2016 Super Bowl Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 2/2/2016
A week ago, hours after the AFC and NFC Championships ended, I made a Super Bowl prediction - basically that Carolina was going to enjoy Feb. 7 a lot more than Denver was. Now that time has passed a bit, the betting action has caused the line to move significantly, and we've all had more time to look at the game from every angle, it only makes sense to check in one final time and see if the last of this year's 2016 Super Bowl predictions still hold up. Short answer - absolutely. If anything, I feel stronger now than I did a week ago - and I wasn't exactly wavering back then. Why? Here are seven good reasons:
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Denver against tight ends: The Broncos have shown at times this year that they can be vulnerable against strong tight ends. Most recently they were hurt by Rob Gronkowski last week - 144 yards and a touchdown - despite having a solid defensive day overall. Gronkowski does that to a lot of teams, of course, but the fact he was able to find that room to shine against an elite defense indicates vulnerability. Greg Olsen isn't Gronkowski, but he is still a Top 5 tight end - at least - and he and Cam Newton have outstanding chemistry. If Olsen can have a big day, the Carolina offense will be in good shape. I expect that to be the case.
You can throw against Denver: A lot of teams have struggled against the Broncos, but some teams have really done well through the air. Ben Roethlisberger, for example, has had two big passing games against the Broncos this year. Tom Brady put up some big passing yards despite running for his life last game. I'm not saying that this guarantees that Newton will have a big passing day. I just dispute the notion that you can't move the ball on Denver's defense.
The Carolina offensive line: The Patriots really struggled last game, but their offensive line was a mess and has been all year due to injury and a lack of depth. The Panthers have a much stronger offensive line. The Broncos will still have their moments, but they shouldn't be able to be as relentless as they were last time out.
Carolina is so offensively diverse: What stands out when you look at the Panthers this year is how diverse they can be in wins in which Newton has passed for a million yards with laser accuracy and others in which he has been reasonably quiet. They have had games where they have run like crazy and others where they couldn't move the ball. They are a team that can adapt to the situation offensively and that can change their gameplan to suit what they are facing. That's a potent skill - especially against a balanced defense like the Broncos have. Against some opponents the Broncos could just shut down the biggest offensive strength and prosper - like they did against the Patriots because Brady couldn't get comfortable and the Pats couldn't run. It's much tougher to shut down a team like the Panthers that doesn't rely on any one thing to win.
Denver's defense is very good, but so is Carolina's: The narrative has been all about Denver's defense. It is great, but Carolina's measures up well against it. The two teams are tied atop the league in yards allowed per passing attempt. The Panthers have 10 more interceptions than the Broncos. Denver is tops in yards allowed per rushing attempt, but Carolina sits seventh. Denver has the better defense, but not by much. Now, you put these two QBs, playing as they are, against reasonably similar defenses and you tell me which team you like better.
I'll take the more established coaching staff: The Panthers have had remarkable coaching continuity. Ron Rivera has been there for five years. He has had the same defensive coordinator throughout. His offensive coordinator is in his third year in the role and his fifth with the team. They have developed deep trust with their players, and it shows by the upward trajectory of the squad. I'll take that over a first-year staff in this high-pressure situation.
It's always been the NFC: It was about four weeks into the season that I became confident that the NFC was much deeper and that the NFC champ would be very well positioned against whatever came out of the AFC. Nothing I have seen since has made me waver from that.
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