There’s no better place to start a Super Bowl 50 betting preview than with the betting line. It opened at CAR -3.5, but has since ballooned up by two points and might double by the time we get to kick-off on Sunday. Everyone is taking the Panthers, but a small faction is siding with the point cushion the Broncos are boasting.
Breaking down a Super Bowl 50 betting preview isn’t easy from two standpoints. First off, about a bazillion people are writing about this game. The second part is that anyone who has half a brain and watched Carolina this season knows that they’re the better team in this game.
Let’s be frank about this. The Broncos own an advantage on defense when it comes to the tale of the tape, but the Panthers have a clear advantage when it comes to offense. Carolina was the second best scoring team in the league this year, and have continued to put up huge numbers in the playoffs. Denver, meanwhile, is a shell of what it was two seasons ago.
That’s why a ton of action is standing behind Cam Newton and the Panthers in this one. Are there any reasons to bet on Denver? That’s actually a pretty good place to start.
REASONS TO BET THE UNDERDOG
There are a lot more reasons to bet on Denver than you might imagine, but a lot of them have to do with the historical background of the Super Bowl itself. This becomes problematic because of context.
Last week, I wrote about how the top defense in the NFL performs when playing a varied set of offensive opponents. Some offences were ranked tops in the league. Some weren’t. The point is that the top ranked defense almost always came out on top. Going by history, betting on Denver’s defense is a really good idea, but it doesn’t foretell the story of this particular game, nor does it encompass a complete Super Bowl 50 betting preview.
I’m not saying that using history as a guiding light is a terrible idea. But I’m also not suggesting that it’s a great one. In fact, I routinely advocate against leverages based on trends out of context in betting. But if you are, then Denver suddenly becomes the team to back because they’re not favored.
The underdog is 10-4-1 ATS in the last 15 Super Bowls. This includes flat out upsets, like Seattle crushing Peyton’s first iteration of the Broncos, Flacco’s Ravens outlasting a strongly favored 49ers team led by Kaepernick and the Giants capsizing the Patriots twice as both a small dog and a major underdog.
This might entice you to thunder to the book and bet heavily on the Broncos as the line starts to grow in to a small chasm between them and the Panthers. But it’s not that simple.
In the case that an underdog loses the game outright, only two have covered the spread. These include Arizona +4.5 over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLII during the greatest game ever, and Philadelphia’s Donavan McNabb gassing out in the two minute-drill during Super Bowl XXXIX. The Eagles were +7.0 dogs in that game, and lost 24-21.
If we’re doing just basic arithmetic, that means that the Broncos have a very small chance of losing this game and covering the spread (just 13% out of the last 15 Super Bowls). They have a far greater chance of just pulling off the straight upset based on recent history. That being said, it’s just +170 on the moneyline to grab Denver right now. That doesn’t feel like a tremendous bang for your buck.
Betting on Denver doesn’t seem like a great idea in general. But betting on the underdog has never seemed like a great idea to begin with when it comes to the Super Bowl. You could make a case that taking the points in Super Bowl 50 betting is a great idea.
But that belies the intrinsic details of this matchup.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE TURNOVER BATTLE
Including the playoffs, Cam Newton has thrown 11 interceptions on 545 pass attempts. That’s about one pick every 49 passes or so, which would gave him the same type of error-free consistency as guys like Philip Rivers. As we’ve been told over and over again (by guys like me), Newton’s pretty damn good. That doesn’t tell the entire story about the upcoming turnover battle.
Carolina lost 5 of 9 fumbles this season, which is astonishing given that they led the league with 526 rushing attempts. To put this in perspective, Buffalo had 509 rush attempts and 10 fumbles (2 lost), while Seattle spilled 8 possessions on 501 attempts (4 lost). What does this mean? It basically tells you that the league’s best rushing teams are able to secure the football way more often than they aren’t. This is a standard assumption, but it speaks to a larger point in Super Bowl 50 betting.
You simply can’t bank on the idea that Carolina’s going to cough up a turnover. They had one of the most insane turnover differentials in league history, with a mark of +20. They were the only team that had a differential in double digits (Cincinnati and Kansas City were the other two). Denver’s mark is -4.
One of the reasons I bring this up is because anyone that’s backing Denver is doing so because of their defense. They’re fantastic at preventing yards and getting to the passer, but they’re only slightly above average when it comes to generating turnovers. Denver was tied for 7th with 27 turnovers this season (14 picks, 13 fumbles). The team they were tied with was the New York Giants, which only put them one turnover ahead of teams like the Rams, Eagles and Redskins.
Denver managed to cut down on the offensive interceptions later on in the season after Peyton Manning stopped playing. Upon his return, Manning stopped throwing interceptions, which is a really good thing. He hasn’t thrown a pick in his last three starts. The problem? He started generating fumbles. He’s had one against both Pittsburgh and New England, though the Steelers weren’t able to recover theirs.
Carolina led the entire league in takeaways this season with 39, a mark only touched by Arizona’s 33. They picked off teams 24 times and created 15 fumbles. If any defense is going to create a momentum shifting turnover in this game, it’s the Carolina Panthers and not the Denver Broncos.
You can still bet on Denver’s defense for a wide variety of reasons, but it’s not because of the turnover battle. That’s one that Carolina can and should win because their semi-conservative, downhill style of offence makes them less prone to turnovers of any sort.
Take away the turnover factor, and Denver’s defense becomes less of an impact on Super Bowl 50 betting.
DENVER’S DEFENSE IS GREAT, BUT NOT LEGENDARY
Let’s not kid ourselves in to believing that Denver’s defense can shut down Carolina permanently. I’d be outright shocked if that happened. They’re one of the top defenses when it comes to blitzing quarterbacks, but Cam Newton is a completely different force of nature.
Without getting hyperbolic about it, I’d like to instead turn your attention to the recent playoffs. Do you know why Denver was able to average a playoff leading 17.5 points against so far? Because they played one dimensional teams.
Pittsburgh averaged 24.3 carries per game during the regular season, which is actually relatively normal for them since they use Le’Veon Bell on a ton of dump offs (that’s why he’s fantasy). Without him, Roethlisberger had to essentially take over completely without a real safety valve. By the time they played Denver, the Steelers were running an undrafted, fourth stringer. Pittsburgh ended up attempting 19 rushes for 85 yards while gaining 311 passing yards.
Then came New England, a team that averaged 23.9 carries on the year. Against Denver, they attempted 17 rushes, gained 44 yards and pretty much didn’t try to run the ball in the second half. It became easy for Denver to script their defense against them because they knew Brady was going to throw it. They also completely manhandling the Patriots in the trenches, allowing the front four to run blitzes with Von Miller running over top. It worked magnificently.
The Broncos don’t have that luxury against Carolina. You have to stuff so many guys in to the box against the Panthers to stop their league leading rushing attack that it’s impossible to account for Greg Olsen and their receivers accordingly. Sure, it’s not a great bunch of pass catchers outside of Olsen, but Denver’s going to have to be honest throughout the game.
The Broncos can’t run four guys at Cam Newton with two spies overtop at linebacker. It just won’t work. They’re a very talented collection of players, but they’re ill-suited to stop a unique attack that’s based around an atypical quarterback.
Even if you’re being optimistic about Wade Phillips dialing up something completely out of this world for Cam Newton, it’s stupid to believe that the Panthers won’t earn yards somehow. And that sets up one of the x-factors of Super Bowl 50 betting that everyone is readily ignoring.
THE PANTHERS SECRET WEAPON
In their back pocket, the Panthers have Graham Gano who was one of the most reliable field goal kickers from distance. He went 13-of-16 between 40-49 yards. He was also 2-for-4 from 50+ and has a season long of 52 yards. If Carolina is ready to give their defense a chance to shine against Peyton Manning, they’ll happily take the three points any time they‘re forced to. Gano is that good.
I still don’t think he’s better than Gostkowski or Tucker, and he wasn’t as statistically great as Dan Bailey was this season. But Gano is up there. But is he any better than his counterpart in Denver?
Brandon McManus booted 30-of-35 field goals through the uprights this season and was tested often in crucial moments. He went 5-of-8 from 40+ and 5-of-7 from 50+. The problem with McManus’s numbers is that he played half of his games at Mile High. Of his 15 attempts from 40 or more yards out, he only made three when he wasn’t using the absurd advantage handed to him by the altitude of Sports Authority Field. That’s not great. Especially when he’s only making two-thirds of his longer tests to begin with.
By the numbers, the teams in the Super Bowl have equal kickers, but Gano is a much safer component to invest in. You’re not going to go buck wild because Gano plays at sea level more often, but it should nudge you in the same direction as the oddsmakers. It’s not like McManus can’t perform unless he’s at Mile High, but the Broncos also lose a suspicious amount of faith in his leg whenever they travel.
IS DENVER READY TO GAMBLE THE SAME WAY CAROLINA DOES
This is the ultimate question with Super Bowl 50 betting. We know that the Carolina Panthers aren’t scared of making mistakes, and that confidence is part of the reason why they turned over the ball so little this season. Riverboat Ron became a Coach of the Year winner when he started rolling the dice on fourth downs, while allowing Cam Newton to walk the tighrope between “hero” and “zero.” There’s no doubt that the Panthers are going to do everything they can to win this game.
The question is whether or not Denver has the balls to push themselves past their own limitations. A lot of this comes down to Peyton Manning, who might already be shell shocked after getting blown out by the Seattle Seahawks just two years ago.
One of the things that became apparent in the New England game is that Manning’s arm strength wears off as a game goes on, and this is perhaps the biggest reason that people are adamant about Carolina in Super Bowl 50 betting. A standout secondary, coupled with an overly aggressive defensive line, can haunt Peyton Manning in a big way.
Manning will have to throw the ball at a high rate if Carolina bursts out to an early lead the same way they did against Arizona and Seattle. Should that be the case, Carolina is just as primed to force him in to bad decisions as you might expect.
The only way that Denver can underutilize Manning and still win is if the Denver defense completely stifles Carolina. Truth be told, I just don’t see that happening. If you haven’t see it already, I’m pulling for a Carolina win and cover in Super Bowl 50 betting. I believe that they’re one of the best teams I’ve seen in a long, long time. At the very least, they’re the most unique contender in a decade.
What this game will come down to is the ability of the quarterback to take risks. Peyton Manning has so little left in the tank that we wonder if his truck will reach the end of the Road to the Super Bowl. Manning under pressure has never been a good thing, and it’s even more harrowing given how drastically his measurables have fallen of this season. Forcing anything against Carolina has proven to be a terrible idea. Carson Palmer’s conference championship performance can attest to that.
Despite every measurable leaning towards Carolina, there are still reasons to bet on Denver. For all the reasons I’ve listed, however, Carolina is by far the smarter play to make in Super Bowl 50 betting. You can launch a prayer on Peyton becoming something he hasn’t been for a year and a half, or you can back the next, great quarterback of this generation.
As always the choice is yours, but you might as well win some money off the dawn of a new era in football as the career of the great Peyton Manning writes its final chapter. Very rarely do tragic ending have happy beginnings.
Super Bowl 50 is going to be something special.