Just a little south of the Golden Gate Bridge the NFL is hosting its Golden Super Bowl with the Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers facing the Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The storylines are simple and clear. It’s the young gun against the old sheriff looking for one more shot at glory before riding off to a TV studio and the Hall of Fame in Canton.
The 2015 NFL season showed that Cam Newton is the new face of the NFL as he led Carolina to a 15-1 season, baring a big upset he will be the NFL MVP. In his fifth season in the league, Newton showed a new maturity leaving behind the bad habits of the past and showing the poise of a veteran quarterback. Unlike other quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III who came to the NFL as dual threat who could run and pass in college, Cam Newton has grown into a terrific pocket passer. Newton has always had the size and strength that RGIII lacked, but with experience Cam Newton now knows when and where he can take chances, turning him into the most dangerous offense weapon in the NFL.
Peyton Manning meanwhile, is coming of the worst season of his career as he stands less than two months from turning 40. A season in which he missed six weeks with a foot injury and looked like he would be better off tossing the ball around with his kids than leading a NFL team to the Super Bowl. Still in two playoff starts, Manning did just enough to get the Broncos to the Super Bowl by avoiding the big mistake. The Broncos no longer need Peyton Manning to carry the team to win the game, unlike two years ago when Manning was still setting records and winning MVP awards he is now a game manager who needs to stay within himself and let the other players around him make the big plays to win the game.
The Broncos are not in the Super Bowl because of Peyton Manning, they are in Santa Clara because of a spectacular defense that has carried them all season. When the Broncos lost Super Bowl XLVIII two years ago they had the best offense in the NFL and were crushed by the Seahawks who had the best defense in the NFL. This time around Denver has the league’s best defense and if they are to have a chance to win the Lombardi Trophy they will need to keep the Panthers in check just like the Seahawks did to the Broncos in the Meadowlands.
The Panthers also have a terrific defense, with Luke Kuechly scoring two defensive touchdowns in the postseason. The Panthers also have a shutdown corner in Josh Norman who so utterly frustrated Odell Beckham Jr. that the Giants All-Pro receiver lost his focus and committed three personal fouls. Norman was great all season at shutting down the opposing teams’ top receiver, often taking them out of the game. The Panthers Coach Ron Rivera was once part of the greatest defensive teams in the last 50 years and the Panthers players have learned quite well from their coach.
The Panthers are the overall better team. If the Panthers bring their top effort, like they delivered in the NFC Championship against the Cardinals it is hard to imagine the Broncos winning. Where the Broncos have the edge is in experience as they went through the rigors and the monotony of Super Bowl week just two years ago. Of course the Broncos fell victim that game to a team playing at their best while they were at their worst. It is hard to imagine that many things going wrong for Denver again. The Panthers are a young team that likes to have fun, Cam Newton’s dabs and the handing of footballs to youngsters in the front row are indicative of this. They also play around and occasionally lose focus, posing for selfies on the sidelines and nearly blowing big leads like they did in the Divisional round against Seattle. If they are distracted in any way the door opens big time for Denver.
Ultimately defense wins championships, even in this offensive era. The Broncos allowed the fewest yards in the NFL and have carried the team all season and through the playoffs. When they lost Super Bowl XLVIII Von Miller was injured and Aquib Talib and DeMarcus Ware where elsewhere. These three players are the key to the Broncos success. In the AFC Championship Game Miller hit Tom Brady so many times, it began to look like their uniforms were sewn together. Now it’s without say that Cam Newton is a more mobile quarterback than Tom Brady, but with any quarterback when they are sent on the run and have little time to throw the ball their game suffers. The Panthers also have a better running game with Jonathan Stewart being a live back, compared to the one-dimensional Patriots. Stewart needs to keep the Broncos pass rush honest to help Cam Newton avoid being turned into a piñata. One thing that may hurt the Panthers is the lack of a deep threat receiver. Cam Newton made due all season with Ted Ginn Jr. being his top wide out, but if Talib can eliminate Ginn the focus will than turn to Tight End Greg Olsen. Olsen, was the Panthers number one target all season and can get the Panthers big first downs any time he is needed, but if Ginn is taken out by Talib and a Broncos double team can limit Olsen the door opens even wide for Denver.
No longer is Peyton Manning the driving force of the Broncos offense, as his nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions are the worst offense numbers ever for a starting quarterback. The Broncos now rely more on a running attack to open up and set up easy passing situations for the old master. The Broncos will need Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to be ready to carry the load to keep the pressure of Manning and keep them in easy third down situations. One thing to look out for is Thomas Davis can he actually stop the Broncos run game, playing with a hard brace after breaking his arm against the Cardinals. Davis is a key cog in the Carolina run defense and if he is unable to make an impact the Broncos task will be easier.
What will be the story of Super Bowl 50 when the game is over? Will it be Cam Newton dabbing and the Panthers finishing off a dominant season with a Lombardi Trophy? Will it be Peyton Manning riding into the sunset with a Super Bowl ring? Had there been no two week gap between the championship game and the Super Bowl, there is little doubt the Panthers would have a huge edge as they jumped out to big leads in both the Divisional Playoffs and Championship Game. A two week gap can blunt that type of momentum, the extra week meanwhile helps an older team like the Broncos. The Panthers also have not been through this before while the Broncos have. It’s these little edges that will be the difference in this game. The closer the game remains the longer it remains close the greater chance the Broncos have to win. The Broncos will not blow out the Panthers, but can get blown off the field if Carolina gets off to a fast start. I don’t see a fast start in this Super Bowl for either team. I see a close defensive battle that will come down to a late field goal or a late touchdown. Two minutes left who better to win the game that sets up like that then Peyton Manning, who gets his story book finish.
Super Bowl MVP