For the third straight season, No. 1 seeds from both conferences will joust in the Super Bowl when Denver and Carolina meet Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.
Prior to the 2013 season, the top seeds had met only once since 1994, that being in 2009 when New Orleans beat Peyton Manning and Indianapolis.
Now Manning’s back and seeking to become the first QB to lead two franchises to a Super Bowl title. He’s already in a group of three passers who led two franchises to defeat in the big game, joining Craig Morton (Dallas, Denver) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis, Arizona).
In addition, Manning is trying to become the first QB since Green Bay’s one-eyed Irv Comp in 1944 to win an NFL title the same season he was the league’s worst-rated qualifying passer (based on today’s qualifying standard of averaging at least 14 passes a game over a full season).
Both QBs Sunday will face stiff challenges, with Manning going against the team with the league’s best defensive passer rating and Carolina’s Cam Newton facing the NFL’s top-ranked overall defense.
Now for a closer look at Sunday’s title game. The odds listed are courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas.
Super Bowl 50
Denver Broncos (14-4) vs. Carolina Panthers (17-1)
Time: 3:30 p.m. PT
Line: Panthers by 5.5 (45)
Facts: In Manning’s 18-year career, he has played 13 games vs. a team that finished the season with the NFL’s top-rated defensive passer rating. He’s 3-10, including a 43-8 loss to Seattle in Super Bowl 48… Since Super 36, when the Patriots upset the Rams, teams that have entered the game with a regular-season mark at least three games worse than their Super foes have gone 5-0 ATS/3-2 SU… Carolina’s Super Bowl odds were as high as 60-1, just before opening day. Denver were as high as 14-1 in the spring… Manning has 9 TD passes and 17 interceptions. The last championship QB with negative ratio was NYG’s Phil Simms (21/22) in the 1986 season… Newton is 0-3 in his career facing a team that finished No. 1 in total defense... The Panthers had a plus-6 turnover edge in their 49-15 NFC title-game win over Arizona, matching the best margin in a game this season… Go figure: The last shutout in an NFL title game occurred in 1964 when Cleveland beat Baltimore 27-0. The Browns had that season’s worst-rated defense. The Colts had the No. 1 offense… Denver is tops in sacks with 52. The Panthers have allowed only two sacks in two games against teams rated in the top 10 in that category.
Analysis: This looks like it could develop into a battle between two of the league's most prolific kickers in Denver's Brandon McManus (37-for-42 counting playoffs) and Carolina's Graham Gano (33-for-39), with both defenses imposing their will. Of particular interest will be to see how Denver's two starting safeties, who were injured two weeks ago, hold up against Newton's propensity to go for the long ball, for he's averaged better than 11 yards a pass in three of his past six games. By comparison, Manning has exceeded an average of 8 yards a throw only once in 11 starts. But with deep throws come danger against the schemes of veteran Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who will make Newton uncomfortable in the pocket and with DB play. The Broncos, for example, held a league-high five QBs to their worst game of the year, based on passer rating, including five in the top 14. And Phillips surely has spent the past two weeks figuring how to swat the ball from Newton before he drapes it over the goal line on rushes. On the other side, two Carolina defensive standouts, DE Jared Allen (foot) and LB Thomas Davis (forearm), though listed as probable, could be off their game.
Forecast: Broncos 19, Panthers 16
Conference finals: 2-0 ATS; 2-0 SU
Season total: 134-125-7 (.517) ATS; 161-105 (.605) SU
Special Bonus Picks
Here are some notable predictions by handicappers and writers with ties to GamingToday.
Jack Frost, Harrah’s: Carolina 28-21
Tom Barton: Carolina 27-14
Nick Pellegrino: Carolina 35-27
Denny “The Dog”: Carolina 23-20
Mark Mayer: Carolina 41-17
Andy Iskoe: Carolina 23-20
SportsXMichelle: Carolina 31-28
Tony Nevill (TI): Broncos 24-23
Ramon Scott: Broncos 26-23
Micah Roberts: Broncos 23-19
Ken Thomson: Broncos 30-23
Scott Pritchard: Broncos 27-17
OVER/UNDER (45.5 points)
Marco D’Angelo: Under
Bob Harvey: Under
Bill Krackomberger: first score of Super Bowl 50 will be a TD
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].