Carolina Panthers (1) v Denver Broncos (1)
Start-time: Sunday 7 February, 23:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports and the BBC
The two teams arrive in Santa Clara on the back of two very different seasons. The Panthers have cruised to a 17-1 record, losing that one game in Atlanta by a TD in a total let down game. Apart from that they've blown teams away or been so far ahead, they've taken their foot off the gas and allowed their opponents to make a game of it. On the other side though they played a very weak schedule, they've beaten four playoff teams but three of them were Washington, Houston and Green Bay all at home, the win in Seattle was by far the best they had.
Carolina pass the eye-test with flying colours. The last two times we've seen them they were 31-0 up on Seattle before they went for a second-half nap and then they just took Arizona apart. Whilst many people were very impressed by the Panthers, many just wonder if it was more Carolina's greatness or a total egg laid by Arizona. I'm in the latter camp.
Cam Newton is going to rightly be the regular season MVP. He is playing the quarterback position to the oh so fabled, 'elite' level at the moment. He runs the option better than any other QB in the business. He can also throw the ball 50 yards down the field on a laser. You can't knock his play at the moment yet on Sunday he will face by far the best defense he's seen all season.
There has been lots of talk about his offensive line, who have been great this season. Can they hold up against the power and edge rush of Denver's D-line? This might be the key to the whole game. We saw Denver pummel Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game. They were able to pressure New England's QB with just a three man rush on several occasions, dropping eight men into coverage. If they can do that in the Super Bowl, they are right in it.
Continuing this theme, the big question is will Denver employ a spy from its linebacker corps on Newton? If they are getting pressure with three or even four, then they will be able to free up a player to follow his movements to stop his galloping runs. This is something to watch on the first series closely for those who are going to bet in-play.
Denver's offensive issues are well known, they aren't going to blow any team away. The high point of the season has been 31 points in Kansas City (and seven of them came on a fumble recovery for a score by the D). Carolina scored more than 31 points eight times in the regular season, they also scored 31 and 49 in their two playoff games. This is scary for the punter looking to back Denver.
Yet this is why I find hope for Denver, they play close games and they win more than they lose. They are 14-4 with their four reversals coming by an aggregate of 29 points, 16 of them coming in that Kansas City game where Peyton Manning was playing on one foot. This is another key for in-play punters, if this game is close, Denver know how to win close games, Carolina don't.
I'm not enamoured with Denver's offense at all, can CJ Anderson and/or Ronnie Hillman get a running game going? I'm not convinced. Can Manning make a few throws to keep the offense moving? Sure. Can he carry the offense? No chance. Do I believe the receivers will catch anything and everything thrown in their direction? No I don't. Yet still they win games and somehow find a way, this is a great trait for any team, in any sport.
Now on to the bets...
First TD/Anytime TD scorer
The thing that stands out in this market is both Denver and Carolina's D/Special Teams are available at 18/1 to score the first TD. You have to like both of these numbers. Both defenses are super and nerves will be high early. Defenses always settle down quicker than offenses in big games, so if you want two value bets, take both at 18/1 for a small play.
When looking at the favourites, Cam Newton is 8/1 to open up the scoring and that is fair. I would expect an early dose of option from Carolina to see how Denver will defend. He's Even money to score at any time. With five rushing score in his past four games, that looks a good bet to me. For Denver I have this weird gut feel pick of Virgil Green at 50/1. I just think Peyton Manning will use his tight ends and whilst Green will be the #2 TE target, that is far too big a price.
The over/under line has been set at 45.5 and I like that line. We'll know very early how this game will go, if Denver's D are able to slow down Carolina then this is going to be a tough, low-scoring affair of the type Denver love. A lot of support is going on the unders here which surprises me and I'm one of the biggest Denver D fans around. I have said all season long that they are a Super Bowl calibre D and potentially an all-time defense. They should have everyone healthy and two weeks to game plan. I'm talking myself into the under 45.5 points and indeed I've done it. This is currently at 9/10 on the Sportsbook.
The spread opened at Carolina -3.5, it has moved to -4.5, -5.5, -4.5 and as of the time of writing it is back at Carolina -5.5. The money is all piling in on Carolina, with Vegas reporting that over 85% of all bets in this market are on the Panthers, but many shrewd punters are thought to be waiting to pile on to Denver late hoping for -6.5. If you are giving the leagues best defenses points on a neutral field then you really have no respect. Also here is a stat for you all, the favourites have a 5-14-1 record against the spread in the last 20 Super Bowls. I'm very much on Denver on the spread with 5.5 points.
Here we go, the straight up pick. Do I have the balls to pick Denver to win without the cushion of the points? I would love to be able to pick this game for this preview say midway through the 2Q. I see either a Carolina blow out if Denver can't stop the option or a one score game with the result in the balance up until the final drive.
Carolina are better on offense by a considerable distance, they are better on special teams, they aren't as good on defense but they are only a small distance behind the Broncos on that front. All logic points to the Panthers lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy. I want to pick Carolina, I really do but they are 1.454/9 on the Exchange whereas Denver are 3.1511/5 and that is too long. Denver are battle tested and they keep winning games that they aren't meant to.
If you are the type of punter who looks at just the numbers then back Carolina, but I'm not that person. I look at the intangibles. I'm doing it, I'm going with Denver in the upset and the storybook ending for Peyton Manning. That 1.454/9 Carolina win price is just too short. This will be a fun game to bet in-play so watch the game on the BBC or Sky Sports and have that Betfair App open on your mobile and tablet!
2pt Back Cam Newton to score anytime at Evens on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Carolina defense/special teams to score the first TD at 18/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Denver defense/special teams to score the first TD at 18/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Virgil Green to score the first TD at 50/1 on the Sportsbook
2pt Back under 45.5 total points at 9/10 on the Sportsbook
3pt Back Denver with 5.5 points at 20/23 on the Sportsbook
3pt Back Denver to score the longest FG at 5/6 on the Sportsbook
2pt Back Denver to win straight up at 3.1511/5 on the Exchange