This pick was released to clients on August 15, 2012 at 3:37PM ET.
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Carolina at New England

February 1, 2004
img6:25 PM Eastern
Premium Pick
4 units on New England -7 (-110) (risk 4 to return 7.64)
Result:
LOSS

Who would’ve thought we’d see Carolina in the Super Bowl two years after their 1-15 2001 season? I’ll admit I didn’t call that one. I didn’t call the fact that Carolina would run the table on the road in this year’s playoffs, either. But here they are, one win away from being crowned the best NFL team in 2003.

 

New England has been on a tear, winning 14 in a row. They enter this game with the league’s best defense. Head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel have built a defense that held two of the league’s top offenses to just 14 points each over the past two weeks. Coming into those games, Indianapolis was averaging 39 points per playoff game (31.9 per game overall) and Tennessee was putting up 29.4. While not as good statistically as the 2001 Ravens or last year’s Tampa Bay Bucs, this defense is awesome. Since week six of the regular season, they’ve given up just 12 points per game.

 

Carolina can play D, too. In fact, in looking strictly at games played away from their home fields, Carolina actually outshines the Pats. Carolina allowed just 17.4 points per game on the road this year versus 21 points given up by New England away from Foxboro. Jake Delhomme has been brilliant, if not flashy, in the playoffs. This team doesn’t ask a lot of him but he does what it takes to win. The Panthers resemble Super Bowl winners of recent past in several ways. In 2001, Baltimore won with a good defense and a quarterback that wasn’t asked to win games by himself. Carolina also resembles the Patriots of 2001, coming out of nowhere with an unknown but poised quarterback to win the Super Bowl as a two-touchdown favorite.

 

While most people feel that New England should win the game, the big question is whether they’ll cover the spread. New England won just one road game this year by 7 points or more while Carolina lost just twice all season by 7+ points. But New England has some strong intangibles including a 14-game win streak, the experience of having been here before, and two weeks of preparation with mastermind Bill Belichick.

 

As I did last year, I’ll break my analysis down into four key areas: Offense, Defense, Matchups and Intangibles.

 

- OFFENSE -
New England Offense (rank):
Points: #12
Total Yards: #17
Rushing Yards: #27
Passing Yards: #9
-versus all defenses: 333 yards / 21.6 points per game
-versus Top 10 defenses: 323 yards / 20.9 points per game
-versus Top 5 defenses: 334 yards / 26.3 points per game

 

Carolina Offense (rank):
Points: #15
Total Yards: #16
Rushing Yards: #7
Passing Yards: #18
-versus all defenses: 339 yards / 20.9 points per game
-versus Top 10 defenses: 326 yards / 21.7 points per game
-versus Top 5 defenses: 303 yards / 25.3 points per game

 

These teams have similar mediocre offenses. New England’s strength is passing while Carolina does it on the ground. Both of these teams play slightly better against top defenses. New England has a slight edge due to Tom Brady. He completes 60% of passes and makes very few mistakes. He is cool under pressure and flat out wins games. In his career, Brady is 26-4 SU in November and December including a perfect playoff record.
-> Overall Edge = New England

 


- DEFENSE -
Carolina Defense (rank):
Points: #10
Total Yards: #8
Rush Yards: #11
Pass Yards: #9
-versus all offenses: 303 yards / 17.9 points per game
-versus Top 10 passing offenses: 359 yards / 20.5 points per game

 

New England Defense (rank):
Points: #1
Total Yards: #7
Rush Yards: #4
Pass Yards: #15
-versus all offenses: 304 yards / 14.8 points per game
-versus Top 10 rushing offenses: 322 yards / 18.3 points per game

Carolina’s defense suffered slightly against good passing teams while New England’s defense performed slightly worse against good rushing teams. The Patriots have the stingiest defense in the league while Carolina’s is solid an improving. Since week 6, New England is allowing just 12 points per game and has 3 shutouts. Last week they held Indianapolis and co-MVP Peyton Manning, who was averaging 39 points per playoff game, to just 14 points. The week before that, they held the other half of the MVP duo to just 14 points. These two teams were averaging 31.9 and 29.4, respectively, before meeting the brick wall Patriot D! However, New England gave up over 21 points per game away from home this year, more than Carolina’s 17.4 road points-against. Did you know that of the 12 Super Bowl teams who led the league in defense, 10 won the game?
-> Overall Edge = New England

 


- MATCHUPS -
...When New England has the Ball:
Points: New England Offense #12, Carolina Defense #10: Edge = Even
Total Yards: New England Offense #17, Carolina Defense #8: Edge = Carolina
Rushing Yards: New England Offense #27, Carolina Defense #11: Edge = Carolina
Passing Yards: New England Offense #9, Carolina Defense #9: Edge = Even
-> Edge = Carolina

 

...When Carolina has the Ball:
Points: Carolina Offense #15, New England Defense #1: Edge = New England
Total Yards: Carolina Offense #16, New England Defense #7: Edge = New England
Rushing Yards: Carolina Offense #7, New England Defense #4: Edge = Even
Passing Yards: Carolina Offense #18, New England Defense #15: Edge = Even
-> Edge = New England

 

New England allowed just one running back, Clinton Portis, to rush for 100 yards. Will Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster have a huge day? Not likely. How about the surging Jake Delhomme? He is not a mobile quarterback which doesn’t bode well for Carolina. The Panthers are a big play passing offense. If Marvin Harrison and the explosive Indianapolis passing game couldn’t handle New England’s aggressive-play, how will Carolina? The Panthers will struggle to move the ball all day long.
-> Overall Edge = New England

 


- COMMON OPPONENTS / STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE –
These two teams shared four opponents this season: Houston, Indy, Jacksonville, Tennessee. Carolina went 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS, with a combined score of 74-94. New England, on the other hand went 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS, with combined score of 126-97. The Pats clearly played better against these four teams. In addition, New England played a tougher schedule this year, especially in the playoffs. In the postseason, Carolina faced the Cowboys with Quincy Carter, the Rams with a slumping Marc Bulger and Philadelphia. Meanwhile, New England had to deal with the co-MVPs of the league back-to-back and shut down two of the highest-powered and hottest offenses in the league. McNair and Manning were the #1 and #2 rated quarterbacks averaging a 99.7 passer rating. The average passer rating for Carter, Bulger and McNabb was just 77.5. Both teams have obviously done well in the postseason but I am much more impressed by New England’s ability to stifle the hottest offenses and biggest stars in the league.
-> Overall Edge = New England

 


- INTANGIBLES -
Give me Belichick and two weeks prep and I’ll give you a likely point-spread winner. This guy knows how to scheme and prepare his team. He knows how to put together a game plan that wreaks havoc on opposing offenses, especially quarterbacks. I also give a slight intangible edge to New England for the fact that they are repeat visitors to the big game. They’ve been through this and know they can win. Carolina, despite what they say, has to be somewhat happy just to be here. These two weeks leading up to the Bowl have been the most stressful of their lives. There have been 16 prior Super Bowls in which a team playing its first Bowl is facing an opponent with recent prior Super Bowl experience. The team in its first big “show” is just 4-11 ATS.

 

We all know that turnovers play a huge role in the outcome of any NFL game. The problem is that they are not predictable. But wait. The Patriots lead the league in turnover differential (+17) while the Panthers gave the ball away more than they took it (-5). Jake Delhomme, despite his great recent performance, can be accident-prone. He threw nearly an interception a game this year (17 in 19 games). The Pats led the league in interceptions with 29 in the regular season and 5 more in two postseason games (against the league’s top two QBs no less). A few Delhomme interceptions, if they happen, will make for an easy Patriots cover.
-> Overall Edge = New England

 


- THE BOTTOM LINE -
The Patriots are on a 14-game winning streak. They have the league’s best defense, one of its best quarterbacks with a track record for winning big games, and a lot of confidence. The Patriots are 7-0 straight-up (6-1 ATS) this year against fellow playoff teams.

 

Part of me worries about Carolina is that they have shown an ability for the upset win. They resemble in a lot of ways the Patriots of two years ago. Anybody’s power ratings indicate that this game should be won by New England by only a field goal or less.

 

However, there is just too much pointing the way of the Patriots for me. I believe the Pats have too strong a defense, too skilled a quarterback, and too good a coach to not win this game. And, out of the 36 prior Super Bowls, only 5 teams have won without also covering the spread.

 

I also have several Super Bowl systems that I use to analyze the big game every year. My first system, which looks at a number of variables across offense, defense, special teams and intangibles, is 27-3 ATS. My second system, which focuses on winning percentage and postseason play-to-date is 19-3 ATS. Both of these systems pick the Pats to cover the spread.

 

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