Carolina Panthers Open as a 5.5 Point Favorite over Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50
According to the Westgate SuperBook, the Carolina Panthers are early favorites to win Super Bowl 50, which is set to take place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016. The next two weeks are the biggest betting event of the year for Las Vegas SportsBooks, who tend to take about $120 million in wagers each year on the Super Bowl.
In the hours since betting lines were posted, the line has already moved a point, due to gambler’s wagering on the underdog Denver Broncos and the over proposition on the over/under bet. Betting began in the 3rd Quarter of the NFC Championship Game, as it became clear that Cam Newton and the Panthers would be facing the Broncos in the Super Bowl. The Broncos had won the AFC Championship Game earlier in the day.
It appears the sportsbooks set the betting line too high for most gamblers, who had seen the Broncos’ defense shut down a powerhouse New England Patriots offense most had considered unstoppable. As the Panthers’ began amassing a huge point total against the Cardinals, betters also started to bet up the over/under, choosing the over proposition.
NFC Championship Game
Fans can see why the Carolina Panthers opened as a favorite in “Super Bowl L”, even if they think the line is too high. The Panthers faced an Arizona Cardinals team which entered the game as the #1 rated offense in the league. The Cardinals combined a good passing attack behind QB Carson Palmer and All-World receiver Larry Fitzgerald with a potent running attack behind rookie David Johnson. The Cardinals also boasted a stalwart defense with defensive backs who swarmed the field.
It was a mismatch. Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart ran on the Cardinals seemingly at will, while wideout Ted Ginn scored a touchdown on an unlikely end-around. Newton also proved deadly in the air, connecting with Corey “Philly” Brown on a 86 yard touchdown reception. Cam Newton put to rest the questions whether he or Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer should have been the League MVP. It was obvious who the best passer on the field was on Sunday evening.
Why the Panthers Are Favored
Carson Palmer had a forgettable championship game. Palmer was responsible for 6 of the Cardinals’ 7 turnovers in the game. The turnovers spelled doom for Arizona’s hopes, as Carolina eventually won by a 49-15 margin. One of the reasons the Panthers are favored is the Panthers’s defense’s ability to cause turnovers. Carolina led the league in turnovers this season, collecting 39 in all. Linebacker Luke Kuechly, whom Cam Newton refers to as “Captain American”, and cornerback Josh Norman, widely considered the best cover man in the NFL in 2015, lead the unit. Kurt Coleman, thought to have been a castoff from Philadelphia when he signed with the Panthers, led the league in interceptions this year with seven. He had two more on Sunday.
The Panthers also get after the passer up front. Pro Bowler Kawann Short, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, and Mario Addison (filling in for Jared Allen) were in Palmer’s face all day, causing many of those turnovers. Many believe the Panthers defense will dominate the Broncos’ offense, which has struggled this season, due to the seeming deterioration in the skills of Peyton Manning. At some point in the game, Peyton Manning is going to have to throw at the Panthers’ defense, and those betting the favorite think it will not be pretty. Gamblers might have Super Bowl 48 in mind, when the Broncos were blown out by the Seattle Seahawks.
AFC Championship Game
The gamblers who moved the line in the Broncos’ favor were more focused on Sunday afternoon’s game against the Patriots. It was the New England Patriots who dethroned the Seahawks in the Super Bowl last year. Many predicted the Patriots, led by QB Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick, were destined for a return to the Super Bowl to defend their title. With Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola all fully healed from late-season injuries, the Patriots’ offense had looked unstoppable last week. When the entire unit was together this season, they had been undefeated. Many NFL experts did not give the Broncos much of a chance on Sunday.
The predicted rout did not happen, mostly due to the efforts of Demarcus Ware and Von Miller. Von Miller had 2 & 1/2 sacks and 1 interception of Tom Brady. If anything, Demarcus Ware had an even better day rushing from Brady’s blindside. At times, it seemed like Ware was in Brady’s face every time he dropped back on Sunday. In truth, the Broncos pressured Brady on 19 of 61 plays and hit the 38 year old passer 23 times. Even when the rush wasn’t in Brady’s face, they had him hearing footsteps. Until late in the game, the much-vaunted Patriots’ offense had only 12 points. Besides their lack of production, they had given up a key interception which led to 7 points.
Why the Broncos Are Underdogs
Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense looked like they needed the help. Even though they won, the Broncos were unable to move the ball consisently on Sunday. Peyton Manning threw a nice touchdown pass to Owen Daniels early in the game. Two plays after the Brady interception set the Broncos up deep in Patriots’ territory, Manning threw a second touchdown to Daniels, but he was able to produce few big plays after that point. The team produced a couple of field goals in the remaining three quarters, but it was enough for a 20-18 win.
One can say the Broncos got too conservative in the second half and they would have opened up the playbook had they been behind. One can say the Patriots are solid against the run, so they made Denver one-dimensional. People are going to project Peyton Manning against the #2 Panthers defense and see it as a mismatch.
Those who bet the underdog see the Broncos defense limiting Cam Newton they way they did Tom Brady. The question is one of matchups, though. Tom Brady’s offensive line dealt with injuries all year and seemingly was put together with BandAids and bailing wire. Brady dominated when he had time, but Miller and Ware versus the Patriots’ offensive line was a mismatch. The Panthers’ offensive line has been stouter and steadier this year for Cam Newton. Also, Newton is a dangerous player when forced to scramble. While Brady was a stationary target, by and large, the pass rushing enthusiasm of Von Miller and Demarcus Ware might open up running lanes for the 6’5″, 260-pound running back.
The real challenge for the Broncos defense in Super Bowl 50 is going to be the need to stop the Panthers’ running game. As Joe Buck said on Sunday, no team has been able to stop the 15-1 Panthers’ running game all year. They are the NFL’s best rushing offense. Part of that number of skewed, because Cam Newton runs so often, but Jonathan Stewart has been on a tear. Despite the 21st century swagger, the Carolina Panthers win with old school football: a running game and defense. In this NFL, such a combination isn’t supposed to win. Cam Newton takes those basic football precepts and makes them something special. Despite losing star receiver Kelvin Benjamin in preseason with an ACL injury, Cam Newton has used play-action passing to Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn, and Philly Brown to make the Panthers’ attack 3-dimensional. They put a lot of pressure on a defense. And like Cam Newton’s scrambling ability, the play-action attack uses a defense’s aggression against them.
Super Bowl 50 Prediction
For the sake of entertainment, let us discuss the Superbook’s odds on the upcoming Super Bowl. I like Peyton Manning. It would be a nice storybook ending to have Manning leave the NFL with a defeat of his arch-nemesis, Tom Brady, and an improbable Super Bowl win. I don’t see that happening here. The Panthers are a decided favorite here, despite the solid defense and the veteran offense Denver brings.
All year long, the Carolina Panthers have been the best team in the NFL. They are a complete team led by a young quarterback who looks to be in control of the game. The Panthers are young and hungry, and they have world class stars on both sides of the ball. The Broncos are going to represent themselves better than they did two years ago, but I see the Carolina Panthers simply being better equipped to win Super Bowl L.
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