THE BIG PICTURE
The Carolina Panthers arrive in Santa Clara as the favourites to round off a memorable season and lift their first ever Vince Lombardi. Ron Rivera’s squad finished the season 15-1 and with probable MVP Cam Newton in control of the offence, they are well fancied to win Super Bowl 50.
They carried their regular season form into the playoffs too. Against Seattle, Carolina raced out to a 31-0 lead, eventually holding on to win 31-24 after a sloppy second half. However against Arizona it was a complete blowout, a 49-15 beatdown of the NFC West Champions.
Denver meanwhile have had a rollercoaster ride to arrive in the big dance. Peyton Manning was very ineffective early in the season as seemingly his age caught up to him, throwing 17 interceptions against only nine touchdowns before he excited the starting lineup due to a foot injury. The defence however has carried the Broncos right through the year, with a dominant defensive line led by superstar pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Vonn Miller. In their conference win against New England, Wade Phillips was able to deploy just a three-man rush against Tom Brady and even then they were still getting to the Michigan-alum.
The offensive problems are well documented for Manning and the Broncos in what could be the future-hall-of-famer’s final game on an NFL gridiron. The medium to deep ball power has extremely diminished for the former Colt, while his receivers had a bout of the drops last time out against the Patriots. Because of their dominant, top-ranked defence however, Manning has become a game-manager, looking after the ball and not forcing throws or turning the ball over. Field position will be a huge factor to this game and Denver have a very capable punter in Britton Colquitt.
Onto the selections then and first up the spread. Initially the line opened at 3.5, but that is long gone and has now climbed to 5.5 as all the public money has come steaming into Carolina. The advice would be to wait till Sunday and hope for more support for Carolina. If the line reaches 6.5 or hopefully a straight 7, you’d have to take the points as it is. The best defence in the league shouldn’t be such a big ‘dog in such a huge contest.
When we talk of Denver’s fantastic defence, the Carolina squad is barely a step behind. Luke Kuchely’s name was certainly in the Defensive MVP talk and though Thomas Davis has a broken arm, he will still be lining up alongside Kuchely. We should get a good grasp on how the game is going to go early doors. If Denver can control the strong run game of Carolina (which I think they can) then the under 44.5 certainly comes into play. A scorline of 24-20 or 23-17 is in the realms of possibility here and that would see the under click.
More of a fun interest bet than anything else, this gives non-serious punters a way to cheer on one team or player so let’s select one per side. Before we do however, get a few quid on each Defence/Special Teams to score first. Given the strength of each defence and the possibility of early nerves we could get a run for our money. Add in the fact that Ted Ginn is one of the best returners in the game, then we have a number of chances. A defensive/special teams score in the game is also in play. Anyway for Denver, it was Owen Daniels who opened the scoring a fortnight ago and he is capable again. With Manning’s lack of arm strength he looked down the seam a lot and if he can get matched up with a banged up Davis he could come through. For Carolina, we’ll go with their tight end Gregg Olsen. He is Newton’s favourite target and outside of Gronkowski, has been the best player at his position all season.
You’re not going to get rich on the props market with most selections 10/11 but it does give you a player interest in the game. Let’s start with the Panthers and their rushing attack. Jonathan Stewart has tallied 19 rushing attempts or more in 10-of-11 games following Carolina’s Week 5 bye, including both playoff games, so take the over 18.5 attempts. SuperCam 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 run than the Broncos this season, so the over 38.5 yards is in play. Passing-wise, Greg Olsen notched 6 catches in each playoff game so far and Hills have evens about 6 or more again on Sunday. With a tough pass rush Cam will be looking to get the ball out quick and given the tight matchups on the outside, Olsen should once again be his favoured target.
Another tough Super Bowl to pick after last year’s contest which started as a pick em. Much like the players for the Broncos, punters need to forgot the memory of the Super Bowl two years ago against Seattle if you are with Peyton Manning and co. That day the Broncos were favoured against the upstart Seahawks and were blown away. Many people are doubting Carolina and trying to crab the form so to speak but they feel eerily similar to that Seattle team two years ago. However that said, after seeing the Denver defence control Brady and learning off their past experiences of Russell Wilson, they will be able to control Newton enough to manage the game and send Peyton Manning into retirement with his second Super Bowl ring.
SELECTIONS (at time of writing):
Denver +6 pts @ 4/5 – Bet 365
Under 44.5 pts @ 20/21 – Ladbrokes
Denver D/ST 1st Touchdown @ 25/1 – Sky Bet
Carolina D/ST 1st Touchdown @ 22/1 – Sky Bet
Owen Daniels 1st Touchdown @ 16/1 – Ladbrokes/Coral/William Hill
Greg Olsen 1st Touchdown @ 10/1 – Paddy Power/Ladbrokes/William Hill
Jonathan Stewart over 18.5 Rush Attempts @ 10/11 – William Hill
Cam Newton over 38.5 Rushing yards @ 5/6 – Paddy Power
Greg Olsen Over 5.5 Receptions @ Evs – William Hill
Denver To Win @ 2/1 –Ladbrokes