The Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots both came through with impressive wins in the divisional playoffs and are favored in their respective conference championship matchups.
As a result, both teams are co-favorites when it comes to winning Super Bowl 50. The Panthers and Patriots are both listed at plus-200 to win the Super Bowl, according to Odds Shark. This means that a $100 bet on either team would return a profit of $200 (plus their original $100 bet) to successful bettors.
The Arizona Cardinals are the third choice at plus-350, while the Denver Broncos are plus-400 if they beat the Patriots in the AFC title game and the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.
|New England Patriots||+200|
The Panthers would seem to be the team with the best chance to end up hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy February 7 at Levi's Stadium in San Jose, California. They were in top form in their divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, racing to a 31-0 halftime lead and basically putting the game away early.
While the Seahawks made a strong run in the second half and won the final 30 minutes by a 24-0 margin, the Panthers were never in serious jeopardy of losing.
They have a solid ground game with Jonathan Stewart (989 rushing yards), and the passing game has surprised opponents all season. Quarterback Cam Newton is the likely MVP after throwing 35 TD passes and running for 10 more scores, and he has developed an excellent partnership with tight end Greg Olsen and explosive wideout Ted Ginn Jr.
The Panthers have a more complete offensive team than the Patriots. New England got its passing game back in gear in the 27-20 divisional playoff win over Kansas City as wideout Julian Edelman (broken foot) returned to the lineup and caught 10 passes for 100 yards, but the Patriots have little semblance of a ground game.
Injuries have robbed them of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, and head coach Bill Belichick had to call running back 32-year-old Steven Jackson in December to see if he was still interested in playing. Jackson could get a few carries (less than 10) against the Broncos, but he is not expected to play a vital role for the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Patriots are three-point road favorites over the Broncos, according to Odds Shark. While they are somewhat one-dimensional, they clearly have more firepower than the Broncos.
Denver has the best defense in the league and a ground game with Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson that has performed well. However, Peyton Manning has battled ineffectiveness and injuries all season, and he is not the consistent threat he was just a couple of years ago.
In addition to his shocking 9-17 TD-interception ratio this season, Manning averaged just 6.79 yards per pass. That means opposing defenses don't have to fear his ability to throw downfield.
The Cardinals were viewed as the near-equivalent of the Panthers during the regular season. When they lost their regular-season finale at home to Seattle, they slipped to 13-3 for the year.
Still, it was an impressive performance, and it included a 38-8 trouncing of Green Bay in Week 16. When the Packers forced overtime in the divisional playoff meeting last week, it was not a good moment for the Cardinals.
They won the game, but they slipped badly against a team that they had run out of University of Phoenix Stadium just three weeks earlier. Carson Palmer threw two interceptions against the Packers, and many of his other passes looked shaky.
That's why the Panthers are favored in the NFC Championship game by three points. They are at home and look like the sharper team. Newton knows the Super Bowl is right around the corner, and he is not going to let the opportunity slip through his grasp.