Denver Broncos vs Carolina Panthers (-4.5, 45 o/u) [Editor’s note: the spread has moved to Carolina -5.5.]
In 2014, the Denver Broncos brought the league’s top offense into a Super Bowl XLVIII clash with the NFL’s best D, the Seattle Seahawks. After the first play of the game, the result was never in question. The Broncos got their tails kicked, 43-8, reinforcing the old adage that “defense wins championships.”
Perhaps that’s why, just two years later, the Denver Broncos (14-4) enter Super Bowl 50 with a decidedly different look. Now, it’s a vaunted Bronco defense that leads the NFL, and is hoping to stop Cam Newton and a Carolina Panthers (17-1), who were tops in the league in scoring this season. The final game of the NFL season gets underway at Levi’s Stadium in two weeks (Feb. 7, 6:30 PM Eastern).
In what many forsee as Peyton Manning’s final game, the legendary quarterback will take a backseat as Denver’s D tries to lead the team to another upset. The Broncos were three-point home dogs last weekend against New England, but walked off with another Lamar Hunt Trophy after picking off Tom Brady twice and holding the Pats to 2 of 15 on third downs. (A Stephen Gostkowski missed extra point was also a big help!)
Manning was effective on a day where Denver had little success running the ball. The 39-year-old completed 17 of 32 passes for 176 yards on the day and threw a pair of touchdowns to TE Owen Daniels. He even scrambled for the longest run of his playoff career, a 12-yard scamper in the third quarter.
But it’s unlikely that old-white-guy runs are how Denver’s offense will keep pace with an overwhelming Carolina attack.
Carolina didn’t get much respect all season by virtue of their easy schedule, but if people didn’t believe this was one of the best team’s of all-time before, they might be changing their tune after the Panthers’ two playoff games. Playing the NFC’s other top dogs (Seattle and Arizona), Carolina raced out to 31-0 and 24-7 halftime leads, coasting to the Super Bowl in style.
Newton had another gem in the NFC Championship (a 49-15 drubbing of the Cardinals), throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for another pair of scores.
What has to scare Denver, though, is that the Panthers D is nearly as potent as its offense. Carolina forced seven Arizona turnovers in the rout, including a pick-six by linebacker Luke Kuechly – his second in as many weeks.
Carolina could be slightly weakened by the injury to Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis, who broke his arm in the first half of the Cardinals game. However, Davis has already said he intends to play in Super Bowl 50.
Denver needs to be worried about the back end of their defense after safeties Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward both left the AFC Championship with injuries.
Both team’s have little experience playing in Santa Clara. The Panthers eked out a 10-9 win in 2013, while Denver hasn’t made the trip since 2002. However, both teams did well on the west coast this year: the Broncos were 2-0 while the Panthers got a win at the always difficult CenturyLink Field.
The line for this one opened as Carolina -3.5 and has already jumped a whole point. It’s easy to see why Carolina is such an attractive play, they’re dominant in two of three phases in the game. (Their special teams aren’t great, but that shouldn’t matter much given that Denver’s top return man, Omar Bolden, is injured.)
Throw in Denver’s devastating history as a franchise in the Super Bowl (they’re 2-5 in the big game with the losses coming by an average of 29.6 points), and it’s another reason to be wary of this team.
Meanwhile, the NFC rep is 9-4 against the spread in the last 13 Super Bowls.
Carolina has been great betting all season, going 13-5 ATS, including 8-0 as a favorite of -4.5 or less. The Broncos are a mere 9-8-1 against the number, but have been great as underdogs, going 5-0.
As the adage at the top said, “defense wins championships.” But it certainly helps having a great offense to pair with that defense! That’s why, for now, you have to roll with the Panthers.
Pick: Panthers -4.5.
(Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall (Originally uploaded to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].)