Sports

Downtrodden recent Super Bowl foes to keep plodding

Illustration: Getty Images

Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers

Over/Under: 45

Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

A short five years ago, the Broncos and Panthers were opponents in Super Bowl 50, the only iteration of the big game in history to not feature Roman numerals.

Remember the season with gold 50-yard lines? Yeah, that one. And it all culminated in the final NFL game of Peyton Manning.

Doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, right? Yet for the two franchises who were directly involved, it’s definitely felt longer.

Neither has won a playoff game since their immortal February encounter. Denver, in fact, hasn’t even returned to the postseason. Even with an extra playoff team on board this year in each conference, that streak of futility is going to devour another campaign. Carolina really isn’t doing shit once again, either.

Each side carries hope of a vault into contention as early as next season. For now, though, both are not in prime shape. And hence, the point of turning to this bet.

As has been a main theme for the Panthers in 2020, team MVP Christian McCaffrey won’t be suiting up – he’ll brutally be missing his 10th contest in 13 games (my condolences to those who drafted him with the No. 1 fantasy pick).

This is pretty huge. Last year, McCaffrey became the third player ever to accumulate 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving. Carolina is scoring a sizable amount more with him in the lineup, and without him, they’re only plating 22.4 points per game, a number that would rank them in the bottom third of football if that was their overall mark for the season.

Another theme of 2020? Coronavirus. Not only for the Panthers, of course, but they did just perpetrate one of the largest outbreaks seen this season around the league. On Monday, eight players landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list following their bye week (and are facing fines), and while most of those will be able to return, it did at least claim one more soul in D.J. Moore, who won’t be playing. Moore has been very valuable for this offense, even ranking second in the NFL in yards per catch (18.5) amongst qualified wideouts.

So now we have Teddy Bridgewater without two of his three biggest weapons. True, Bridgwater has been in the process of molding arguably his strongest season to date, but the biggest reason for that is because of what he has at his disposal. Taking McCaffrey and Moore out of the equation can revert Teddy Time back into game managing. As it is, he’s established a habit of often seeking out short throws.

There’s a gamble we’ll be taking in regards to the Broncos secondary. After getting slapped with a six-game PEDs suspension, A.J. Bouye joins Bryce Callahan on the sidelines, meaning Denver won’t have either of their two top (and most established) corners. They’ve also been without the services of Von Miller and Jurrell Casey for a while now.

Even so, I still like this defense to at least hang in there against a QB that doesn’t seem likely to blow opponents away with a supporting cast far from full health. Shelby Harris returned last week and made his usual presence felt. There’s still Bradley Chubb and Josey Jewell. It’s a unit that just one week ago held the mighty Chiefs to 22 points in Arrowhead, which really is a notable accomplishment.

Outside of losing Courtland Sutton for the year, Denver has managed to mostly stay healthy on the offensive side of the ball (well, minus that whole COVID thing with all their QBs leading to an under win for us). However, that hasn’t exactly meant much given the youth currently on display.

Drew Lock does exhibit flashes of a promising future, but the consistency has not been there. He’s the lowest-rated passer (67.1) out of all quarterbacks and now holds an unflattering 16-16 TD/INT ratio for his still-young career. Inconsistency has also plagued fellow youngsters Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. Adding even more frustration, Jeudy took a couple of jabs at Lock and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur earlier this week.

Uh, this is not an encouraging situation entering Week 14 despite the presence of two talented tailbacks, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. And now they must meet what has been a low-key solid Panthers D.

Under is the way here. If your book has 44.5, I sternly suggest buying a half point for the most important number to have.

The Bet: UNDER 45 (-110)

The Record: 7-5-1, +1.3 units

Last Week: Eagles-Packers Over 48 (“loss”)

*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit

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