NFL Playoffs 2016: Super Bowl Odds, Conference Championship Bracket Predictions

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2016

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 15: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots speaks with head coach Bill Belichick prior to the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on November 15, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

It certainly appears as if the handicapping public is backing the New England Patriots as they prepare to go on the road in the AFC Championship Game.

The Pats are three-point favorites, according to Odds Shark, as they get ready to play at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday. The Patriots have played three postseason games in Denver throughout their history, and they have lost all of them.

Nevertheless, 67 percent of the bets being made in this game are on the Patriots. The Denver Broncos have struggled to play consistently on the offensive side this season, and that may not change in this game with Peyton Manning under center. The quarterback is destined to go into the Hall of Fame after he retires, but the current state of his game is shaky. 

Manning has a 9-17 touchdown-interception ratio this year, and just one of his touchdown passes came at home.

On the other hand, New England quarterback Tom Brady had another excellent season, and he threw for 4,770 yards with 36 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Additionally, the Patriots are healthier on offense going into the AFC title game than they were at the end of the regular season. Wideout Julian Edelman returned for the divisional playoff win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and he caught 10 passes for 100 yards.

Conference Championship Point Spreads and Super Bowl Odds
GameLinePredicted winnerSB Odds (Each team)
New England at DenverNew England (-3)New EnglandNew England 2-1; Denver 4-1
Arizona at CarolinaCarolina (-3)CarolinaArizona 7-2; Carolina 2-1
Odds Shark; Silverman selections

With Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola relatively healthy and effective, Brady has offensive options, and the Pats appear to be the more explosive of the two offensive teams.

As a result, the Pats are co-favorites to win the Super Bowl. New England is 2-1 to win its second consecutive Vince Lombardi Trophy, according to Odds Shark. The Carolina Panthers are also 2-1, while the Arizona Cardinals are 7-2 and the Broncos are 4-1.

While the Denver offense has struggled through much of the year with Manning and Brock Osweiler under center, the Broncos have made up for it with a defense that has consistently been ranked No. 1 in the league this year.

Von Miller had a team-high 11.0 sacks, and running mate DeMarcus Ware chipped in with 7.5 sacks. If the Broncos are going to come through with the upset, both linebackers will have to be impact players in this game.

The Patriots have gotten solid play from their defense as well this season, as they rank ninth overall in yards allowed, but linebacker Jerod Mayo (shoulder) has been placed on injured reserve and won't play in this game. Additionally, Jamie Collins (back, oblique) and Chandler Jones (abdomen/toe) may not be fully healthy for this game.

New England looks like the more complete team at this point, and despite the Patriots' historical problems with postseason games in Denver, we like them to overcome their rivals and the three-point spread here.

The same holds true for the Panthers in their game against the Cardinals. The Panthers are three-point favorites at Bank of America Stadium, and based on their sharp start against Seattle in the divisional playoffs, Ron Rivera's team should be prepared for an outstanding effort.

The Panthers rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead, and while the Seahawks responded with a strong second half and cut 24 points off of that margin, the Panthers were never in serious jeopardy of losing.

Jan 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) runs the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks in a NFC Divisional round playoff game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton had a brilliant regular season with 35 touchdown passes and 10 more scores on the ground, and his excellent supporting cast includes running back Jonathan Stewart (989 rushing yards), tight end Greg Olsen (1,104 receiving yards and seven TDs) and explosive wideout Ted Ginn (10 TD catches).

The Panthers are also one of the most aggressive defensive teams in the league, featuring defensive tackle Kawann Short (11.0 sacks), linebackers Thomas Davis (105 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Luke Kuechly (118 tackles) and cornerback Josh Norman (22 passes defensed, four interceptions).

That defense should make life difficult for Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer. While Palmer was one of the top passers in the league during the regular season, he threw two interceptions in the divisional playoffs against the Green Bay Packers and was not at his best. He did not look like the confident quarterback who threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns.

If the Cardinals are going to come up with the upset, Palmer will have to be consistently good against the Panthers.

We think Carolina is much closer to playing its best game than Arizona, and the Panthers will find a way to win by more than three points in the NFC title game.