All summer, Tom Brady was the story. The Super Bowl champion quarterback’s squeaky-clean image was dragged through the mud while he desperately fought a suspension in court. He eventually won the right to play, and it would have been ironic if he were still playing on the final Sunday of the season.
Brady beat the odds and the NFL in the Deflate-gate case, but he finally was knocked on his butt by the Denver Broncos’ defense.
In a deflating game for the betting public, Brady and the New England Patriots were defeated 20-18 by the Broncos, who took the AFC title and scored a big win for Las Vegas sports books.
“It was a very simple game,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “The defensive line got immense pressure on Brady, and they were just all over him.”
Brady was hit a season-high 23 times, sacked four times and intercepted twice — three times if counting the pick he threw on a potential tying two-point conversion attempt with 12 seconds left. The Brady story is finally old news.
The old man on the scene, Peyton Manning, is getting another shot at the title.
Las Vegas sports books opened the Carolina Panthers as 4-point favorites over Denver in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 at Santa Clara, Calif. The total is 45½. Manning, 39, is an underdog in the game for the first time in his four appearances, and this probably will be his last game.
It was evident early that Sunday’s game was not going to go the Patriots’ way. Manning, who had one touchdown pass at home all season, hit tight end Owen Daniels for a touchdown on Denver’s opening drive.
Stephen Gostkowski, who had made 523 consecutive point-after kicks, missed a try from 33 yards, and New England trailed 7-6. The new extra-point distance rule implemented this season — and pushed for by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, ironically — turned out to be the difference.
The Denver defense, ranked No. 1 in the league, made the biggest impact. Brady was turned into a crash-test dummy behind a crumbling offensive line.
“It’s the most discombobulated I’ve seen Brady,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “Brady looked out of sorts. I’ve never seen him throw the ball into the ground so many times. The Patriots stunk in the last two regular-season games, and it looked like more of the same.”
With road losses to the New York Jets and Miami in Weeks 16 and 17 — when Belichick was coaching passively and seemingly trying to lose — New England lost the No. 1 seed to Denver. Instead of playing for the AFC championship in the snow on the East Coast, the teams played in altitude, and the Patriots were sucking wind.
Still, the betting public backed the Patriots as 3-point favorites, believing Brady was simply too superior to Manning. Brady fought to the finish, converting two dramatic fourth downs in a thrilling finish, but it was not his day.
“The first game was really going to decide our day since it was lopsided with overwhelming support for the Patriots,” Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “We lost on the second game, but we didn’t give it all back.”
The public and sharp bettors split the two decisions. The sharps showed up in the last hour before kickoff with big-money plays on the Broncos. But the ‘dog played dead in the day’s second game, with the public pushing the Panthers to 3½-point favorites and never sweating the decision in the NFC title mismatch.
Carson Palmer was a pathetic disaster, throwing four interceptions as the Arizona Cardinals were crushed 49-15 at Carolina. A week after winning his first playoff game — and not looking especially good doing it — Palmer came up lame.
“What happened to Palmer in the last four weeks? It was like he had never been in a playoff game. He really let his nerves get the best of him,” Kornegay said.
Cam Newton was cool and under no pressure, passing for two touchdowns and running for two. The Panthers, who opened at 30-1 odds to win the Super Bowl and reached as high as 60-1 at the Westgate, are 17-1 and soaring to Santa Clara.
“A lot of people didn’t buy into the Panthers all season and waited for them to come back to Earth, but it never happened,” Sunset Station book director Chuck Esposito said. “I thought the Cardinals would be much more competitive. I am surprised.”
Will the public buy into the Panthers now?
“It’s a really good question,” Esposito said. “I’m not sure.”
It appears so. Soon after William Hill books opened the Super Bowl line at 3½, Bogdanovich said, “Every bet was on Carolina.”
The line moved to 4 at most books and 4½ at others. The number is expected to hold steady until overflow crowds of bettors hit the books in two weekends. Bookmakers are anticipating a late rush from the public on the Panthers and six-figure bets from sharps on the underdog.
“I thought 3½ would be the opener everywhere,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “I can’t see why there won’t be a lot of money bet on Manning getting 4 or 4½ points.”
The wagering handle in Nevada will threaten the Super Bowl record of $119.4 million in 2014, when Manning and the Broncos were small favorites and got slaughtered 43-8 by Seattle. Hopefully, this Super Bowl won’t be a similar joke.
In a Brady email that was dug up in last summer’s Deflate-gate investigation, he disparaged Manning and said the old man was nearing the end of the road. How ironic that Manning gets the last laugh.
— Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.