It’s finally here. After a long season full of trials and tribulations, the stage is set for the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl. It will be the hotshot, Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers going up against the savvy, Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos with the Lombardi Trophy at stake. Here’s everything that you need to know for the big game.
Denver Broncos: Season Recap
It has been one wild year for the Denver Broncos. While they began the year with a 7-0 record, it was quite clear that this team wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Peyton Manning was leading the league in interceptions before succumbing to injury, allowing young Brock Osweiler a shot in the spotlight. While Osweiler had his moments, including ending the New England Patriots’ bid for a perfect season, it was evident that he couldn’t lead this team in the playoffs. Thus, when Peyton Manning returned, he was granted the starting job and hasn’t looked back.
The Broncos had an inconsistent but talented 1-2 punch at running back this season with Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson splitting carries 60-40. But in the playoffs, Hillman has faltered while Anderson has gotten hot. Still, don’t ever mistake the Broncos as a rush-heavy team. With receivers including Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and tight end Owen Daniels, the Broncos are well-off in the passing game no matter who is throwing the ball.
But the real story of the Denver Broncos in 2015 has been their defense. The number 1 defense in football proved its worth when the offense scuffled. The 3-4 front features run-stuffing down linemen in Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson to partner with stellar pass-rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller at linebacker. Simply put, the Broncos have the NFL’s very best front 7. And don’t forget about the secondary, which features Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward. While the Broncos made it to Super Bowl XLVIII on their offense, they are clearly in Super Bowl 50 thanks to their defense.
Carolina Panthers: Season Recap
Meanwhile in Carolina, things couldn’t have gone any better in 2015. The team began the season 14-0 and played overwhelmingly dominant right from the opening snap. Cam Newton’s coming-out party came at just the right time; even though his 3,837 yards and 59.8 completion percentage don’t look impressive, his 35-10 TD-INT ratio, 636 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs, and 99.4 passer rating sure do. Newton is the hottest quarterback in the sport right now, which bodes well for the big game.
But Carolina is much more than Cam Newton. Jonathan Stewart would’ve rushed for 1,000 yards if he was healthy, Greg Olsen became Newton’s favorite target, and Ted Ginn Jr. was a surprising red zone weapon. The Panthers’ offense just has great chemistry, which is an ingredient that champions have.
But the Panthers’ defense is even better, and it all starts with the linebackers. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis Sr. (who is questionable for the Super Bowl) are pure tackling machines as well as quality coverage men. The D-Line, featuring Kawann Short, Jared Allen, and Kony Ealy, excels at pressuring quarterbacks, and the Josh Norman-led secondary is one of the NFL’s best. It’s always exciting to see a defense take over games, but when they also have an offense as good as the Panthers do, it usually becomes a blowout.
Denver Broncos: X-Factor
Peyton Manning. It really all comes down to the 5-time MVP if the Broncos want to win Super Bowl 50. The Denver defense can keep the game close, but if the right arm of Peyton Manning isn’t functioning properly, the Broncos won’t have a chance. We saw versus New England that the Broncos defense can shut down anybody, but we also saw Peyton Manning’s ineptitude keep the game uncomfortably close. Manning can’t throw the deep ball anymore, but will have to find other ways to beat the Carolina defense. If he can’t, the Panthers could coast to an easy victory.
Carolina Panthers: X-Factor
Finishing. There is one thing that has haunted the Panthers all year, and that’s their inability to finish off games. At least 4 times this year, the Panthers have nearly blown a cushy lead in the second half. If this happens again, it will be Peyton Manning hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Super Bowl Sunday Night. Ron Rivera’s crew simply cannot let their foot come off of the gas pedal like it did versus the Packers, Giants, and Seahawks.
This has the potential to either be a fantastic Super Bowl or a complete dud. The Broncos and Panthers each have the excellent defenses to keep the game close, but the key is going to be execution. For the Broncos, they will have to capitalize when they have the chance to score, while the Panthers will have to focus on playing a full, 60-minute effort. I think that it’s more likely for the latter to occur, which is why I’m taking the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.