Five years ago, the two worst teams in the NFL were the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, as evidenced by them picking first and second in the 2011 draft respectively. A half-decade later, thanks to good drafting and smart free-agent additions, both teams are set to square off on football’s grandest stage, Super Bowl 50.
This year’s edition of the battle for football supremacy will be the tale of two quarterbacks who could not be more different, and two defenses who couldn’t be more similar.
The quarterbacks of course are Denver’s Peyton Manning, fading star who rode on the back of his stout defense to his fourth Super Bowl appearance, and Cam Newton, the new prototype for quarterbacks who rode on the back of his stout defense, his legs and his arm to his first Super Bowl.
This game almost feels like the passing of the torch from one member of the quarterbacks Mount Rushmore to a future member as Manning, one of the long time gold standard for passing, and Newton, the new standard for passing, take the field together.
With both defenses being almost mirror images of each other, save for Carolina’s lack of a second shut down corner and Denver’s lack of an all world middle linebacker, the game will in large part come down to the play of the quarterbacks.
Coming into the game, Newton has passed and ran his way to what will almost certainly be his first league MVP award whereas Manning managed to almost lead the league in interceptions despite only starting nine games. While Manning has been clean with the football as of late, posting a 2:0 touchdown to interception ratio over his last two and a half games, he will have to be laser sharp with his throws to avoid adding another chapter to his career narrative of throwing a bad pick in a big moment. This will be no easy feat as the Panthers lead the league with 24 interceptions during the regular season, while adding another six in two post-season games.
How Manning plays against the Panther’s defense will be one of the top story lines heading into the game, however, the most intriguing will be how Newton plays against Denver’s vaunted defense.
Denver boasts the top overall defense in the league along with the top pass defense and third best run defense. To be the best defense, you have to do a lot of things right and what they do best is rush the quarterback as they lead the league with 52 sacks compared to Carolina’s 44.
The beauty of Newton’s style of quarterbacking is that even if you send pressure, he is athletic enough to roll out of the pocket and take off, or deliver a strike down field. Newton’s pension to run with the football forces the defense to play 11 on 11, meaning they must frequently have a defender spy him to make sure he doesn’t go sprinting up the sideline. Newton is at a point where his abilities as a passer have caught up to his abilities as a runner, making him all the more lethal.
Barring some freak once in a lifetime play, I expect the Panthers to beat out the Broncos 33-24 due to Manning’s so-so play and Newton dynamic play making from in or outside the pocket.