It’s hard to believe that another NFL season is just about in the books. But we’ve got a great Super Bowl ahead filled with great storylines. Peyton’s final hurrah. The rise of Cam Newton. #1 Defense against #2 Defense. All in all, it should be a great one, so let’s break it down, and wrap up with some prop bets:
Broncos Offense v Panthers Defense
The obvious storyline here is Peyton Manning’s “demise.” In the regular season this was certainly obvious, as he only avoided leading the league in interceptions thanks to a late season interception binge from Blake Bortles while Manning spent seven games on the bench. But a deeper look at his regular season statistics reveals some interesting facts. Unsurprisingly, Manning struggled throwing the ball over the middle of the field, accumulating the 32nd best QBR for such throws. So if he struggled over the middle, he must be struggling to the outside where defenders would have more time to react to the balls being released from his “failing” arm, right? While he indeed struggled on the left side of the field (28th highest QBR league wide), he actually had success throwing to the right side of the field, accumulating the 5th highest QBR. This has continued in the playoffs; his first touchdown to Owen Daniels against the Patriots was a gorgeous pass down the right sideline. This could mean bad news for Carolina fans too- the only side of the field Carolina doesn’t rank in the top 10 in pass defense is the right, but they still do pretty well coming in at 11th.
Matchups to watch:
- Demaryius Thomas vs. Josh Norman: Like Richard Sherman of the Seahawks, Norman stays on one side of the field, so he may not be matched up against Thomas all game. But when he does, it should be a fun matchpu. Thomas is known as being a physical WR, but Norman frustrated WRs all year long with his physical play, most memorably against Odell Beckham and the Giants
- Kawann Short vs. Evan Mathis: A battle of stud players. Mathis has long been regarded as a top offensive lineman in the NFL, but he is running into a red hot defensive tackle who has been a big part of Carolina’s success this season. If the Broncos are going to have any success running the ball, they’ll need to prevent Short from not just blowing up plays in the backfield, but also from clogging up the line. Mathis has a tall task ahead of him.
- Thomas Davis and Luke Keuchly against the Denver RBs: Let’s be honest, your eyes should always be on Thomas Davis and Luke Keuchly, two of the more fun linebackers to watch league wide. But Denver is going to need Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson to beat these linebackers a few times in the open field to help take pressure off of Peyton Manning. Easier said than done; Keuchly missed just three tackles all season.
Panthers Offense vs Broncos Defense
Just as Peyton’s demis is the story on the other side of the ball, Cam Newton’s rise is deservedly the story here. Peyton himself has said multiple times this week that he thinks Cam Newton will be the face of the league for the next 8 to 10 years, and all indications point to Cam rolling into this game as league MVP after Saturday night’s season awards. His 45 combined touchdowns (35 pasing, 10 rushing) not only led the NFL, but showed just how versatile of a player he is. We’ve seen rushing quarterbacks before; Michael Vick wowed the league for years, and Colin Kaepernick and Russel Wilson used their running style to take them to the Super Bowl as well. But we’ve never seen a QB who punishes linebackers, lowers his shoulder to embrace contact and finishes runs the way Adrian Peterson does. For that reason I’m concerned 8 to 10 years may be a long shot, but he certainly has a bright future ahead of him. He’ll have a tough test against him though in facing the league’s best defense.
Matchups to watch:
- Demarcus Ware and Von Miller vs. Michael Oher: Michael Oher naturally will get a lot of non-football questions this weekend. But what people should be asking him is how he plans to stop the league’s best outside rushing tandem in Demarcus Ware and Von Miller. Miller is coming off an incredible 2.5 sack performance, while Demarcus Ware hit Tom Brady an incredible 7 times last week. Oher has been in the Super Bowl before against a great pass rushing team, and did admirably in helping the Ravens capture Super Bowl XLVII, but three Super Bowls later he’ll face the toughest test of his career.
- Greg Olsen vs. TJ Ward: Greg Olsen is leading all playoff TE’s in yard per route run. In case you forgot, a man named Rob Gronkowski also played this playoffs. This stat tells you not only that Cam Newton loves to throw to Olsen, but also that he loves to throw deep and up the seam to him. If the Broncos want to win this game, their best recipe will be forcing Carolina’s WR core to beat them and not let Cam get his favorite weapon get going. But after slowing down Gronk for most of the AFC championship game, Broncos fans must believe their defense will have a plan for Olsen. Expect a healthy dose of Aqib Talib to be involved as well.
- Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan vs Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton: By now you likely know that Carolina’s offense gets itself going through a pound and ground running game, led by Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton. So it will be up to the Broncos linebackers to make plays and prevent Stewart and Newton from bursting out on any long runs. The Broncos had the 3rd ranked rushing defense league wide this year, and a large part of their success comes from a strong secondary that allows these linebackers to not have to drop into zone coverage and be able to step up and make plays against running opponents. We’ll see if one of these players is tasked with “spying” on Cam Newton for most of the game, but I have a feeling they’ll be run blitzing quite a bit.
Players to watch:
- Tedd Ginn Jr: Ginn is known for his straight line speed, which is always dangerous in the kicking game. His dynamic playmaking ability was on full display against the Seahawks, both in the return game and on offense, and he is the type of player who has the ability to drastically change the game with one play.
- Broncos Kickers: Brandon McManus and Britton Colquitt are the unsung heroes of this Broncos team. McManus is 7/7 on field goal attempts this postseason so far, and in each game has hit a field goal of over 50 yards. Meanwhile, Britton Colquitt has been called on to punt 15 times in the two games, and has helped the Broncos dominate the field of position battle, averaging 47 yards per punt, and putting 7 punts inside the 20 with just one touchback. Denver will need another great performance from these two to stay in the game
Prop Bets (courtesy of Oddshark):
As usual, there are a wild list of prop bets for this year’s Super Bowl from the coin toss, to what song Coldplay will play first at halftime, to how many times John Fox (former head coach of both franchises) will be mentioned during the game. But I’ve decided to pick my five favorite prop bets for the game and how I would bet on them. In no particular order:
Peyton Manning passing yards: Over/Under 235.5.
Peyton Manning hasn’t hit the over on this particular bet since November 8th of 2015. But this game has blowout potential, which could mean more passing attempts and more yards for The Sheriff. I think the Broncos keep this game close, and because of that I’ll take the under, as the recipe for a Broncos victory (or at least chance at victory) involves a low-scoring game, and likely low offensive statistics.
Will Ted Ginn Drop a pass?
This is a mean one to pick, and Ginn has been fantastic in the playoffs thus far. Which makes me feel like he’s due for a back-breaking drop, which Carolina fans know all to well. I expect him to drop one early, but to make up for it later in the game. I’ll take yes.
How many times will the announcers say the word “Dab?” Over/under set at 2.
I’m all over the over on this one. Cam Newton will throw or run for a score in this game, of that I’m fairly certain. And after spending an entire season promoting his “dab” celebration, it is hard for me to imagine he won’t break it out in the Super Bowl. If he does it once, Nantz and Simms will likely each say the word at that point, giving us at least a push. So the over seems like a safe bet to me.
Cross sport bet: What’s greater, Alex Ovechkin’s shots on February 7th, or total TDs in the Super Bowl?
I love the cross sport bets. They make no sense, but make for wildly entertaining gambling excitement and this one was my favorite. The Capitals are slated to play the Philadelphia Flyers, who they lost to very recently (January 27th) by a score of 4-3 in a game in which Ovechkin put up six shots on goal. Goalvechkin will be out for revenge just a week and a half later, so I see him putting up at least 5. I think that will be more than the TDs we see in a Super Bowl between defensive teams. I’ll take Ovi.
Will Mike Carey Be Wrong About a Challenge?
This is the funniest prop bet I’ve seen. Perhaps no one sums up the NFL’s refereeing problem more than Mike Carey. Although he was well-respected as a referee when he donned the black and white stripes on gameday, Carey has become the butt of many jokes as an in-game reporter. He frequently ends up making the wrong decision (or at least the contrary decision to what the game referees make), and it highlights the greatest issue surrounding the NFL: there are too many rules left up to interpretation. It’s pretty incredible how perhaps the sport with the most confusing set of rules in the world is our country’s favorite.
So who are you picking Aaron?
Well, you’ve stuck out my whole article, and for that I thank you, and as a reward you’ve more than earned my thoughts on the outcome of the game. My gut reaction tells me to lean with the Panthers. But this Denver Broncos reminds me a whole lot of one of my favorite teams… the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That Baltimore Ravens team was a defensive minded team that played and won ugly football games. They slugged through the AFC playoff games in some low-scoring games, and faced an NFC “juggernaut,” in a Giants team that thrashed Atlanta 41-0 in the NFC Championship game. That script is sounding awful familiar right now… but I’m going with my gut. The Panthers win their first championship, and Peyton Manning unfortunately walks into retirement in an un-Elway like fashion, as the Panthers win this one 24-14.
By Aaron Gillette