Cam Newton can cement one of the greatest seasons in NFL history with a win Sunday. (Photo courtesy Anthonysc1988)
The 2016 NFL season comes to an end tonight in Super Bowl 50 as the Broncos take on the Panthers. The Panthers opened as a 3.5 point favorite in most places before running up to as high as 6 as bettors loved the 15-1 team led by the NFL’s MVP. It’s dropped to 5.5 now, but Carolina is still the overwhelming favorite. And it’s not hard to see why – Peyton Manning is a shell of his former self and the Broncos offense doesn’t even resemble the 2013 juggernaut. But the Broncos now mirror the team that beat them in that Super Bowl two years ago. The Denver defense is first in DVOA by a fairly significant margin and they’re the best defense by DVOA SINCE the 2013 Seahawks. They’re the under-the-radar story of Super Bowl 50 and I really think we need to pay more attention to this unit, especially since their position as a six-point underdog isn’t a place they often find themselves.
The 5.5 point spread is the largest in a Super Bowl since the Steelers were 6.5 point favorites over the Cardinals seven years ago. And if you look through the historic trends over at Sports Insights, you’ll see some pretty underwhelming numbers for big favorites. Only two favorites of four or more points have covered since the Broncos last championship in Super Bowl 33 – the 2005 Steelers and 2006 Colts (led by Peyton Manning of course). And there’s a good chance that Steelers win was rigged.
So how to bet Super Bowl 50? I’m going with Denver +5.5. This is a historically great defense taking on an offense that’s fairly pedestrian at the skill positions outside Cam Newton. Jonathan Stewart is a solid running back and Greg Olsen is one of the NFL’s best tight ends, but Carolina’s receivers are at a glaring disadvantage against Denver’s corners. Carolina doesn’t mind keeping in extra guys to block, but Denver’s pass rush has made quarterbacks’ lives hell in the playoffs. The Panthers coaching staff needs to find creative ways to get Corey Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. the ball because they won’t be beating Aqib Talib and Chris Harris very often. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see Harris matched up against Greg Olsen a few times.
I’m expecting a low-scoring game and a Carolina win wouldn’t surprise me, but 5.5 points is too much to lay in the Super Bowl against this Denver defense. Peyton Manning has figured out how to cut down on the turnovers so far and if he keeps hitting only guys in orange jerseys, they should be able to move the ball. But neither offense is loaded with weapons and I think punters and kickers are getting a workout tonight. The winner of the game isn’t really important when the number’s this big, but let’s go all the way with it and say 24-20 Broncos win. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you know the NFL wants to see Peyton Manning ride off into the sunset with a second championship. Plus a world where Eli Manning has more rings than Peyton isn’t one I’m really comfortable living in.
The Panthers had a hell of a run and Cam Newton is only going to get more fun to watch as they add better receivers around him, but I think they’ll come up just short. Either way, it’s going to be close so just take the points and enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday. Betting on the underdog is more fun anyway.