Super Bowl Sunday, 6:30PM ET Game
The Super Bowl 50 game total is 45.5 points with Carolina favored by six after public bettors aggressively dumped money on the Panthers' side. Carolina was favored by 3.5 only a week ago. ... At nearly 26 points, the Panthers' team total seems aggressive versus a Denver defense that has allowed offensive point totals of 18 (New England), 16 (Pittsburgh), 20 (San Diego), and 17 (Cincinnati) over its last four games. The Broncos led the NFL in regular season sacks (52) and yielded the league's fourth lowest passer rating (78.8), also ranking No. 1 in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA. I see this is a low-scoring Super Bowl, and I like the under on 45.5. Although he turned in an MVP-deserving 2015 campaign, Cam Newton has a tendency to be deliberate in the pocket, ranking 29th among 37 qualified quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus' Time to Throw metric, and 30th in Time to Attempt. Cam's methodical in-pocket playing style figures to force the Panthers into frequent max protection in passing situations, and/or give the Broncos' intimidating pass rush time to get home. Super Bowl Prop Bets I like pertaining to Cam include the under on Newton completing 19.5 passes -- a figure he's topped in just 7-of-18 games -- and the over on Cam rushing for 37.5 yards against Denver's man-coverage defense. Newton finished with double-digit rushing attempts in each of Carolina's first two playoff games, while only three NFL teams allowed more yards per quarterback scramble than the Broncos this season. 12 of the 22 scrambles against Denver went for ten-plus yards. I also think the over on 5.0 combined sacks taken by both quarterbacks is an intriguing Prop Bet.
The Panthers led the league in 2015 rushing attempts (526) and have averaged 39.0 run plays through two playoff contests, a higher total than their regular season clip (32.9). Carolina will definitely try to run the ball on Denver, even if OC Mike Shula seems likely to have more success doing so with Cam than Jonathan Stewart. Fresh and healthy following their pre-Super Bowl week off, the Broncos have held enemy running backs to 245 yards and two touchdowns on 84 carries (2.92 YPC) over their last four games. The creativity of Shula's ground attack makes it exceedingly difficult to defend, however. In the Divisional and Conference Title Rounds, Stewart combined to tag the normally stout defenses of Seattle and Arizona for 189 yards and two scores on 38 carries (4.97 YPC). It should also be noted that the Broncos have faced an easy run-game schedule lately, taking on Steven Jackson-James White two weeks ago, Fitzgerald Toussaint-Jordan Todman before that, and Donald Brown-Danny Woodhead in Week 17. Shula's diverse and multi-faceted system will cause much more havoc. Although his rushing efficiency is a concern, the Super Bowl Prop Bet I like most for Stewart is the over on 18.5 rushing attempts after he cleared that mark in 10-of-11 games following Carolina's Week 5 bye. The Super Bowl Prop on Stewart's rushing yardage is 66.5. He's gone over 66.5 in ten of his last 11 games.
Carolina's primary wideout-cornerback matchups will consist of Corey Brown versus LCB Aqib Talib, Jerricho Cotchery battling Chris Harris in the slot, and Ted Ginn tangling with second-year RCB Bradley Roby. Talented-but-inconsistent rookie fourth receiver Devin Funchess has drawn just four postseason targets, playing 35% of the Panthers' offensive snaps. Brown and Cotchery seem unlikely to win their matchups on the perimeter, and the Panthers could conceivably go heavy on two-tight end formations in this game after using "12" personnel on nearly half of their 2015 pass plays. In "12," Cotchery is replaced by Ed Dickson. The Broncos allowed the NFL's eighth most yards to tight ends in the regular season, before giving up 8-144-1 to Rob Gronkowski two weeks ago. Matching up with box safety T.J. Ward and ILB Danny Trevathan in coverage, Greg Olsen is the obvious favorite to lead Carolina in receiving against Denver. In terms of Super Bowl Prop Bets, I like the over on 67.5 yards for Olsen, and especially the over on 5.0 receptions. Olsen has topped both marks in each of the Panthers' two postseason games. I'd take the under on 54.5 receiving yards for Brown and the over on 7.5 yards for Dickson.
As six-point underdogs in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos' team total is just below 20 points. ... The biggest mismatch on either side of the ball is Denver's talent-deficient offensive line versus a loaded Carolina defensive front that boasts league-best speed and play recognition at linebacker, and waves of difference makers on the line. MLB Luke Kuechly and WLB Thomas Davis get more attention, but the Panthers legitimately go eight deep in the front four, with Jared Allen, Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy, and Mario Addison on the ends, and Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Dwan Edwards, and Kyle Love on the interior. The athleticism Carolina boasts in the trenches is far superior to the athleticism of Denver's offensive front five, a rag-tag group that flounders in pass protection. The lone starter to earn positive pass-blocking marks from Pro Football Focus this season was RG Louis Vasquez. Among 76 qualified tackles, LT Ryan Harris and RT Michael Schofield finished 60th and 61st, respectively, in PFF's year-ending pass-pro grades. Panthers RCB Robert McClain and slot CB Cortland Finnegan are big enough coverage liabilities that Peyton Manning will have passing-game opportunities should the supporting cast give him time to throw. The mismatches up front suggest Peyton will fail to capitalize much more often than not. Additionally, Manning's strengths are few at this stage of his career. His greatest asset is arguably his ability to dissect defenses before the snap of the ball and thereby put his team in advantageous post-snap circumstances. Panthers DC Sean McDermott's unit offers little to dissect, however, as a Cover 3 defense that blitzes at a league-average rate (28%) and does not try to out-scheme its opposition, rather winning simply with great personnel.
The Broncos are more likely to enjoy offensive success on the ground. Carolina played good-not-great run defense down the stretch, surrendering 498 yards and four touchdowns on 121 carries (4.12 YPC) to opposing running backs across its last seven games. The game tape shows Denver's outside-zone run blocks improving noticeably recently, particularly when C.J. Anderson gets the ball. Including playoffs, Anderson has averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better in 10-of-11 games since the Broncos' Week 7 bye, amassing a combined 116-684-6 (5.90 YPC) rushing line during that stretch. Over that same timeframe, committee partner Ronnie Hillman has gone over 4.5 yards per carry only twice with a total rushing line of 168-594-5 (3.54 YPC). Hillman has 54 scoreless yards on 27 carries this postseason. It's long past time for coach Gary Kubiak to hand the backfield reigns over to Anderson. From a Super Bowl Prop Bet standpoint, I like the over on 58.5 rushing yards and 13.5 rushing attempts for Anderson, who enters this game having topped 58.5 yards rushing in four straight games, and 13.5 carries in three straight. Kubiak finally seemed to acknowledge Anderson is the best option in Denver's AFC title win over New England, feeding Anderson 19 touches compared to Hillman's 12. Albeit by a narrow margin, Anderson has out-snapped Hillman in each of the Broncos' two postseason affairs. If Anderson has a big game against the Panthers, Denver will have a legitimate chance to win.
Although some expect Josh Norman to shadow Demaryius Thomas, a likelier scenario is Norman mainly manning left cornerback with Emmanuel Sanders outplaying Thomas recently. In this scenario, Norman would see a roughly even share of Thomas and Sanders while Denver's other wideouts attract McClain and Finnegan. Both Thomas and Sanders will avoid Norman in the slot, where Denver's top-two wideouts each run over 20% of their routes. Norman spends under 2% of his snaps in the slot. Demaryius gets slightly more chances versus right corners (McClain) and plays slightly more snaps in the slot (Finnegan). Demaryius, therefore, would be my pick to pace the Broncos in receiving. I like the over on Demaryius' 5.5-catch Super Bowl Prop, but wouldn't necessarily bet against Sanders topping his 5.0-catch and 69.5-yard Props. A sneaky bet would be the over on Broncos slot man Jordan Norwood's 17.5-yard Prop. Although Norwood had a quiet January, he cleared 17.5 yards in each of the Broncos' final three regular season games and will square off often with 32-year-old journeyman Finnegan. Dad-running possession tight end Owen Daniels caught a pair of touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game, but seems unlikely to be a major Super Bowl factor after topping 50 receiving yards in three games all year. Carolina permitted the NFL's ninth fewest yards (781) to tight ends this regular season.
A few more Prop Bets I like are the over on T.J. Ward making 4.5 tackles, under on Denver scoring 20.0 points, over on Brandon McManus making 1.5 field goals, under on Ronnie Hillman handling 11.5 carries, over on both teams combining for 1.5 interceptions, over on both teams combining for 3.5 field goals made, under on Josh Norman recording 3.5 tackles, Yes on Ted Ginn having a rushing attempt, Yes on the Panthers converting a fourth-down attempt, No on either team scoring three straight times, and No on either team scoring four straight times.
Score Prediction: Panthers 20, Broncos 16