When we’re deep into the NFL season and I find myself getting too pumped up about how awesome my weekly picks are, I like to go back and reread my words from the preseason, just to get humbled. It’s easy to get caught up in the picks from game to game, but even the best of us tend to be very wrong about what’s going to happen at the end of the season when we’re trying to guess at the beginning of the season.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, starting with the Broncos:
- (Sep 4th, one week before the season) “We haven’t been this uncertain about Peyton Manning since…2012. In his first season in Denver…it took him a little while to look like classic Peyton, but he eventually got there. I think this year will probably be the same.”
- (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[Manning] has no arm strength right now…and I couldn’t believe how this wasn’t a major story in August. Until further notice, I am not giving Manning the benefit of the doubt. He’s going to have to show me he’s still a good QB before I bet on him.”
- (Oct 8th, week 5 picks) “When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over.”
OK, not bad, Ross, not bad. In the span of one week, I went from “Manning will be fine” to “This guy is toast!” But I really did nail it when I said any team that can put up four touchdowns on Denver is likely to win. So can the Panthers do that? I guess you’ll have to keep reading because we’re not there yet.
And here’s what I had to say about Carolina early on:
- (Sept 4th, one week before the season and in a column where I predicted a 6-10 record for the Panthers) “Cam Newton needed every bit of help he could get if the Panthers were going to be good this year. Losing Kelvin Benjamin is huge because Newton isn’t very good in the first place. He’s never finished in the top 10 in FootballOutsiders’ QB efficiency stats. And his numbers have gotten worse every season of his career. His running is the only thing that keeps him employed at this point.”
- (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[The Panthers] could be less talented than the Jaguars when it’s all said and done.”
Yikes. Um, that makes me look like the worst. When it comes to sports predictions, there are misses and then there are MISSES. How could you have a worse prediction than saying the guy who ends up as the league MVP is barely hanging onto his NFL employment, and the team that is 17-1 might be less talented than Jacksonville?
Luckily those awful preseason predictions have no bearing on my Super Bowl pick. I’ve come around on the Panthers because how could I not at this point? As far as my picks go, I’m 5-4-1 against the spread in the playoffs, and that is right on par with how I did during the regular season: 126-122-8. Above average, but not above average enough.
[Speaking of picks and bets, be sure to check out my Super Bowl Prop Bets column from Thursday. Lots of potential bets for you to make on Sunday’s game.]
In terms of breaking down this game, it absolutely boils down to figuring out whether or not the Panthers will put up more than 24 points. We know with near certainty that the Broncos aren’t topping that number. They barely did all season long and Manning hasn’t looked any better in the playoffs.
But there’s a reason such a pedestrian offense went 12-4 and finds itself in the Super Bowl: The Denver defense dragged that offense all the way to the top of the mountain. The Broncos gave up at least 30 points just once all year. When DeMarcus Ware was in the lineup, Denver gave up 24 points or more just twice in 12 games. They weren’t as good without Ware as they let up 24 or more three times in six games when he was absent, but Ware happens to be playing on Sunday.
Denver isn’t your run-of-the-mill good defense. They’re a beast. They are 1st in the league in overall defensive efficiency, 1st against the pass and 4th against the rush. There are no holes here.
Having said all that, Vegas does have Carolina as a 6-point favorite and the majority of the money is still going towards the Panthers. There has to be a reason why so many people think this could be a touchdown or greater win for Ron Rivera and company. And it’s because they have a 17-1 team featuring the soon-to-be-crowned MVP and a vicious defense. They aren’t a fluke and they’ve dispatched the best competition the NFC had to offer rather easily so far in the postseason.
So if you ultimately pick Carolina, you’re being practical, presumably logical and you’re simply going where all the tangible data leads you. I can’t fault you for that and you’ll probably make a lot of money in the long run if you stick to that methodology.
You’re also not crazy if you back Carolina based on this principle: It’s Steph Curry’s world and we’re all just living in it.
But for those who want to make the case for taking Denver, here’s everything I can possibly think up:
- The well-known “Nobody Believes in Us” maxim is in full effect for Denver. They might have one of the best “Nobody Believes in Us” cases in Super Bowl history thanks to Manning.
- The Panthers appeared to be celebrating their NFC Championship win like it was the Super Bowl. If either team is going to succumb to the “happy to be here” attitude or be guilty of celebrating too much too soon, it’ll be Carolina.
- Along those lines, this Panthers team has zero Super Bowl experience so they’re prime candidates for getting caught up in the pageantry or being out of their routines. Denver was just in this game two years ago so I expect they approached this past week as being all business.
- Traditionally stay-at-home pocket passers always win this game when facing a less traditional QB (except for Russell Wilson two years ago).
- The Manning retirement storylines are at crazy, off-the-charts, epic proportions in this game. What a perfectly insufferable ending to a perfectly insufferable career a win would be.
- If you’re a Patriots fan, you can just feel it in your bones.
- And from a gambling standpoint, it’s still something like 70% of all bets on Carolina. I really like being on the same side as Vegas in this instance.
I’m going to stop just short of calling this a win for Denver, but I absolutely think on defense alone they can keep this really close (and I’m definitely betting the Denver moneyline just in case).
Carolina (-6) vs Denver
The Pick: Denver
The Score: Carolina 20, Denver 17
But that’s not even my favorite bet of the weekend. My favorite bet, by far, is going UNDER on the game total of 45. This is where you should bet the farm. One team can’t score and the other team, who can score a lot at times, is facing the best defense they’ve seen all year (aka the best defense in the league). What happens is that people like betting the over in general because it’s more fun to think about and root for a lot of scoring. In the Super Bowl this is even more true. People want this to be a high scoring game. But that doesn’t mean it will be. It just means Vegas gets to inflate the total a bit. I’ll be on the uninflated side.
Enjoy the Super Bowl and thanks for reading all year.