Super Bowl 50, Part Two: So Who Wins the Big Game? Depends On What the Bet Is…

SuperBowl50

After two weeks of hype, waiting, practice and some drama – people tried to turn Panthers QB Cam Newton’s “black quarterback” comments into a controversy, without much success, and the Broncos practice team player S Ryan Murphy was sent back to Denver (and will probably be cut from the team at first opportunity) after being questioned in a prostitution sting – we’ve actually come to the point where the teams will actually play the game. The Carolina Panthers, the champions of the NFC, will square off against the Denver Broncos, the victors of the AFC, to determine who will receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the 50th time in the National Football League’s history. The two teams that have made it this far have definitely shown they are worthy contenders for the crown.

For the Carolina Panthers, if you would have told them in Training Camp they would be playing in the Super Bowl, they would have thanked you. Coming off a 7-8-1 season – although the champions of the NFC South – the Panthers weren’t exactly scaring anyone. The team had let RB DeAngelo Williams go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, preferring to stick with Jonathan Stewart as the full-time running back, and during Training Camp lost their electrifying WR Kelvin Benjamin to a devastating knee injury. While Newton was a known commodity, it was expected that the Panthers would have some difficulties doing much of anything with a revamped offensive line, a no-name wide receiving corps and a suspect defensive unit.

For the Denver Broncos, it almost seemed as if this was their final shot. After being crushed by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos came back and won the AFC West again with a 12-4 record. After taking their first round bye, however, they were upset in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year by QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. This led to the firing of John Fox, the hiring of new head coach Gary Kubiak and the “now or never” approach as QB Peyton Manning entered his third year at the helm of the Broncos and they came into this season with questions lingering about his health.

As they always say, that’s why they play the game. Carolina rocketed off on a 14-game winning streak, only losing to the Atlanta Falcons on the road late in the season, before righting the ship and beating their last three opponents (last regular season game against lowly Tampa Bay and two postseason games against Seattle and Arizona) by a combined 118-49 score. Denver, despite losing Manning for more than a quarter of the year, rode the #1 defense in the NFL to a punishing victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

In taking a look at Super Bowl 50, we’re going to break down the offense, the defense, the special teams and the coaching. Then we’ll reveal our all-important pick…but be assured, there’s many ways to win on Super Bowl Sunday.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks – When it comes to the men running the teams, it is difficult to say who has the edge. Athleticism definitely would go to Newton, but experience would by far go to Manning. Both fit perfectly into their own systems, have faced adversity during the season and pulled their team through the problems. If you’re really going to get nit-picky, Manning’s been to this dance four times now (he’s 1-2 in his previous trips), while Newton is making his first appearance. By the slimmest of margins, Manning will take the edge in this category. EDGE:  BRONCOS

Running Backs – This category is a no-brainer. When Manning is on the field, the running game is somewhat of a second thought, used more as a change-up from the passing game than the “run the ball to set up the pass” style of the Panthers. The Panthers will pound a defense mercilessly, even when it doesn’t look like it is doing anything. The Panthers philosophy is that, eventually, the running game will weaken a defense after enough time that Stewart will break out on a run. Stewart, who finished the season 11 yards short of 1000 yards (and missed the final two regular season games) has been outstanding during the playoffs; expect him to at the minimum keep the Broncos defense honest by adding the potential for a running attack alongside Newton’s running and passing abilities. EDGE:  PANTHERS

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – This one is going to be a push. Manning has WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as his options but, even though he had a decent season, Thomas led the team in dropped passes, letting a ball hit the turf on roughly 5% of his targets. Newton’s favorite target, TE Greg Olsen, can be shut down if a team is willing to risk putting a defensive back on him. The Broncos may try this, but they have to be concerned that WR Ted Ginn, Jr. (who led the Panthers with 10 TD receptions) or Devin Funchess (5 TD receptions) doesn’t burn them somehow. As I said, this is…EDGE:  PUSH

Offensive Line – The Denver offensive line has been held together with baling wire and bubble gum for much of the year. The exact opposite holds true for Carolina, which has been able to have a relatively steady lineup through the entire year. This is going to benefit the Panthers greatly as the Broncos, with the #1 defense in the NFL, are a tenacious and aggressive unit who will look to pressure Newton into mistakes. Whichever side controls the game will probably dictate which way the Super Bowl goes but, for the purposes that we have spelled out here, I’ve got to give…EDGE:  PANTHERS

DEFENSE

Defensive Line/Linebackers – Both teams have front sevens that are the best in the game today. The Broncos are technically ranked as the #1 defense in the NFL, but the Panthers gave up fewer points per game than their counterparts from the Rocky Mountains. Both teams are led by a tandem of outstanding linebackers – Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware for the Broncos, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (who is expected to see a great deal of action despite having a broken arm sustained in the NFC Championship Game) for the Panthers – but it is the Broncos who have the better pass rush, sacking the opposing quarterback 59 times during the season versus the Panthers’ 44.

Defensive Backs – Counteracting the front seven is the fact that the Panthers led the league in takeaways (+20) versus the Broncos (-4). The Panthers intercepted the ball 24 times during the season versus the Broncos’ 14, with Panthers DB Josh Norman having a breakout rookie season in returning two of his four picks for touchdowns and, with teams trying to avoid him, Kurt Coleman ending the year among the league leaders in interceptions with seven. The best Bronco in that category was DB Aqib Talib, who could only pull in three on the season (although he did return two for touchdowns).

The effectiveness of Davis could very well be the linchpin of which defense will have the better success. Without Davis, the Broncos will be able to focus more on occupying Kuechly and be able to have their offense dictate more of the game. If Davis is able to play effectively, it could be a long day for Manning. Both teams, at their current strength this moment, have to be rated…EDGE:  PUSH

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is a category that the Panthers have firm control over. Ginn is the teams punt returner and he is a threat to break a game wide open at any moment with the ball in his hands. Their kick returning duties have been in the hands of Fozzy Whittaker, who averages nearly 24 yards per return. The Broncos counter with Sanders, who has more fair catches than returns this season on punts, and Omar Bolden, who has only 15 kickoff returns this season.

The kicking games rate about even, although the distance is going to be tough to judge. Denver’s kickers, P Britton Colquitt and K Brandon McManus, have the advantage of kicking in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains, thus their distance statistics might not be applicable kicking at sea level in California. Carolina P Brad Nortman and K Graham Gano did outstanding jobs in 2015, with Gano especially sound at distance through the season.

The pick in this aspect of the contest will have to go to the boys from the NFC. With both Ginn and Whittaker, they possess the threats that can break the game open…the Broncos, not so much. EDGE:  PANTHERS

COACHING

There is no way to choose one coaching squad over the other in this contest. Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has been to the Super Bowl as a player (he backed up John Elway in Super Bowls XXI, XXII and XXIV, all losses) and as an assistant coach (with the winning San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX and with the winning Broncos in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII), but this is his first trip as the man in charge. The same can be said for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was a part of arguably one of the greatest Super Bowl teams in history (the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears) as a player, but this is his first trip as a head coach. Thus, this is definitely EDGE:  PUSH

SUPER BOWL 50

As was stated at the start, it depends what you’re betting on as to which way to take the winner in this situation.

For some people, they want to just bet the straight game itself. I pick one team, you take the other and may the best team win. If that is the case, then I would have to say that you would have to pick the Panthers in this game. Both defenses are going to cause fits for Newton and Manning but, by the second quarter, I can see both of them beginning to figure out some things that will work. Manning might be able to get some of the passing game operational – if his patchwork line can keep the Panther D off of him long enough – and, for Newton, the Panthers might be able to start running the ball effectively enough to be able to start the freewheeling Panther passing game (it also would open up the pass/run option for Newton…look for the Broncos to play Newton for the run until he beats them with his arm a couple of times). Newton has more weapons at his disposal and a better defense, hence I believe the Panthers will take the game.

For the more traditional bettor out there, here’s how you’ve seen me put it all year:

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Carolina Panthers vs. DENVER BRONCOS (+5); OVER 44

Once Manning and Newton get things figured out, then the game will get exciting. The line originally opened up at Panthers -4 and, if it had stayed at that point, I would have taken the Panthers because I see a final of 28-24 with the Panthers winning (that would be a push, if you’re keeping score at home). That extra point going against the Panthers switches my pick to the Broncos, who I believe will cover the spread and, between the two teams, they will go OVER the 44 projected points; hell, it could be something along the lines of 38-34, even, if the offenses erupt early.

This isn’t a contradiction; this is simply a demonstration on how it depends on what your betting as to what your pick might be!

Conference Championships:  2-2
Overall Season:  55-37-5

All in all, it has been a good season. Once we add these three picks in (the straight game pick of the Panthers, the spread pick of the Broncos and the O/U), I will have an even 100 picks for the 2015-16 NFL season. I would have preferred a better record than 55% – and may earn it with the final three picks of the year – but it goes to show how difficult it is to bet any sporting contest. After Super Bowl Sunday, we will have to go into a slumber until next September, when the pigskin will come out for real once again and the prognostications will arise from their slumber…maybe for better but potentially for worse!

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NFL Week 1: Tread Lightly When Looking at the Picks

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One of the things that I’ve always liked about the National Football League is the ability to bet on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can LEGALLY place a bet). The added attraction of laying down a few dollars on the game adds a little extra exhilaration to watching live or on television. And just think of how someone feels when a 155 pound kicker is lining up a 50-yard field goal to cover that spread for them?

Betting on the first couple of weeks of the season is extremely difficult, however. Basically you have the information from last season, a month of practices (usually without pads in the 21st century version of the NFL), four exhibition games where the starters seldom see the field (a reason they should cut the exhibition season to two or three games rather than its current setup) and your own gut as to how you determine your wagers. For those that like a little more information before they actually get into the game actively, it is a time to tread lightly.

But hey, you’re not that person, are you!?!?! You SNEER in the face of trepidation! You DIVE right into the deep end, right!?!?! With this in mind (and a little more explanation than on Thursday with the Patriots game…more on that at the end), here’s a few picks you might want to take a look at (remember, all picks are for entertainment purposes only!):

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Cleveland Browns (+3.5) vs. NEW YORK JETS

The Jets are truly in a whirlpool of a disaster. After firing last year’s head coach Rex Ryan (who immediately landed on his feet with the conference rival Buffalo Bills), it was supposed to be a year of rebuilding for the Jets with reserved optimism. Then QB Geno Smith got his jaw broken by a teammate (who now is with the Bills, oddly enough), the team failed to rebuild with the right pieces and the wheels have fallen off even before the first game of the year.

Cleveland isn’t without its drama, either. The constant slurping of now-backup quarterback Johnny Manziel seems to have subsided for now (that is until he’s thrust into the starting lineup in the middle of the season) and starting QB Josh McCown actually has some weapons around him. RB Isaiah Crowell and WRs Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe are going to give McCown some good offensive options and the defense for the Browns is sneaky-good.

How the sharps came up with New York as the favorite in this game is beyond me. The line actually has had the Jets as the favorite from the start, even moving it from -2.5 to its current level. Thanks for the early Christmas present!

Carolina Panthers (-3) vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS; UNDER 40.5

Even though they snuck into the playoffs last season with a losing record (7-8-1), the Panthers actually became the first team to ever repeat as division champion in the NFC South’s history. The team is a solid one, even with the loss of RB DeAngelo Williams to the Pittsburgh Steelers during the offseason and WR Kelvin Benjamin to injury during training camp. QB Cam Newton, fully healthy for the first time in a couple of years, still has RB Jonathan Stewart as his fallback and, as always, TE Greg Olson will be his security blanket.

Different season, same team for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They signed a big free agent during the offseason but it was a fucking TIGHT END, former Denver TE Julius Thomas, who will be out with an injury for the opening game of the season, naturally. QB Blake Bortles will be running for his life from the Carolina defense and LB Luke Kuechly for most of Sunday afternoon.

This isn’t going to be an offensive show, however. Take the under on this game as Carolina, with its ball control style of offense, will probably win a 21-10 or 24-13 type game (in other words, nothing spectacular).

New York Giants vs. DALLAS COWBOYS (-6); OVER 51.5

There is a big bandwagon with the New York Football Giants for some reason this year. QB Eli Manning (how difficult is it to believe that he has more Super Bowl rings than his brother Peyton?) is talking all the right talk, but you have to put some guys around him to get the job done. That job is going to be more difficult this Sunday with WR Victor Cruz out for the game with injury.

Speaking of bandwagons, have you met the Dallas Cowboys? It seems every year is supposed to be “the year” that the Cowboys break out and return to their prominence (even though that “prominence” was over 20 years ago). QB Tony Romo is expected to take the team to the “Promised Land” while the defense “squashes” everything in its path.

This is a tough game to pick, but the Cowboys and Giants always get up for each other. I’m going out on a limb with both of my picks here as I believe that the Cowboys are going to look for an early season statement both to the NFC and their opponents in the NFC East. Nothing would say “dominance” like a win against the Giants by more than a touchdown. It is going to be an entertaining game as they will go up and down the field, thus I’m also taking the OVER on the game.

Current Record:  1-0-1

We nailed both sides of the equation with our picks on Opening Night. The Patriots 28-21 victory over the Steelers pushed the spread (Patriots -7) and the 49 total points scored was barely under the 50.5 over/under (O/U) line set. Let’s see how long we can keep the unbeaten streak alive…when it comes to sports betting, the longer it goes, the better!