Will Santa Clara be Peyton’s place in Super Bowl 50?

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The 2015 NFL season that began nearly five months earlier will come to its conclusion a week from Sunday, on Feb. 7, in Santa Clara, California with the playing of Super Bowl 50.

There have been 266 games played since defending Super Bowl champion New England defeated Pittsburgh on the Thursday night following Labor Day. Thirty of the 32 NFL teams have seen their seasons end before attaining their goal of reaching the Super Bowl.

Included in that group of 30 teams is New England as the Patriots came up a two point conversion short of likely forcing their game against Denver into overtime. With just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing 20-12 and facing fourth and 6 from the Denver 14, the Patriots eschewed a very likely successful field goal that would have trimmed their deficit to 5 points.

While then needing to force Denver to a three and out, the Pats did have all three timeouts remaining in addition to the two minute warning. But when the Pats failed to convert the Broncos did indeed go three and out, but forced New England to use two of those timeouts. The Pats should have been forced to use all three but a curious pass play on second down, that was incomplete, saved that third timeout and the Pats got the ball back after a Denver punt that took the clock to the two minute warning.

QB Tom Brady led the Pats to a touchdown with 12 seconds left to trail by 2. The 2 point conversion was necessitated because normally reliable K Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point early in the game, his first miss of a PAT in 524 tries. Had the Pats kicked that FG and things played out as they did the Pats would have still gone for 2 after that late TD to go up by 3 as they would have already led 21-20.

There were audible groans from Patriots bettors when Coach Bill Belichick did not go for the FG for that very reason. The 20-18 final made backers of Denver both on the pointspread and the money line as well as UNDER bettors very happy.

The Broncos awaited the outcome of the NFC Championship Game to learn whether they would face Carolina or Arizona in the Super Bowl. And Denver did not have to wait very long to begin preparations. The NFC Title game was a virtual “no contest” as Carolina led 17-0 entering the second quarter and never was threatened, leading 24-7 at the half en route to a 49-15 win. Backers of the Panthers never had to sweat as three plays into the fourth quarter the Cardinals scored a touchdown and had a successful two point conversion to pull within 34-15.

When it was fairly certain Carolina was going to defeat Arizona the Westgate SuperBook opened the Panthers a 5.5 point favorite over the Broncos. It did not take long for the early money to come in on Denver and within an hour Carolina was down to a 4-point favorite. The total, which opened 44.5, rose to 45.5 on Sunday evening. By mid-morning on Monday most Las Vegas sportsbooks had Carolina a 4-point favorite with the total at 45.5.

Next week’s column will take a closer look at the Super Bowl matchup and will include a prediction for both the Side and the Total. Also to be discussed will be the many proposition wagers that will be available beginning later in the week and which have become an increasingly larger part of the total handle of Super Bowl wagering in recent years.

For now, however, here are some general thoughts and facts concerning the Super Bowl from a recent historical perspective plus some early thoughts about this season’s matchup between Carolina and Denver.

For a third straight season the Super Bowl will feature a matchup of the number one seeds from each conference. When the Playoffs expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 1990 the top seeds in each conference met in the Super Bowl twice in the first four seasons. But it would be 16 seasons before the top seeded teams would meet when Indianapolis faced New Orleans in Super Bowl 44. Thus this will be the fourth time in seven seasons the two number one seeds have made the Super Bowl.

In the first Super Bowl (25) under the revised format the underdog Giants upset the Bills 20-19 in the infamous “Scott Norwood wide right” Super Bowl. But the favored team won the next six Super Bowls, 9 of 10 and 13 of 16 between Super Bowls 26 and 41. The Underdog and Favorite split the next four Super Bowls (42 through 45). But the Underdog has won each of the last four Super Bowls (46 through 49).

In these last four “Big Games” the pointspread was between +1 and +4.5. The NFC and AFC have alternated those wins with the NFC’s New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks winning Super Bowls 46 and 48 and the AFC’s Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots winning Super Bowls 47 and 49.

One of these patterns must end in Super Bowl 50 as Carolina is the NFC’s representative and Denver is the Underdog!

Denver is making a record-tying eighth Super Bowl appearance, joining Dallas, New England and Pittsburgh for the most times in the Big Game. But the Broncos have the worst Super Bowl record of this elite quartet, going just 2-5 in the franchise’s seven previous trips, including that ugly 43-9 loss to Seattle just two seasons ago. In their eight Super Bowls Pittsburgh has won six, Dallas five and New England four.

Carolina is in just its second Super Bowl. A dozen years ago the Panthers lost Super Bowl 38 to New England, 32-29.

If Super Bowl 50 comes even close to matching the excitement and drama of Super Bowl 38 then we might be treated to an all time classic. In Carolina’s previous Super Bowl the Patriots led the Panthers 14-10 at the half. The third quarter was scoreless but then came one of the best fourth quarters of the first 49 Super Bowls. A total of 37 points were scored.

There were a pair of unsuccessful two-point conversions and one that succeeded. Each team had the lead before Carolina tied the game at 29 with just over a minute remaining. That was time enough for Tom Brady to direct a game-winning drive that culminated with Adam Vinatieri’s 41 yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining.

Perhaps it is ironic that Carolina’s coach in Super Bowl 38 was John Fox, the same man who was let go by the Panthers following the 2010 season. Fox was hired by Denver and coached the Broncos from 2011 through 2014 but was let go by Denver GM John Elway.

Taking over for Fox was Elway’s long time backup QB, Gary Kubiak. Kubiak has led the Broncos to the Super Bowl in his first season, one that was filled with a quarterback controversy for much of the season. At one point, after missing time due to an injury, future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning was benched in favor of Brock Osweiler who fared well while Manning was injured. But ultimately the league caught on to Osweiler and Manning was the starter in Denver’s 23-16 win over Pittsburgh.

For some more irony this Super Bowl could be the final game in the career of Peyton Manning, win or lose. Most intriguingly, if Manning leads Denver to the win he can exit in the same manner as his current boss did. After winning the second of back-to-back Super Bowls John Elway retired.

As top seeds both Carolina and Denver have yet to play away from home since the Playoffs began.

Carolina was 7-1 SU on the road during the regular season with the lone loss coming in its final road game, 20-13, at Atlanta when the Panthers were 14-0. The Panthers were just 5-3 ATS on the road, including ATS losses in each of its final three road games. Four of the eight were decided by 7 points or less and the Panthers also won four of their road games by more than 10 points. Five of their eight road games went OVER the Total.

Denver was 6-2 SU and a strong 5-1-2 ATS on the road with four games going OVER and four staying UNDER. Six of their eight road games were decided by 7 points or less.

At 17-1 Carolina is just the sixth team to enter the Super Bowl with fewer than two losses and the fourth with just one loss since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger that created one league with two conferences and began playing a schedule that included interconference games.

The only two teams to enter the Super Bowl unbeaten had opposite results.

When the regular season consisted of just 14 games the Miami Dolphins won Super Bowl 8 to finish 17-0. The 2007 New England Patriots had a 16-0 regular season and then won both Playoff games to enter Super Bowl 42 but lost to the New York Giants to finish 18-1.

Of the three Super Bowl teams that had just one regular season loss each won their Super Bowl. The 1976 Oakland Raiders won Super Bowl 11 to finish 16-1 while the 1984 San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl 19 to finish 18-1 followed by the Chicago Bears a season later whose win in Super Bowl 20 game them the same 18-1 record.

Prior to the merger 14-1 Oakland lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl 2 and a year later 15-1 Baltimore lost to the New York Jets in Super Bowl 3.

The Carolina Panthers have an opportunity to join a very elite club and although the Panthers have not been favorably compared to the 1973 Dolphins, the 1984 49ers, the 1985 Bears or the 2007 Patriots it would be hard not to involve them in the conversation if they are able to defeat the Broncos and win Super Bowl 50 to finish the season 18-1.

In next week’s final column for the 2015 season the game itself will be analyzed with a prediction made as to whether or not Carolina indeed will join the list of historically elite teams or whether Peyton Manning will have the chance to retire as a Super Bowl champion, sealing his legacy as an all time great quarterback with an exclamation point.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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