At the outset of the NFL season, most sportsbooks listed the Panthers at odds of 50/1 and higher to win Super Bowl 50.
My, how things have changed.
Carolina begins the fortnight before the game's golden anniversary on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, Ca., as a favorite over Denver by anywhere from 3.5 to 4.5 points, depending on the linesmakers. The Broncos were a much shorter price back in early September at roughly 15/1 to claim the title.
The projected line prior to Sunday's games foresaw the Panthers as a potential three-point pick over the Broncos. The blowout of Arizona, preceded by Denver's great escape against New England, persuaded oddsmakers to bump up the margin -- and the public took it from there.
CG Technology, which establishes the spread for seven Las Vegas sportsbooks, opened at 3.5. It quickly went to four, according to Jason Simbal, the company's vice president for race and sports.
"I personally thought it might go higher," Simbal said in an interview Sunday night. "Looking at the teams, I thought it might be five or five and a half."
The sportsbooks at MGM Resorts came out of the gate with a four-point line. It soon was hiked to 4.5.
"I have a strong feeling this is going to settle at four and a half," said Jay Rood, MGM's vice president of race and sports. "I'm going to sit on that for awhile. I've got to believe the public is going to go with Carolina."
Simbal also anticipates most of the early wagering on Carolina, which is typical for a favorite in the countdown to the Super Bowl. He expects the sharp bettors to sit back and watch the line rise before jumping in on the underdog Broncos.
If there is any movement with the line, Rood added, it probably will boomerang back to four as underdog money flows in closer to kickoff. "Like it always does," he added.
Sportsbooks posted a total in the vicinity of 45. The ones associated with CG Technology opened with 44. A large play on the Over moved it to 44.5, then another to 45, according to Simbal.
MGM's total of 45.5 stayed pat in the hours after the games. Rood said he is comfortable with the figure even though it is often higher for a Super Bowl. He noted that Denver's peerless defense and the unpredictable weather in the Bay Area justifies the number.
More angles to consider.
We're No. 1: Both teams can wave that foam finger proudly. Not only are they the No. 1 seeds from each conference, but Denver's defense and Carolina's offense are ranked first in the league. Offense tends to sway bettors more.
The comforts of home: Neither team has played away from the friendly confines in a while. The Broncos' last four games and the Panthers' last three have unfolded in their home stadiums.
Both fared reasonable well ATS on the road, going 5-3.
Health report: Safety has not been a safe position for the Broncos. Darian Stewart (knee) and T.J. Ward (ankle) departed Sunday in the second half, leaving late-season acquisitions Shiloh Keo and Josh Bush to fill in with the base unit. Already, starter David Bruton Jr. was lost for the season.
Both ailing players voiced optimism on being ready in two weeks.
One of the happiest Panthers on Sunday did not play a down. Defensive end Jared Allen (foot), who was upset at the team for not green-lighting him to play against the Cardinals, should be available after the two-week break.
All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis suffered a broken arm Sunday. If it's up to him, he said he will answer the bell against Denver, though the team might not agree.
Safety Roman Harper's day was shortened by an injured eye but he anticipates suiting up.
History lesson: Newton has faced the Broncos just once in his five-year career. In 2012, when the Panthers were as bad as they are good now, Denver schooled the young quarterback in a 36-14 wipeout. Newton's passer rating was 74, a full 25 points under his regular season mark this year.
Mike Tierney is a veteran sports analyst whose work periodically appears in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He's always on the prowl for dangerous underdogs.