Patriots

Super Bowl prediction roundup: It’s still all about the Patriots in San Francisco

General view of unstitched Super Bowl footballs made by Wilson.

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COMMENTARY

For only the 42nd time in NFL history, the Super Bowl will go on, as planned, Sunday without the New England Patriots.

But it’s not like they’re not still the talk of the Bay Area.

Some figured this to finally be the week that the media would put pressure on Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ quarterback embroiled in a performance-enhancing drugs scandal that an adoring media corps has allowed him to skate past. Jim Nantz won’t mention it in the CBS booth. The NFL pregame shows won’t broach the topic, and even when Manning was asked about his alleged HGH use this past week at Media Day, his umpteenth denial was taken as gospel.

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Nothing to see here, folks.

Instead, the cheating allegation that appears to have found its way most into the spotlight this week in San Francisco is the year-plus old charade concerning the Patriots and deflated footballs.

The Patriots have always been the bad guy, but now they’re the high school crush who broke your heart as well. The NFL and its media lapdogs are obsessed with their every move, using them as a crutch whenever they might be on the verge of a fall.

Let’s only consider it not a coincidence that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked more questions about air pressure than he was domestic abuse during his state of the shield address at last year’s Super Bowl. On Friday, don’t be surprised if he’s posed more queries about the NFL’s PSI findings than what the league intends to do about Ashley Manning’s super double secret door-to-door HGH shipments.

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Convenient.

Better for the NFL to keep the focus on the Patriots rather than its almighty commish and his aging icon (i.e. marketing cash cow). It was pretty much inevitable that Goodell, when asked about the PSI readings taken this past season, would say that the league would not be releasing the findings.

Oh, pray tell, why?

“What the league did this year was what we do with a lot of rules and policies designed to protect the integrity of the game, and that’s to create a deterrent effect,’’ Goodell told Rich Eisen, according to an NFL transcript. “We do spot checks to prevent and make sure the clubs understand that we’re watching these issues. It wasn’t a research study. They simply were spot checks. There were no violations this year. We’re pleased that we haven’t had any violations and we continue the work, obviously, to consistently and importantly enforce the integrity of the game and the rules that are designed to protect it.’’

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So, where are the numbers to back that claim? Better yet, where are the tapes concerning Spygate (destroyed) and the Ray Rice elevator incident (the dog ate it, apparently).

Clearly the readings that the NFL collected — or didn’t, whatever — may have supported the Patriots’ claims relating to the ideal gas law, which might mean the team could fight to have its draft picks and million dollars returned. Goodell won’t have that. His iron fist only goes one way.

As for Manning…do you really want the league to risk that Papa John’s cash flow? Please.

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The picks

Our roundup of nationwide picks for Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Broncos and Panthers.

ESPN.com: Six out of 10 pick the Panthers.

Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Broncos. “

This is a Denver D that utterly frustrated Tom Brady and New England in the AFC title game, budgeting Brady to a 56.4 passer rating and under 50 percent completions and intercepting him twice. I know that Carolina’s ground attack out of the shotgun, including Newton’s run-threat, presents a challenge Brady and the Patriots did not. But I still see Denver up to that challenge. Notice I have not even mentioned Peyton Manning yet? I don’t think the Broncos will need heroics from him in what could be his final career game — not if his defense takes charge as I believe it will.’’

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NFL.com staff: 19 of 21 pick the Panthers.

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Broncos 23, Panthers 21. “When I picked the Denver Broncos to beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, which few did, many pushed back at me and said it was a pick because I like Peyton Manning. No, I respect Manning, but it wasn’t a pick based on his play, even though I did think he would play well enough to win. The pick was made because of the Denver defense. That’s why I am picking Denver again in Super Bowl 50. I think the defense, which is truly special, will get the better of the Carolina Panthers offense, which comes in as the top-scoring offense in the league. As much as I love offense, defense will win this championship. That’s not to say Carolina’s defense isn’t good, but this Denver defense is rolling right now. Why? Pass rushers and corners, the formula for any good defense. In Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, they have the edge rushers to disrupt any offense. In Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby, they have the cover players to allow them to do a lot of different things on defense. That’s something that will help give them an edge on Cam Newton. His offense, and especially his run game, is so diverse. That can put pressure on the Broncos to be less aggressive, but I doubt they will be.That’s not who they are. They will be who they are, and they should be. That means Miller and Ware attacking, with Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson holding up inside, with the cover corners locking up down the field. The Carolina defense will play well too, but I think Manning will be patient and find holes in their zone. A key player to watch: Denver running back Ronnie Hillman. He can be a matchup issue in the passing game. He will be this year’s Shane Vereen, who helped New England beat Seattle last year. It will be a turnover late caused by that Denver rush that proves to be the difference. They will get a late field goal off of it, then hold on to win. Maybe it will be with a sack by Miller or Ware. Or maybe it will be a pick by Harris Jr., or Talib? Then Manning will go to the podium to help pick up his second Lombardi Trophy, and then promptly tell all the haters to kiss his backside. Not an all-time great? Think again. Only this time, he will have an all-time great defense to thank for it.’’

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CBS Sports staff: Six out of eight pick Denver (+6.5 Broncos). Five out of eight pick Carolina straight up.

Taiwanese Animators: Panthers(?)

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[fragment number=1]SB Nation staff: Five out of eight pick the Panthers.

Teddy the Porcupine: Denver.

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[fragment number=3][fragment number=4]FoxSports.com staff: Five out of seven pick the Panthers.

Stephanie, Hy-Vee supermarket assistant manager, Cedar Falls, Iowa: Denver.

Jeff Legwold, ESPN.com: Broncos 24, Panthers 21. “Toss in that Super Bowl 50 could well be Manning’s “last rodeo,’’ and the Broncos have both talent and inspiration.’’

David Newton, ESPN.com: Panthers 24, Broncos 14. “The Panthers seem to have the “it’’ factor the Seahawks did two years ago, when they won the Super Bowl. The Panthers are built a lot like Seattle, with a strong running game designed around a dual-threat quarterback and strong defense. But what will decide this game will be turnovers. The Panthers forced seven in the NFC Championship Game and two in the divisional round. Luke Kuechly had an interception returned for a touchdown in each of those games. He’s not a member of what the secondary calls ‘Thieves Avenue,’ but he should be.’’

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USA Today staff: Five out of seven pick the Panthers.

Madden NFL 16 simulation: Panthers 24, Broncos 20.

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Texas State Aquarium residents: Panthers.

David Steele, Sporting News: Panthers 31, Broncos 17. “If Newton defuses the Broncos’ defense, then, it’s up to Manning and the Broncos’ offense to do damage to the Panthers’ defense — which will have Thomas Davis playing with a broken arm, but otherwise is superlative.

Worth noting: they led the NFL in takeaways with 39, and had seven against the Cardinals. Manning has no turnovers in the playoffs so far … but threw 17 picks in the nine games before he got hurt, and has kind of a rep about that in his playoff history.

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That’s a bad combination for the Broncos. There are a lot of bad combinations for them in this game. It’s been said many times throughout this shocker of a season, but the Panthers didn’t get here by luck. They’re 17-1 on merit.

They’ll get to 18-1 the same way.’’

Baby Ape: Carolina

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FiveThirtyEight.com: Carolina with a 59 percent chance of winning (Side note: The forecasting web site has been wrong on only one postseason game with its win probabilities thus far, giving the Bengals a 58 percent chance to beat the Steelers in the Wild Card round).

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Louie the Pig: Broncos.

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[fragment number=8]Tecmo: Panthers 14, Broncos 10.

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[fragment number=10]Bill Barnwell, ESPN.com: Panthers 24, Broncos 16. “As much as I thought earlier in the week that I was leaning toward the Broncos given the strength of their defense, I have to join the masses in getting behind the Panthers. This is just a bad matchup for the Broncos in so many ways, who would have been far happier to see the Cardinals in Santa Clara. It would take something dramatic — such as a Newton meltdown or a game for the ages from Miller and Ware — to push the Broncos over the line for their third Super Bowl title. Denver got one of those games from their star pass-rushing duo two Sundays ago. Asking for another one within 14 days is too much to ask.’’

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Gregg Easterbrook, Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Panthers 20, Broncos 17. “Why do knowledgeable football specialists make so many wrong predictions? Because they waste time thinking about coming games. In my system, you never pore over stat sheets, review tendencies, check injury updates or use your brain at all. You just plug matchups into a public-key formula: Best Record Wins, or if Records Equal, Home Team Wins.

“So don’t bother pondering who will win the Super Bowl: My off-price generic metric says the Carolina Panthers. I’ll forecast Carolina 20, Denver 17, because 20-17 is the most common N.F.L. final score, happening 248 times in league annals. Even if I’m wrong and Denver prevails, the formula has already outdone The Experts.’’

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It says here: Broncos 27, Panthers 26. Manning will get all the credit, naturally, even if the best thing he does is not screw up. But after a playoff history littered with shortcomings, that will be just enough for a vacuous lovefest on his way out the door.

Contact Eric Wilbur at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @GlobeEricWilbur and Facebook www.facebook.com/GlobeEricWilbur

The Patriots in the Super Bowl

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