.ag
cam newton - carolina panthers - demarcus ware - denver broncos - peyton manning - thomas davis - von miller