In what might be the last game of his NFL career, Peyton Manning is a Super Bowl underdog for the first time.
Las Vegas sports books opened the Carolina Panthers as 4-point favorites over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 at Santa Clara, Calif. The total is 45½. The game has a shot to draw a record wagering handle in Nevada.
With two weeks to hype the game, the media’s favorite storyline will be Manning. At 39, the Denver quarterback seemed to limping into the shadows and on the brink of retirement. But two playoff wins later, he could go out on top in a Hollywood-type ending.
Manning’s two touchdown passes helped the Broncos upset New England 20-18 in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. A nail-biting finish was followed by a blowout, with the Panthers putting a 49-15 beating on Arizona in the NFC title game.
“Manning has got an opportunity to finish his career and ride off into the sunset with a Super Bowl win,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “I still think there will be people who want to bet on Manning.”
But the early action was heavier on Cam Newton and a Carolina team that rolls in with a 17-1 record. William Hill sports books opened the Panthers as 3½-point favorites before quickly moving the line to 4. Some books went to 4½.
“Every bet was on Carolina at 3½,” said Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill book director. “I like Carolina, but I think it’s too high. This game is going to be on a neutral field, and Denver’s defense is better. That’s a lot of points to give a good defense. But I can understand why they are betting the Panthers, who went 15-1 before just mauling two teams in the playoffs.”
Newton, 26, is on the verge of a breakthrough performance that could make him the face of the league in the future.
“Cam has had a phenomenal year,” Esposito said. “You have arguably the most dynamic player in the game today against one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.”
Manning is 1-2 in three previous Super Bowl appearances. In 2014, the Broncos were 2½-point favorites in an embarrassing 43-8 loss to Seattle. Manning led Indianapolis to the title game twice, with the Colts losing to New Orleans 31-17 in 2010 and defeating Chicago 29-17 in 2007.
“Obviously, for Denver to win, Manning has got to play well,” Bogdanovich said. “I don’t mean he’s got to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns, but he’s got to make plays.”
Manning’s history as a Super Bowl bust could be a contributing factor that sways a majority of bettors to the other side.
“I expect the public to support Carolina,” Westgate book director Jay Kornegay said. “The public always bets what they have seen last, and there’s no doubt they didn’t miss that dominant performance by Carolina.
“But I would expect the big money will come in on the Broncos. You’ve got a favorite that might be a little bit inflated, and some of the sharps out there will find value in Denver as an underdog.”
The Broncos, 3-point ‘dogs against the Patriots, needed a defensive stand on a two-point conversion in the final minute to hold off Tom Brady’s comeback attempt and send Manning back to the Super Bowl.
“The whole Manning story will probably influence people a little bit,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “Denver-Carolina is going to be a good matchup, and I think we’ll have a really solid handle.”
The state’s Super Bowl handle two years ago was a record $119.4 million. The books benefited from the Seahawks’ slaughter of Manning and the Broncos, who attracted overwhelming support from the betting public. The books held $19.67 million for a win percentage of 16.5.
Last year, when the Patriots beat the Seahawks 28-24 in a down-to-the-wire thriller, the state’s handle was almost $116 million. The books won more than $3.2 million for a hold percentage of 2.8.
“With the growing popularity of football betting, the Super Bowl will definitely surpass the $100 million mark,” Kornegay said. “Breaking the record is another question.”
Rood said the NFL handle at MGM Resorts is up 17 percent this season over last season. Jimmy Vaccaro, oddsmaker at the South Point, said the handle on Sunday’s two conference championship games was 35 percent higher than last year.
“It’s the most we’ve ever written on two games like this,” Vaccaro said, “which unequivocally means this will be the highest Super Bowl we’ll ever write.”
— Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.