Super Bowl 50 Pages:
Super Bowl 50 Analysis
Super Bowl 50 Picks
Broncos vs. Panthers Projected Boxscore
Super Bowl 50 Props
Here are the game charts that generally accompany our weekly, in-depth analysis for the NFL. While teams are usually ranked relative to all other teams playing that week, we have updated this chart to rank the team's standing compared to all 32 NFL teams. This helps to put the true value of each facet of the game for each team in more appropriate context when reviewing two squads.
Sunday, February 7 at 6:30 PM ET:
+6 vs Carolina Panthers (Covers 58.9%), UNDER 45.5 (Covers 55.1%)
ATS Play Type: Normal
O/U Play Type: Half-Bet
Projected Score: Carolina 22.6 - Denver 19.9
SU Pick and Win%: Carolina wins 57.1%
ATS Pick and Win%: Denver Broncos +6 covers 58.9%
ATS Wager for $50 player: $68
O/U Pick and Win%: UNDER (45.5) 55.1%
O/U Wager for $50 Player: $29
Avg. Points For vs. Against
Strength of Schedule Rank (of all NFL)
PM Passing Efficiency Rank
PM Rushing Efficiency Rank
PM Pass Defense Efficiency Rank
PM Rush Defense Efficiency Rank
Actual Pass/Run Ratio
Weather Forecast: Dry. 62 degrees. Wind 10-15 MPH.
Wagering Information: ATS Bets - 73% Carolina, 27% Denver; O/U Bets - 74% Over, 26% Under
See: Game Summary Matchup Analysis Key Players
Super Bowl 50 features the top seeds from each respective conference with some clear similarities and some stark contrasts. What was the second-most likely Super Bowl in our analysis heading into the playoffs, Carolina has dominated two elite opponents (Arizona and Seattle were both in the Top 3 of our final regular season Power Rankings) en route to Santa Clara, while Denver has narrowly edged its competition in two home games to get here. While these teams are very different offensively, they do represent the two best pass defenses in the NFL and two of the best pass defenses of the last decade. With one of the league's greatest ever quarterbacks and the game's most dynamic current QB facing such difficult competition, a low-scoring epic is expected. Expect youth and athleticism to win out, but it's much closer than current perception would suggest.
After a four-game winning streak in 2014 propelled Carolina into the NFL Playoffs as the NFC South champion last year, its 7-9 record achieved in doing so tempered expectations for the 2015 season. While we were more bullish on the Panthers than most (Carolina OVER 8.5 wins was our strongest over/under season win total play, the Panthers were our pick to win the division and a resurgence from Cam Newtown - especially in fantasy football - was expected), their 15-1 season with the best record in the game and the likely league MVP were not on our radar (or seemingly anyone's). Carolina entered the season as the #14 team in our NFL Power Rankings, grading above average in pass defense and run offense, but below average elsewhere.
An easy early schedule saw Carolina get to 4-0 before its bye week, yet the team still had not cracked the Top 10 in our Power Rankings. A victory over Seattle in Week 6 (Carolina +8 was our Lock of the Week that week), moved the Panthers up in our analysis, yet it was not until five straight double-digit wins from Week 10-14 that we saw the Panthers clearly appear to be among the top five best teams in the league. Though known for an elite defense, Carolina is the only offense to top 30 points-per-game this season (32.2). On the year, the Panthers have played the 27th ranked strength-of-schedule, out-gaining opponents by 0.63 yards-per-play and winning by 12.9 points-per-game (4.3 more points-per-game than any other team). Carolina is 17-1 straight-up and 13-5 against-the-spread, with all five against-the-spread losses coming in games for which the Panthers were favored by at least 5.5 points. Also, away from home, the Panthers are 5-3 ATS as compared to 8-2 ATS at home. Our projections are 14-4 straight-up and 10-8 against-the-spread in Carolina Panthers' games this season.
Denver entered the year as the second best team in our NFL Power Rankings and the best among AFC teams. The Broncos played the 13th ranked schedule, out-gained opponents by 0.75 yards-per-play and earned the top seed in the conference with a 12-4 record and regular season wins over New England and Cincinnati. Denver has a historically elite defense (which we will reference throughout this analysis), yet so much of the narrative of this team has centered around its shortcomings.
Clearly, quarterback Peyton Manning is not as healthy or as talented as he was when setting records with this franchise just two seasons ago. Manning and the passing offense are flawed. And for one of the greatest players in the game's history at its most important position, that's notable. But this team accomplished all of those dominant components I just referenced despite Peyton Manning and backup Brock Osweiler combining for 23 interceptions and less-than-stellar (though probably not as bad as people perceive) quarterback play. I choose to focus on the narrative surrounding the third best all-around defense of my lifetime and the best I have seen in 13 years of predicting games and evaluating teams. That defense got Denver here and it should be able to keep this competitive.
On the year, the Broncos are 14-4 straight-up and 9-9 against-the-spread. The Broncos have been underdogs six times this season and Denver is 5-1 ATS with five OUTRIGHT victories in those games. The team's only loss as an underdog came at Pittsburgh when the Steelers covered by just a half a point in a shootout with Osweiler starting. In 18 games, Denver has only lost by more than six points two times. The Predictalator's projection in Broncos' games is 14-4 straight-up and 13-5 against-the-spread.
In a league in which teams threw the ball 59.2% of the time on average, Carolina ran more than it passed the ball this year, just one of two teams (with the Buffalo Bills) to do so. This is the third consecutive season in which the league's most run-heavy team made the Super Bowl. All three of those teams (Seattle the previous two years) have been built around an effective quarterback who plays a relatively conservative style that is centered around his ability to extend plays with his feet and avoid crippling mistakes. Those teams have also been built around a defense that is loaded with great football players who have consistently proven up to the challenge of the opposition. Unlike Seattle, which represented the NFC the last two seasons, the Panthers play a cleaner brand of football that does not lead to nearly as many penalties (Josh Norman is the exception to this and would seemingly fit well with the Seahawks, but this is an incredibly disciplined team for as good and aggressive as it has been).
Despite their issues at quarterback, the Broncos are more pass heavy than average in the league, leveraging an all-time great quarterback in Peyton Manning to make many quick throws with similar objectives to a conventional team's running plays. Aside from Manning along with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware defensively, the Broncos are relatively anonymous otherwise, which is a shame considering that every player on defense is above average against the run and the pass and could gain more notoriety if on any other team without as many stars. Along those lines, while the skill position players have remained healthy all season, nine different players have run the ball and 12 players have caught passes for the Broncos this season (all of which should be active in the Super Bowl), an astounding representation of the team's offensive balance (and likely part of the reason the public undervalues this offense).
From a trends perspective, this game is fairly unique in recent Super Bowl history. It should not come as much of a surprise that we like the underdog to cover (four of previous six Super Bowl picks on PredictionMachine.com have been on the underdog) or that we are fading the public (five of six picks have been opposite the public) or even that we have a strong opinion against-the-spread in this game (all seven Super Bowl picks on the site have now been "normal" or better plays with greater than 57% confidence).
The degree to which that is all true is compelling, though. Per SportsInsights, Super Bowl favorites have historically received about 49% of all bets. This year, the favorite is receiving 73% of all action, which has driven the spread up to six points. Speaking of which, though Super Bowls were often considered blowouts (12 of the first 20 Super Bowls with recorded spreads had a favorite of more than a touchdown - and the first six of those covered), the last six Super Bowls (aka all of the Super Bowls we have projected on this site) have featured a spread of less than five points. The last time a favorite of at least six points won and covered the spread was February 4, 2007 when the Colts (-6.5, led by Peyton Manning) won over the Bears, 29-17. In the past 16 years, Super Bowl favorites of six or more points are just 1-5 against-the-spread. This is also the third consecutive season in which our projected score is essentially the same (23-20). Despite the bias the public has for these games (especially towards offense and recent performance), teams are generally evenly matched when they get to this point and the expected outcome is not all that different than a normal game.
While their journeys are clearly different and the matchup looks like a classic, it's similarities between the teams that ultimately lead us to our prediction. Both teams are so good defensively that it is unlikely that one team gains an upper-hand.
“Styles make fights” is an oft-used cliché around the office. Generally, the team with the fewest exploitable weaknesses has the best chance to win in a contest that is otherwise similar. That's technically true here with Carolina expected to win, yet it is just not as definitive as the public perception and betting patterns suggest. With a few known stars, Carolina's greatest strengths are obvious, but the Panthers have a few holes, particularly in defending the run and run blocking. Denver has elite numbers as well. Mostly overblown concerns about the quarterback represent the Broncos' lone weakness.
The Broncos and Panthers played just two common opponents all season (which is the minimum possible). Against those teams, Indianapolis and Green Bay, Carolina went 2-0 straight-up and 1-1 against-the-spread with an average final score in those games of 33.0-27.5. Against those same opponents, Denver was 1-1 straight-up and 1-1 against-the-spread with an average score of 26.5-18.8. No real conclusions to draw with that analysis.
Using strength-of-schedule-adjusted, play-by-play statistics, the Predictalator has played Super Bowl 50 50,000 times before it's actually played. The Carolina Panthers win outright 57.1% of those games and by an average score of 22.6-19.9. As six point underdogs, who keep the game within a field goal on average, the Denver Broncos (+6) cover the spread 58.9% of the time, which is a "normal" play that would warrant an $68 play from a normal $50 player. The UNDER (45.5) hits 55.1% of the time. At least 52.38% confidence is required to win at the typical -110 juice. At 55.1% confidence, the UNDER is worth a $29 play to a normal $50 player. Utilizing the Parlay Calculator, Denver (+6) and UNDER (45.5) both cover 32.4% of the time. Remarkably, this is the seventh Super Bowl we have projected on the site for which we have at least a "normal" opinion against-the-spread. Previous to this, four of those six plays were on upsets for underdogs we projected to win outright and did and only one - Green Bay after the 2010 season - was a favorite.
In analyzing games, the team that wins a game is most often the team that best exploits favorable matchups and generally gets a little "lucky." While luck usually comes from turnovers, especially when the two teams are otherwise evenly matched, balance is critical to success. In this case, balance does not necessarily mean that a team must pass as often as it runs, but that it must find the right mix of decisions to exploit the other team's weaknesses while hiding its own.
Let's take a close look at the matchups in Super Bowl 50:
Carolina's Run Offense vs. Denver's Run Defense:
Considering the run-oriented nature of the Panthers, the fact that they have topped 100 rushing yards each game for two seasons and the versatile nature of Cam Newton, one may assume that Carolina would win this matchup. Volume and complexity are not indicative of efficiency, which is to say that the Panthers run the ball often, just not with incredible efficiency. Taking on one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, Carolina has rushed for just 4.3 yards-per-carry. With running back Jonathan Stewart healthy, that number looks a little better, yet the Panthers still rank just tenth in run offense in our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics.
Newton is actually the only player on the team who had more than 25 regular season carries and was better than league average in yards-per-carry (4.1 yards-per-carry). While that speaks to Newton's mobility and threat as a running back, Newton had more games (7) in which he was unable to rush for more than four yards-per-carry than he did games with more than five yards-per-carry (4).
Denver grades as the best team in the NFL against the run defensively. Playing an above average schedule, opponents rush for just 3.3 yards-per-carry against the Broncos. Though seven teams rushed for more than 100 yards in a game against the Broncos, only two of them even topped 3.8 yards-per-carry in doing so. All eleven starters for the Broncos grade as above average against the run, most notably inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall who are two of the best at their positions against the run in the league. Especially considering the passing nature of this league and the skew towards specialization, for every player on the field in the most used sets to be so good against the run is remarkable.
In the projected Super Bowl 50 boxscore, the Panthers combine for just 3.5 yards-per-carry. Carolina does top 100 rushing yards, yet needs 32 rushes to do so. Four players are projected to run the ball, with each of them, including Cam Newton, falling below four yards-per-carry in this game. As much of an effort as Carolina will likely put into establishing the run, it looks futile against this elite defense.
Carolina Pass Offense vs. Denver Pass Defense:
Already with a suspect group of skill position players, the passing offense for the Panthers took a tangible hit when 2014 first round draft choice, Kelvin Benjamin, was lost for the season during training camp. What was left, however, was a versatile group of players who may not have been long on both experience and talent, but fit the needs of an evolving Mike Shula offense. Greg Olsen is a star at tight end with great hands and tremendous ability to get open. Ted Ginn is an explosive player with issues with drops, yet can make tacklers miss. Corey Brown is a prototypical deep threat. Devin Funchess is a big target for the red zone. And Jerricho Cotchery is a possession receiver and elite route runner. That semblance of talent with Shula's play-calling, the physical gifts of the quarterback and some impressive maturation has led to a Panthers team that is among the league's best through the air.
On their own, Newton's numbers - 4,333 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and 11 interceptions - look very good through 18 games. Newton and the passing attack have been better than that (even against a below average schedule). Completing 61% of his passes in a big play offense (Panthers rank fourth in the league in percentage of passes for more than 25 yards) is very good. And Newton's 8.0 yards-per-pass and 3.5 TD/INT ratio are both among the top five in the league. Add to that the fact that Carolina led the league in scoring and the case for Newton as MVP is not difficult at this point.
Yeah, the Broncos still win this category. The Panthers' issues are still valid. Ted Ginn has the worst catch rate of any player with at least 70 targets on the season and no receiver on the team ranks as a Top 40 player at his position in our evaluations. The pieces are there, but they are not quite what they need to be consistently dominant, especially against a team like this. Furthermore, a comparison of a pass defense against a pass offense warrants consideration to the pass rush as well. As quite literally as good of a story as Michael Oher has been in his career and this season, he was one of the worst overall tackles in the league this year, only grading above average one week (Week 17). Both guards and the center are very good pass blockers for Carolina, but the weaknesses of the tackles will likely be exploited (See: AFC Championship Game).
While Carolina has the MVP in this comparison, Denver has the obviously better all-around team. The Broncos faced 725 pass plays this season and allowed just 5.7 yards-per-pass on those plays. They also led the league in sack rate (sacks-per-pass play), which is an underrated metric that generally coincides with our predictions as a key indicator of future success in the NFL. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are the TWO BEST pass rushers among 3-4 edge players in the league (and two of the five best pass rushers overall based on 2015-16 performance). Interior players Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe are elite pass rushers as well, while Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray have shown promise with fresh legs adding depth off the edge.
The talent, speed and depth of the pass rush allows the Broncos to consistently rush and get pressure with three or four players, which is a big boon to the defense behind it. Especially in obvious passing situations, having Miller and Ware come off the edge against inferior tackles with seven or eight players in coverage likely limits big plays through the air and will allow Denver to devote more attention to containing Newton should he escape the pressure (especially up the middle). Arizona, as is its MO, blitzed Carolina incessantly and to no avail. Denver plays the opposite, which should be better against Carolina.
Worth noting, when healthy, Denver has the best secondary in the NFL - better than Seattle and clearly better than Carolina despite the presence of Josh Norman on the Panthers. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib are top ten cover corners, Bradley Roby (who we had as a top ten player in his draft class) is a budding star, and both safeties - Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward - do everything well.
Carolina averages 6.2 yards-per-pass in our projections for this game and gives up three sacks to Denver. That's a better overall performance than Denver gets out of its passing game, yet it's not enough to translate to a high-scoring or easy victory.
Denver Run Offense vs. Carolina Run Defense:
The most difficult matchup to compare, this should ultimately dictate the eventual winner of this game.
Denver has rushed for 4.1 yards-per-carry this season (league average), but there is reason to believe that the team is much better than that right now. While the Broncos transitioned to a more run-oriented, Gary Kubiak-designed system than recent years, there was clearly some time needed for the offense to jell. This came from both Kubiak and Manning and the team has shown marked improvement on the ground with Manning under center since his return from injury.
At the same time, C.J. Anderson has re-emerged as an elite runner for this team. In his first six games this season, Anderson failed to top four yards-per-carry and ran for a total of 180 yards on 67 carries (2.7 yards-per-carry). Since then, Anderson has rushed for 684 yards on 116 carries (5.9 yards-per-carry). Anderson is in a legitimate timeshare at than running back with Ronnie Hillman and does often ask out when winded, yet he is the superior back and will likely be used even more in the Super Bowl than in games this year.
With questionable quarterback play all season, Denver needed its running game. In the Broncos' five upset wins, Denver rushed for 669 yards (134 yards-per-game) on 154 attempts (4.4 yards-per-carry), out-gaining opponents in rushing yards and yards-per-carry in four of those five games.
Carolina is very good, though not elite against the run. As with their run offense, the Panthers' run defense grades as "just" the tenth best in the league, allowing 4.0 yards-per-carry to an easy schedule. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is the best run defender in the game, while DT Kawann Short and LB Thomas Davis have been dominant against the run at their positions as well. Kuechly and Davis are to the Panthers against the run what Miller and Ware are to the Broncos against the pass, but the surrounding team is not as strong. No edge rusher/DE grades above average against the run and the safeties are average or worse on the ground as well.
This could also be an area where the Panthers' injuries are most relevant. Obviously, Davis and safety Roman Harper at less than full strength is a concern, but the team's best tacklers at corner during the year, Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere, are out for this game.
The Panthers defense is good enough to neutralize the Broncos running game we saw on the year as a whole, but if the running revival with Manning directing the team and Anderson hitting big plays is real, Denver could have the edge it needs to win this game. Of course, like with the matchups against Seattle and Arizona, if Denver allows the game to get out of hand early, none of this may matter.
The projections see the Broncos rush for 114 yards on 28 carries. That's average in today's NFL. The degree to which they are better or worse than that in the final boxscore should be telling.
Edge: Push (this matchup should make the difference)
Denver Pass Offense vs. Carolina Pass Defense:
Peyton Manning (if his career were to end today) would rank as one of the best two quarterbacks of all-time (I would still have him slightly ahead of Tom Brady). There's that.
Carolina's pass defense deserves to be in the conversation with Denver's as elite. Considering the historical greatness of the Broncos, that's high praise. The Panthers allowed just 5.8 yards-per-attempt on the season, led the league in opponent TD/INT ratio and had an above average pass rush. Like the Broncos, the Panthers get pressure from the edge and up the middle without blitzing much. They also have an elite coverage corner (Norman) and linebackers who are very good in coverage as well.
While Manning's play is likely important to the end result of this game, I cannot make the case that Manning or the Broncos have the advantage in this matchup. Manning's season has not been terrible by any other measure than his own. Completing 236-of-400 (59.0%) of his passes for 2,647 yards (6.6 yards-per-carry), 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions against a tough schedule is not good or even above average in today's NFL (and it was a decent season when Manning entered the league), but it absolutely could be worse. Plus, Manning's worst game immediately proceeded almost two months off to rest (he has not thrown an interception since returning - 78 pass attempts).
Still, it's not a good year. For Manning, managing the game and limiting mistakes will be critical to remaining competitive (he's in basically the opposite situation as his career with Indianapolis). As we have seen lately, that he can do. Anything else? Expectations should not be high.
Considering that Denver throws at a much higher rate than Carolina, Manning throws for more yards than Newton (by 0.8) in our projected boxscore, but on four more attempts. Manning also gets sacked three times and throws twice as many interceptions than Newton.
In the short-term (i.e. one game, not 50,000), a big special teams play has far more relevance than it does in assessing teams' general strengths and weaknesses. In other words, this will be short because it does not mean too much to this exercise. Carolina and Denver both finished above average in our overall special teams rankings, yet neither is in the top five. Graham Gano is a slightly better kicker than Brandon McManus and Carolina has a notable edge in returner with Ted Ginn, but Denver has the superior punter (Britton Colquitt over Brad Nortman) and coverage units.
Misc. - Coaching, Penalties, Turnovers, Crowd
At a critical point in his tenure as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera did something unheard of in today's NFL. He seemingly stopped coaching in a conservative manner designed to minimize second-guessing and tough questions at press conferences (a characteristic held by most of the league) and started to make smart and aggressive football decisions. In 2011 and 2012, no coach hurt his team's chances to win football games more with critical, in-game decisions than Rivera and it has been the opposite since. Though the Broncos are the first employ a more analytical minded, non-coach to help with in-game decision making (former student of mine Mitch Tanney), Gary Kubiak still coaches scared and overly conservative more often than not.
With penalties, the teams have almost been identical this season, both teams matching opponents in penalties-per-play, while giving up more yards-per-penalty than the opposition.
With turnovers, however, there is a major edge. Though teams should not expect to see the turnover luck seen by the Panthers in the last two playoff weeks - recovering all five fumbles, generating a +8 turnover margin and turning two turnovers directly into touchdowns - Carolina is still clearly the better team with respect to turnovers. In fact, in our projected boxscore, Denver actually gains more yards (324 to 316) than the Panthers, yet loses the game due to the fact that the Panthers double-up the Broncos in the projected turnover battle.
Based on that information, here are the most important players for each team:
Most Important Offensive Player to a Broncos' Victory: Peyton Manning, QB
As startling as the numbers are on C.J. Anderson above, he may only play half of the team's snaps and does not have nearly the variance in reasonable output in this game as the guy who will be handing him the ball and (likely) taking all of the snaps for the Broncos. Usually, we do not discuss quarterbacks here because their impacts and expectations are both well known. While it is difficult to understate the impact of any quarterback in a Super Bowl game, the expectations for Manning are in question. Our boxscore projects him to go 22-of-37 for 227 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs in a game that the Broncos only lose by a field goal. 16 previous seasons of data suggests that should not be difficult for Manning to top. 12 games of data from this season makes that seem a little optimistic against this defense. He may not need to make every throw, but to win this game, Manning needs to limit turnovers, manage the game and connect on the one or two big plays against this weak set of safeties that are needed to put up touchdowns.
Most Important Defensive Player to a Broncos' Victory: Derek Wolfe, DL
Given injury concerns and their collective impact, the safeties for the Broncos could be highlighted here. Given singular value and importance in this specific matchup, though, Wolfe is critical. Wolfe consistently wins at the line of scrimmage and is the Broncos' most balanced player. Everyone is good against the run and the pass, yet he's among the best at his position at both. With Miller and Ware likely simultaneously putting pressure on and containing Newton from the outside, an interior presence will be needed to do the same when Newton steps up in the pocket. The key to being able to disrupt the opposition by only bringing three or four people is not what happens on the outside, but what happens on the inside. With early pressure on Tom Brady that included one sack, two hits, five hurries and a batted pass for the game (as well as a team-high four stops in the run game), Wolfe completely changed the way the AFC Championship Game was played. A similar performance would be a huge boon for the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Most Important Offensive Player to a Panthers' Victory: Michael Oher, T
During the regular season, Sebastian Vollmer of the New England Patriots was graded at left tackle by Pro Football Focus as the 40th ranked tackle in the league. That is 19 spots ahead of Michael Oher, who plays left tackle for the Panthers. In the AFC Championship Game against Denver, Vollmer gave up one sack and five quarterback hits. "Blind Side" protecting Cam Newton's actual blind side is something to focus on while Carolina works to establish its offense. One might expect that the Panthers will try to run the ball right at an edge player like Von Miller in order to "slow down" the pass rush for Denver, but Oher actually received the worst run blocking grade of any tackle that PFF has ever evaluated (over 600 in nine seasons) this year.
Most Important Defensive Player to a Panthers' Victory: Roman Harper, S
In the same ways I could have focused on the safeties of the Broncos in this section and instead went with an interior lineman, I could highlight Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei or Dwan Edwards here as well. Harper gets the nod though as an inconsistent safety who, despite often being the last line of defense, often sells out for the big play at the possible expense of giving up a big play. This also marks the second time Harper has been featured in this section after I discussed him six years ago with the Saints against the Colts. In that game, Harper had seven tackles and made two stops in the run game, yet he was targeted seven times and gave up six catches. That inconsistency is an actual issue for Harper, who as actually slightly better against the run than in coverage this season, yet was basically average at both. On the year, Harper graded positively by Pro Football Focus in eight games and negatively in nine games. With depleted depth at cornerback and facing a relatively balanced offense with multiple weapons (including Owen Daniels who starred in the Conference Championship Game), a safety who can react quickly and limit big plays from the opposition is going to be important. Harper should be healthy for this game, but he is still a major concern for the Panthers.
While it warrants monitoring, these are two of the healthiest Super Bowl teams that we have ever seen. For the Panthers, Jared Allen (DE), Roman Harper (S) and Thomas Davis (LB) are banged-up, yet should play. The team only lost two starters - Charles Tillman (CB) and Amini Silatolu (OG) during the season (plus Kelvin Benjamin, WR, before the year). Denver had a bit of a tenuous second half against New England after both safeties - T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart - were lost for the game, but both should play. Among starters, only Ty Sambrailo (who was filling in at tackle for Ryan Clady) was hurt during the year (plus David Bruton and Omar Bolden - two backup safeties and punt returners). Assuming the questionable players all play (which is the expectation), this looks like the healthiest Super Bowl in memory.
Well this has escalated quickly. In the look-ahead lines available before the conference championships took place, Carolina was installed as a three point favorite over Denver in this (at the time) hypothetical matchup.While doing press before the Conference Championship games, I actually thought that, if these teams both won, Carolina would be less of a favorite than that and we could see the game open at PK (zero spread) because that would mean that Denver would have just defeated the public darling New England Patriots. Despite the fluky nature of everything going right for the Panthers in back-to-back wins, their dominance on the scoreboard coupled with the public distrust of Peyton Manning (despite leading his team to the Super Bowl) has actually had the opposite effect.
Carolina opened as a consensus 4.5 point favorite and was immediately bet hard. The Panthers have received more than 70% of the action at every number and are now six point favorites in more than half of the books we track. A couple of items worth noting (in addition to the trends above and our own Trend Machine) include the fact that the Patriots were similarly bet by the public as favorites at Denver in the last game that they played and lost straight-up. Also, teams that score 40+ points in the playoffs are just 1-8-1 against-the-spread (10%) the next week in NFL history.
Six points may not be three or seven, but books do view it as a key number with wagering (third most likely margin of victory) so it will be tough to move off of that number and give in to the public wagering patterns. Many sharps (pro bettors) likely have already played Denver at +6, while almost every sharp would jump on +6.5 if it shows up. Save for injury or suspension news, we should settle with consensus at six or 5.5.
Super Bowl 50 Pages:
Super Bowl 50 Analysis
Super Bowl 50 Picks
Broncos vs. Panthers Projected Boxscore
Super Bowl 50 Props