The National Football League conference championship games Sunday afternoon and evening were a lesson in contrast. The Broncos and Patriots played a taut defensive battle, decided in the final minute by a failed two-point conversion attempt and New England’s subsequently failed onside kick. New England won last year’s Super Bowl against Seattle by a whisker. This year the whisker become ingrown and the season-ending pain lives on in Boston, New Hampshire, Maine and the rest of snowbound New England.
The National Football Conference championship game was a blowout of grotesque proportion. As such, it was the introduction of the Carolina Panthers as a league power. Cam Newton led his Panthers to a rout of Old Testament proportion over the helpless Cardinals. Carson Palmer who achieved his first playoff victory in Arizona’s win over Green Bay in the divisional round appeared to say, “No more for me. I’m fine.”
This year’s Super Bowl (the 50th such renewal of hostilities between the AFC and the NFC) will be played Sunday, Feb. 7, at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The current weather forecast is for 62 degrees and an easterly (right to left on the television screen) breeze of 13 mph. In other words, perfect conditions for football.
To gauge an expert’s perceived difference between the two teams, look in the direction of the desert Mecca of Las Vegas. The point-spread opened Sunday night at Carolina -4 and has since grown to -4.5 in most places. That makes sense. Carolina was awesome on both sides of the ball. The Broncos were awesome on just one side of the ball. They were okay on the other side of the ball.
Not to say the Panthers won’t win, but it would be prudent to wait and see how high the spread ascends. At four (or so) there may be value wagering on Carolina. At 7-ish Denver and their pass rushing front seven may be the way to bet.
Storylines abound in the next week and a half. The grizzled Peyton Manning at QB for Denver versus the upstart wunderkind named Cam Newton jitterbugging for the Panthers. NFL blue blood Denver versus “Where did they come from” Carolina. Old School versus New School everywhere.
While it is too early to make a pick, it isn’t too early to enjoy the hype. Both New England and Carolina have some likeable and quotable players. There won’t be anyone saying “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” as Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch did so often last year. Already, something refreshing.