We are just hours away from Super Bowl 50, where the Carolina Panthers will take on the Denver Broncos in a historic matchup. Not only is it the 50th Super Bowl ever, a number that made the NFL temporary suspend their roman numeral method of naming Super Bowls, but it comes as likely the final game in the career of one of the greatest to ever take the field, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
This game brings about as much of a contrast in quarterbacks as possible, and the 13-year age gap between the starters is the greatest in Super Bowl history. Manning, 39, is at the end of his rope, having his worst statistical season, but still exhibiting flashes of brilliance on the field and leadership matched by very few ever in sports. Cam Newton, 26, has just been awarded MVP despite 50/1 odds entering the season. He led the Panthers, a team who went just 7-8-1 a year ago to a 15-1 mark and the team’s second ever Super Bowl appearance. Peyton Manning represents the old-school pocket presence while Cam Newton is just about as dual-threat as you can get, with over 3200 rushing yards and 43 rushing TDs in five seasons. Manning isn’t one for showing off, while Newton’s swagger has unified his team and propelled them to the best season in team history.
While the focus of the game seems to be the quarterbacks, maybe it’s the other side of the ball that should be receiving the attention. The Broncos finished the lead #1 in defensive yards allowed and allowed just 18.5 points per game, good for fourth in the league. On the other hand, the Panthers led the league in takeaways with 39, six more than any other team, while also ranking #6 in both points and yards allowed. Each team had four defensive players make the Pro Bowl.
The defenses are both incredible, which should mean this game won’t be a shootout. However, for me the difference maker in this game is the Panthers offense, which led the league by scoring over 31 points per game, opposed to the 22 points per game for the Broncos that ranked just 19th. While each team had four defensive players make the Pro Bowl, the Panthers also had six offensive players selected. The Broncos had none. No one would have expected it going into the year, but the Panthers have become a juggernaut on both sides of the ball, and a team full with stars and no real weak points. Coming into the season, the Panthers had on paper easily the worst receiving corps in the NFL, and yet they’ve still managed to be near unstoppable, scoring 20 points in every game this year except for their sole loss to the Falcons.
I will be rooting for Peyton Manning to win this game because I think he deserves a second ring to close out a legendary career. However, I believe the best team in the NFL this season will be the ones to hold up the Lombardi trophy in the end. Gamblers seem to agree, as the line has been pushed from its initial 3.5-point edge favoring the Panthers all the way up to six points. In the end, I believe the Panthers will not run away with the game, but the Broncos offense will struggle to score touchdowns, which they’ll need in order to have a chance.
Prediction: Panthers 27, Broncos 16