Panthers travel to Denver to face the Broncos Thursday night, the first Super Bowl rematch to kick off a season since 1970. Let’s take a look at the total and see where bettors may able to uncover some value.
Will bettors be treated to a thin-air shootout? Or will the game unfold into another defensive battle like in the championship game last February? We're guessing it could be another defensive showdown, but the number is tight for this meeting.
Denver frustrated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, holding the league's highest-scoring offense in check. Winning 34-10, the Broncos were outgained 315 to 194 in total yards but benefited from a defensive touchdown, four takeaways, and an MVP performance from linebacker Von Miller. Miller recorded a record-tying seven sacks on QB Cam Newton.
Including the postseason, the OVER went 13-6 last season for the Panthers, cashing more tickets north of the total than any team in the NFL. Their games eclipsed a 44.4 average total by 6.2 points per game, tied for second steepest margin with the Giants. The Jaguars (6.6) topped the league.
It was a surprising offense keeping the betting market off guard most of the season. Carolina led all teams with 31.1 points per game and was the most efficient at .47 points per play. The difference was a healthy Cam Newton, who played visibly hobbled for much of 2014 with a bad ankle. Putting up just 21.3 points the prior year, the Panthers became the eighth team in the last seven years to improve their scoring by more than nine points per game.
Carolina's scoring improvement was partly due to its success in the red zone, finding the end zone 69 percent of the time within the 20-yard line. Defenses struggled to contain Newton in the run-option, which allows the team to roll out a slew of different options when close to the goal line.
The UNDER went 11-6-2 for the Broncos last season. Including the playoffs, it was 6-2-2 in Denver. A mixed bag of performances on both sides of the ball kept the combined score down at Mile High. The Broncos failed to reach their projected team total six times offensively while holding teams from hitting the mark six times defensively. Overall, they scored 21.6 and yielded 18.2 points per game at home.
The biggest unknown in Denver is at the quarterback position, where the first-time starter Trevor Siemian will lead the team. The second-year pro has recorded one regular-season snap in his NFL career and kneel-down. He was a seventh-round pick in 2015, but apparently houses all the intangibles that make a great quarterback—leadership, confidence, smarts, etc.—but whether he's gifted enough physically has yet to be seen.
Head coach Gary Kubiak seems to think Siemian can lead the team after a solid performance in the Broncos' crucial third-game “dress rehearsal” against the Rams this preseason. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and one interception.
But how much does quarterback play a factor into the Denver's recent success? Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler set the bar low last year. The duo threw a collective 19 touchdown passes (28th in the NFL), 23 picks (last in the league), and notched a 76.3 quarterback rating, second worst in the league. When thinking of game totals, the offense can only improve, right?
Opening the season in the thin air of Denver seems like a recipe for a lot of points. Players will get tired, and grasp for the oxygen mask many times over in the second half as they field their first full game of the season. The OVER, in fact, is 10-6-1 the last 17 times the Broncos have opened the season at home.
But this game features two of the league's best defenses, and each will likely be the better side all season. One of the keys to keeping many NFL games under the total in the modern era is cutting down on opponent passing efficiency, and the Broncos and Panthers were the NFL's best at doing that last season. Denver topped all teams, allowing 5.6 yards per attempt, while Carolina's 5.8 ranked second. The UNDER went 9-1-1 when the Broncos held foes to 5.8 yards or less in a game, while it went 4-6 for the Panthers. Remember, only six games fell south of the total in Carolina games all season. Corner Josh Norman will be missed in the secondary, but head coach Ron Rivera has plenty of personnel to field another pass-stuffing unit.
The number is tight for this one, and we're not incredibly confident playing the total either way. But it's the first game of the season, and we want a little action. The total opened at 43 points and has dipped to 41.5 as of Wednesday morning. We're leaning this way, too, with expectations both offenses will struggle to find the end zone. We can't think of a worse opponent for Siemian to begin his career against. UNDER 41.5 is the pick we are going to back for week1 NFL predictions. Now that you have the pick all you need to do is select the sportsbook to place your wager. Need help with that?
Free NFL Pick: Under 41.5 -105
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes