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NFL’s biggest betting mismatches: Super Bowl 50
By Jason Logan
Each week, Jason Logan breaks down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule and setting your daily fantasy lineup. Here are two of the biggest betting mismatches for Super Bowl 50:
Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers (-5.5, 44)
Panthers’ poor finishes vs. Broncos’ grand finales
During their 17-1 run, the Panthers haven’t shown many cracks in the foundation. Even against the spread, Carolina has been a consistent moneymaker, bringing a bountiful 13-5 ATS count to Santa Clara this Sunday. But those ATS paydays have not come without some sweat, especially with Carolina running out of steam in the fourth quarter this season. The Panthers, who topped the NFL in scoring with 31.2 points per game, average just 6.3 points in the final frame – ranked 22nd in the league.
It’s a surprising stat considering Carolina puts up averages of 7.2 points in first quarters (2nd), 10.6 in second quarters (1st), and 7.8 in third quarters (2nd) for 2015-16. Over the last five games, the Panthers have been outscored 62-80 in the second half and 28-45 in the closing 15 minutes of those games, so it’s not only the offense suffering a downtick but the defense as well, allowing 6.8 points in the fourth quarter – 13th most in the NFL.
Now, this sharp fourth-quarter decline could be for good reasons, one being that the Panthers have creamed opponents in the opening three quarters and are eating up the clock in the fourth and scoring less because of it. But, whatever the reason, it has to trouble Carolina bettors jumping on this game late into Super Bowl 50 betting. With the Panthers going as high as -6 at sportsbooks, and those late-game no-shows, the possibility of a backdoor cover looms large on Super Sunday.
Add to those startling trends the fact that Denver has played some of its best football in the final quarter, and the backdoor could look like a two-car garage come Sunday night. The Broncos defense allows six points per fourth (10th), but the offense – which hasn’t been much of a threat all season – shows up better late than never. Denver is averaging 7.2 points per fourth quarter, which makes up 32 percent of its overall 22.2 points per game, and has bettered that scoring pace to nine points in the final 15 minutes of its last three contests.
Broncos’ bad starting field position vs. Panthers’ short fields
A big reason why so many kids in Charlotte have a game-worn “Duke” on their night stands this February is because the Panthers offense got a head start on the competition most weeks. Thanks to a stingy defense that ranks sixth in total yards and forced 78 punts, 25 of which were deemed a fair catch, Cam Newton & Co. started drives closer to their opponent’s end zone more often than 30 other NFL teams.
According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Panthers’ average offensive starting field position of the 30.53-yard line per drive is second only to Kansas City. And according to SportingCharts, Carolina started only 18.69 percent of its drives inside its own 20-yard line – fourth lowest in the entire NFL – for a total of only 37 offensive drives backed up inside the twenty. That space allowed Newton and the offense to run its dangerous read-option playbook wide open most drives.
On the other side of the field at Levi’s Stadium Sunday will be a Denver stop unit that ranks tops in the NFL in yards allowed despite starting their defensive stands at an average of the 29.49-yard line, which ranks 29th in the league. And working backwards against how Carolina’s defense helped its offense, the Broncos’ sputtering offense did its worst to make life rough for their defense.
Denver’s offensive drives started at an average of the 25.54-yard line (26th) and recorded 55 drives starting inside their own 20-yard line – the most in the NFL. In fact, 27.64 percent of the Broncos’ total offensive drives were backed up inside the twenty (4th most). That led to 85 punts (7th most) and only 16 of those were called a fair catch with five going for touchbacks. Carolina also dominated in time of possession, with 32:10 per game (2nd), against Denver’s average TOP of 29:45 (21st).