The two top seeds will meet when the NFC’s Carolina Panthers (17-1) take on the AFC’s Denver Broncos (14-4) in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium on February 7. The Panthers demolished the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 as three-point favorites in the NFC Championship Game. Meanwhile, the Broncos are hoping for a much different result this time around after getting crushed by the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 as two-point favorites two years ago in the Super Bowl.
Point spread: The Panthers opened as 3.5-point favorites; the total was 44 early in the week, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report)
NFL pick, via Odds Shark computer: 25.2-20.2 Panthers
Why the Panthers can cover the spread
The Panthers may be Cam Newton’s team, but they also have one of the top defenses in the NFL. This lethal combination has many people comparing this team to the Seahawks squad that wreaked havoc on Peyton Manning in the last Super Bowl appearance for the Broncos. Like Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Newton is dangerous with his arm and his feet; his 45 touchdowns (35 passing and 10 rushing) led the NFL during the regular season.
Defensively, Carolina may be underrated in this matchup because Denver gets more media coverage as the top-ranked unit. But the Panthers have more sacks (eight) in the postseason than the Broncos (seven), and linebacker Thomas Davis has already inspired his teammates by having surgery on his broken arm—which he suffered against the Cardinals—so he can play in this game. The Panthers have been the best team overall all season long, also covering the spread in 13 of 18 games so far.
Why the Broncos can cover the spread
Many Denver players have bad memories of what happened against Seattle, and the team is vastly improved defensively with a different coaching staff. Head coach Gary Kubiak was able to do something he never accomplished with the Houston Texans by winning two playoff games and getting to the Super Bowl, and he is out to prove he can go a step further with a victory against Carolina for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The Broncos have thrived as underdogs under Kubiak, going 5-1 straight up and 5-0-1 against the spread over their last six games in that role. Manning might exemplify that more than any other player, with many counting him out this postseason following arguably his worst year in the NFL. Instead, Manning has embraced being a game manager, limiting his mistakes and risks along the way. Having the league’s No. 1 defense also helps a lot, something that could be the difference.
Most of the public will probably be rooting for Manning to finish his career by bringing home another Super Bowl title to Denver, but Carolina is simply the better team. The Panthers may not be as good defensively as the Broncos or Seahawks, but they are close and have a superior offense compared to both of them. Carolina is also 8-1 ATS in its last nine games when favored by 4.5 points or less and will cover again in winning the franchise’s first NFL championship, with Newton earning MVP honors.
The total has gone under in five of the Panthers' last seven games against the AFC West.
The Broncos are 5-1 SU and 5-0-1 ATS in their last six games as underdogs.
The Broncos are 9-2 SU in their last 11 games after winning as an underdog.
The total has gone over in the Broncos' last six Super Bowl appearances.
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