2015 Season NFL Football Past Picks

February 07, 2016

07

Carolina vs. Denver

Sunday 02/07 06:30 PM Eastern

1 unit on Denver +6 (-105) (risk 1 to return 1.95)  RESULT: win

1 unit on Game Total OVER 44.5 -110 (risk 1 to return 1.91)  RESULT: loss

The Carolina Panthers were one bad game away from a perfect season. They enter this game at 17-1 on the season, winning games by an average of 13 points per game. They dismantled their two playoff foes, beating Seattle 31-24 (after opening a 31-0 lead in the first half) and they destroyed Arizona 49-15. This team has all the makings of a juggernaut.

Denver started the season 7-0, thanks to a defense that allowed just 12.7 points per game over that stretch. They then had a rocky stretch in which they went just 3-4. But, the Broncos finished strong winning four in a row, capped by a significant win over the favored Patriots in the AFC Championship game. While Denver had many close wins, their defense kept them in every game. 

The line on this game opened with Carolina as a 3.5 point favorite. It quickly moved as over 75% of the bets have been coming in on the Panthers. One well known Las Vegas bookmaker said this week that he has never seen such one sided action for a Super Bowl. As of right now the line is hovering between 5.5 and 6 points. It's no surprise that the Panthers are favored and getting the public's attention. Sports fans love offense and Carolina has plenty of it while Denver does not. Denver is ugly and defensive - and boring. Two years ago, a great defense (Seattle) crushed a great offense (Denver). Last year however, a great offense (New England) prevailed over a great defense. What will happen this year? Let's have a look...

How many points will the Panthers score?

The Panthers led the league in scoring, averaging 32.2 points per game. Cam Newton led an attack that was very hard to defend as this team scored 27+ points in 15 of 18 games including in 12 straight games at one point. They scored in the 30s or 40s ten times! While it's easy to get enamored with numbers like this, let's not forget about history. Two years ago the Denver Broncos led the league with 36.4 points per game, and scored 8 in the Super Bowl. The year before that, New England averaged 33.9 and scored just 16 in a Championship game loss to the Broncos. Four years ago, the Patriots were third in the league in scoring at 32.3 per game and managed just 17 in the Super Bowl in a loss to the Giants. The Pats were tops in the league in scoring the year prior and bowed out early vs. the Jets who held New England to 21 points. And while we are picking on the Patriots, who can forget the 2007-08 season that saw possibly the best offense in history put up just 14 points in a Super Bowl loss the Giants. The point is, great offenses often fail to meet expectations in the big game. In fact, since the 2000 Super Bowl, the number one offense in the league (teams averaging over 30 points per game), have covered the spread just twice in eight attempts. And one of those two was a near-miss last year. How many points did these amazing offenses that lead the league in scoring manage to put up in the Super Bowl? In the eight games, these juggernaut offenses managed just 19.1 points per game. Another bad omen for Carolina here is that they are facing a very good Broncos defense. Make no mistake - this is not the top defense in the league as you might hear a lot this week. Yes, they allowed the fewest yards, but yards don't win games. In terms of scoring defense, Denver was fourth in the league, allowing 18.3 points per game. Kansas City, Cincinnati and Seattle all allowed fewer points. The good news for Denver is that their defense has been improving, having allowed an average of 17.6 per game over their last seven games. The Broncos faced only one team this season with an elite offense that is close to Carolina's: the Patriots. In two games vs. New England, the Denver defense allowed an average of 21 points. Carolina faced just one elite defense this season (Seattle), having played the Seahawks twice. In those two games, the Panthers averaged 29 points. Denver allowed only one team this season to score 30+ (34 to Pittsburgh). However, the second time Denver faced Pittsburgh, the Broncos allowed just 16 points. We should also take into account that Peyton Manning threw 17 interceptions this season. Three of those were returned for touchdowns and some of the others gave opposing offenses great field position. So, this Denver defense is arguably better than the 18 points per game the team as a whole allowed. So, while it may seem on the surface that Carolina can put up 30+ points on anyone, this rarely happens in the Super Bowl. Just ask Peyton Manning and the Broncos how it goes in this game vs. an elite defense. In the end, I think Carolina is most likely to score in the mid 20s in this game.

How many points will the Broncos score?

My how things have changed. Two years ago Peyton Manning was at his pinnacle and the Broncos entered this game averaging 36.4 points per game. Things are a lot different this year as the Broncos have averaged just 22.1 points per game this season. Peyton Manning has more interceptions than touchdowns and this Broncos offense doesn't really scare anyone too much. The offense hasn't had much variance all season. They had three really bad games scoring 16, 12 and 13 points against the Chiefs and Raiders (twice). Notice something about those teams? They are both divisional foes and those games are often defensive battles as the two teams really know each other well. Denver did score over 25 points five times, but most of the time they were scoring right around their average in the low 20s. Carolina's defense is very good. They allowed 19.3 points per game, sixth best in the league. Their defense has been pretty consistent as well although over the past seven games, there was a lot of variance. They blanked one team and held two others to 15 and 10. But, they also allowed teams to put up 24, 35 and 38 points over this span. Clearly this defense is very good, but may be susceptible. When facing offenses similar to Denver's the Panthers allowed an average of 24.6 points per game this season. While it's not a large sample size, it appears as if Peyton Manning has changed his mindset and his game since returning from injury. He lost his starting gig and got a scare from Brock Osweiler. For a few weeks this season, it appeared as if Manning may never  see the field again. This may have put a scare into him. He seems to have realized he cannot do what he used to and he can't afford to take chances and turn the ball over. It's amazing that the Broncos won so many games early on with his turnovers. Since his recent return, he seems to be better managing the game and accepting his role as a game manager. Game managers with great defenses have had a lot of success in Super Bowls. Yes, at this point in his career, Manning is throwing wobbly ducks. But, he seems to have adjusted when/where he throws them and they are simply being completed, thanks in part to stellar receivers that create space. As ugly as some of his passes look, it's not a style contest. If he can avoid turning the ball over by trying to do too much, Denver has a good chance at putting up points here. The most likely scenario here in my mind is that Denver scores in the low 20s. 

Based on my analysis of the numbers, this total was set about right from the start and the line opened about right. But now the line has moved to a point where there is value on Denver. Again, great offenses have a history of getting humbled by great defenses in the Super Bowl. Wade Phillips will have had two weeks to prepare for Cam Newton. I know, Cam is a special talent that can run and throw. Well, so was Colin Kaepernick in 2013, and his team lost as a favorite. 

I think the oddsmakers felt that the correct spread in this game was about a field goal. They opened it slightly higher than that, knowing the public was going to pound the offensive-minded favorite that had just dismantled two teams en route to this game. Let's not forget however that Carolina was outscored 24-0 in the second half of the Divisional Championship game after Seattle woke up (the game started at 10AM Pacific time). And, while the Panthers did beat Arizona 49-15, the Cardinals turned the ball over 7 times in that game. Do you know how teams that turn it over that much have done? They are 1-56 straight-up. I am not saying Carolina wouldn't win that game if the turnovers were even, but it would be a very different margin of victory, leading to a lower spread in this game.

If Denver wins the turnover battle, I think they a decent shot at winning this game. If they don't lose it, I think they stay within this number at a minimum. I'm going with ugly defense over spectacular offense. Anything can happen here as we saw last year. But in the end, I believe the value is on the Broncos as underdogs. If you wait until Saturday or Sunday, you very well may see +6.5 or even +7 on this because 80% of the public bets come in over the weekend and they are going to be on Carolina. Given that I have to release now, I'm measuring myself on the +6 line available now. Even if it stays at +6, that's significant as the line has moved on/over two key numbers (4 and 6). I am also recommending a play on the OVER. Carolina is 19-6 OVER vs. winning teams since the arrival of Ron Rivera including 9-0 the past two seasons. I think Denver finds a way to score enough here to push this game OVER the total.

Take Denver and the OVER on the full-game picks.


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