After two weeks of practice, media sessions and probably some anxiety, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos are ready to battle for the NFL championship in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
The Panthers opened as 3.5-point favorites, per Odds Shark, after finishing the regular season 15-1 and winning both of their playoff games in convincing fashion. Denver, which features the NFL's best defense, was 12-4 in the regular season and won two hard-fought home games in the postseason.
Bettors felt strongly that Carolina could handle giving four points, as the spread has now jumped to 5.5 in favor of the Panthers.
Let's take a look at the odds for Super Bowl 50, as well as the over/under and a prediction for the big game.
|Carolina Panthers (17-1) vs. Denver Broncos (14-4)||Panthers -5.5||+45|
On paper, this game belongs to Carolina. While the Broncos have the league's best defense in terms of yards allowed, they didn't even yield the fewest points in their own division. Their average of 18.5 points allowed per game in the regular season was impressive, but the Panthers gave up just 19.3.
On the flip side, quarterback Cam Newton led Carolina to a league-high 500 points, while Denver struggled to score. The Panthers defense also forced an NFL-high 39 turnovers, resulting in a league-best plus-20 turnover margin.
In other words, Carolina is the complete package while Denver must have a strong performance from its defense to win. It's going to take an A-plus effort from the AFC champions, coupled with a subpar performance from Newton and Co. for Denver to win.
Here's a statistical look at how the two teams match up:
One interesting matchup to watch is how each team will run the ball. Denver is first against the run, but just 17th in offensive rushing yards. The Panthers allows the fourth-fewest rushing yards but rush for the second most themselves.
The chances of the Broncos shutting down a top rushing attack and succeeding against a top rushing defense seem low. The odds favor Carolina excelling in at least one category. There's also a great chance its talented secondary, led by All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, will give Denver quarterback Peyton Manning fits.
The 39-year-old is the NFL's all-time passing yards and touchdowns leader, but he is clearly not the same player he once was. Manning tossed 17 interceptions in just 10 games this year, which is not a good sign against the best ball-hawking defense in the league.
According to Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight, a statistics-crunching website, Manning's season is among the worst ever for a Super Bowl quarterback:
Now, Manning was injured during the regular season and missed six games, so you might think others share in the blame over the Broncos’ lousy aerial attack. But you can’t pin this on Brock Osweiler — he was mediocre in Manning’s stead, not outright horrible. Manning, on the other hand, was the league’s worst QB (on a per-drop-back basis) according to adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A), and its second-worst according to DVOA. He ranked among the bottom 15 percent of NFL passers in not just conventional categories such as touchdown and interception rate, but also fancier numbers like the percentage of his throws that were on-target. Plain and simple, he stank.
If Manning plays well on Sunday, none of that matters. But given his age, injury issues and the defense he's facing, that's unlikely. To make matters worse, he's playing opposite a quarterback who accounted for 50 touchdowns this year (including the playoffs) and is the likely NFL MVP.
This is Newton's first Super Bowl, and despite all the media scrutiny involving his style of play—which really should be described as "fun"—ESPN's Skip Bayless expects him to excel in the game:
I don't think any SBowl QB ever has put more pressure on himself than Cam Newton has. And I do not expect it to bother him one bit.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) February 6, 2016
A Denver victory wouldn't be the biggest upset of all time, but if the Panthers play their A-game, there is no way they'll lose. They may not jump out to a three-score lead like they did in both postseason games, but look for them to have a healthy 10-point lead at halftime, one the Broncos will not be able to overcome.
If you're thinking about the over/under, stay low. Denver has had issues scoring, and the Panthers aren't going to put 35-plus points against the best defense in the league.
Prediction: Carolina wins, 23-16.