Carolina Panthers (2 – 0)
Denver Broncos (2 – 0)
The AFC Championship Game is a distant memory. The euphoria of beating the New England Patriots has faded. In its place comes the challenge of matching up against the powerful Carolina Panthers. As was the case in games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Patriots, there are not many in the national media giving the Denver Broncos much of a shot to beat the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
There are story lines to LOVE in this Super Bowl. Is this Peyton Manning’s last game? Does this game signal a changing-of-the-guard from old school quarterback (Manning) to new school quarterback (Cam Newton)? Can the Denver defense – the best in the league – stand up to the Carolina offense – the best in the league? And on, and on and on.
I think the NFL must be very happy that this is the draw for the 50th playing of the Super Bowl. Here’s hoping the game lives up to the hype.
The Denver Broncos find themselves in an NFL record tying 8th Super Bowl. No team has played in the Super Bowl more frequently than they have. No team has lost more Super Bowls, either, but you have to be playing in the final game of the season to lose it, don’t you? This is Denver’s second championship appearance in 2 years. Last time, things didn’t go so well and the Seattle Seahawks dominated the Broncos. So, what’s different.
Von Miller. Derek Wolfe. Chris Harris, jr. None of these 3 players was active in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos defense wasn’t nearly the force it is now. That team and breezed through the regular season. This team is incredibly battle tested. They have won games in every way imaginable this season. They’ve not always looked good offensively doing so, but they have won.
When John Elway moved John Fox out of the head coaching job last winter, he said the team didn’t show enough fight under Fox. He said he wanted a team to go out “kicking and screaming.” This Denver Broncos team kicks and screams. Will that make a difference against the Carolina Panthers, a team regarded for the majority of the season as the best in the league?
KEY MATCH UP
The key match up in this game is the Denver defense vs. Cam Newton. Newton is a truly special player and he is a dynamic force on the football field. He’s played with lights-out talent this year, will likely win the Most Valuable Player Award and has scored 50 touchdowns either on the ground himself or through the air. He’s a linebacker playing quarterback. He runs better than most running backs and passes as well as almost any quarterback. He is a significant challenge for the Denver defense.
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware along with the rest of the defensive line will have their hands full with how Newton runs the Panthers offense. The Panthers like to start quick, to get their opponents in catch-up mode. They like games to be all-but over by halftime. If the Denver defense can get some stops early, can keep the Panthers off the board or, at least, limit them to field goals in the first quarter, they have a chance to put some doubt in the minds of the Panthers. Denver must weather the early storm because that early storm is coming.
The Panthers have played with the lead in almost all their games. They have been front runners all season long. If the Denver defense can hold firm, get some hits on Newton and limit the Panthers ground attack, it will be very interesting to see how Carolina handles itself. The Panthers haven’t had to win many close games this year. Winning close games is all Denver knows how to do.
This year, Demaryius Thomas has been the poster child for the inconsistent Denver Bronco offense. He has had dominant stretches this season where he simply looks unstoppable. He has also had long stretches (including both playoff games) during which he just disappears. And the drops. My goodness has Thomas dropped catchable balls in critical situations this year.
Thomas cannot disappear against the Panthers. Thomas must be a dominant player, must make all the catches that come his way, must break free of tackles and pick up yards after those catches. Thomas must prove, again, that he is Denver’s number 1 threat at wide out. If he doesn’t, it’s likely the Broncos lose this game. If Thomas doesn’t play well – if he’s not clutch – the Broncos may well get blown out.
I think Thomas is due for a big game here. Let’s not forget, the only bright side of Super Bowl XLVIII was Thomas’ 13 catches – a Super Bowl record. He can get big things done on big stages. He needs to Super Bowl Sunday.
The intangibles favor Denver. Big time. They are battle tested. They are rugged. They seem to play for each other. They have DeMarcus Ware making his first Super Bowl start. They have Pat Bowlen’s legacy for which to play. They want to get Peyton Manning a final Super Bowl in what is almost certainly his last game in a Denver Broncos uniform and likely the last game of his career. The intangibles tilt entirely to the Broncos.
I am so tired of the idea that Manning has to win this game to be considered among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Come on – Peyton Manning changed the game. He is absolutely one of the greatest to ever put on a helmet at the quarterback position. There is no question of this. But his diminishment this year has opened up the idea that he’s one of the goods, but not one of the greats. His teammates know that’s a ridiculous narrative and I bet that is extra motivation for them.
Nationally, Carolina is the choice to win this game in something of a route. There are few national pundits who are even giving the Broncos a punchers chance in this game. I think that’s crazy.
This team knows how to win close games, it knows how to play defense and (yes, I am looking through slightly orange tinted glasses) it seems to have figured out how to do enough on offense to be victorious. This team kicks and screams and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t kick and scream on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Panthers are terrific, to be sure. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs, though the Arizona Cardinals certainly helped the Panthers with turnover and the Seahawks almost came back to beat them. They looked dominant all year, but their division is soft and they didn’t play a particularly strong schedule. All that said, would I be surprised if the beat the Broncos by a couple touchdowns? No, I wouldn’t.
Would I be surprised if the Broncos blew out the Panthers. I absolutely would.
Denver has to be its game this week and they have to play it all but perfectly.
I won’t pick against the Broncos and I don’t think I need to. The battle tested, energized, completely motivated Denver Broncos will take the Lombardi Trophy home after a hard fought, close contest.
And Peyton Manning will get the ending to his career that he deserves.