Metro predicts which teams are headed to Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50:
New England Patriots (-3) at Denver Broncos
The Broncos won in overtime when these teams met on Nov. 29, but a different result appears very likely in this rematch. For starters, the Patriots did not have Julian Edelman in that game and Rob Gronkowski was injured in the final few minutes of regulation. With Tom Brady’s offense back at full strength, even Denver’s top-ranked defensive squad will have difficulty holding down the fort. The Chiefs certainly had their fair share of problems containing Edelman and Gronkowski last week; they gave up a combined 17 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns to that duo. And the Chiefs’ vaunted pass rush was unable to get to Brady even once, so it appears the Patriots have remedied their offensive line – which was considered a liability just a few weeks ago. On the other side of the ball, New England’s ninth-ranked rush defense should stifle the Broncos’ middling running game, and that will force Peyton Manning to win the game through the air. Denver put up only 215 yards passing last week against the Steelers, one of the worst pass-prevention units in the league, so it will probably struggle to move the ball against the Patriots’ stoppers. Factor in Brady’s 11-5 career record against Manningas well as a significant coaching advantage in favor of New England (Bill Belichick has won 23 playoff games compared to Gary Kubiak’s three), and it’s clear that the Patriots are on the inside track to Santa Clara.
The pick: Patriots -3
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-3)
These are arguably the two best teams in football, let alone the NFC, so this should be a great game. Both of these teams are well-oiled machines offensively, but they go about it differently. The Panthers will try to grind it out on the ground with the second-ranked rush attack in football, and while the Cardinals were sixth in stopping the run during the regular season, they gave up 135 yards on the ground to the Packers’ mediocre tandem of Eddie Lacy and James Starks last week. Carolina ran wild on the Seahawks last week (144 yards), so that success should continue on Sunday. But the Panthers’ 11th-ranked pass defense, which gave up 325 yards through the air and nearly let Seattle back into the game last week, will be tested early and often by Carson Palmer and Arizona’s aerial attack, which was ranked second in the regular season. If the Panthers fall behind early and have to resort to the passing game, Cam Newton and company could be in trouble. Carolina’s pass attack was ranked just 24th this season, and the Cardinals have the eighth-best pass prevention squad in the league. Carolina has been nearly unbeatable at home lately, but the Cardinals are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 road contests. In a game that projects to be tense from start to finish, taking the insurance points with Arizona seems like the right play.
The pick: Cardinals +3