The breakdowns are done and the big game will kick off Sunday as the whole world watches. All that’s left for me to do is give a prediction.
Conventional wisdom is going with the Panthers and for good reason. Carolina has got something special in quarterback Cam Newton. If the Panthers win, he’ll join the company of Joe Namath and Joe Montana as the third quarterback to win championships in college and the NFL. Not only that, say he wins the NFL MVP (likely) and Super Bowl MVP — that puts him on a list with only Marcus Allen. That is winning a national championship, a Super Bowl, the Heisman Trophy, NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP. It’s incredible what he’s been doing and I say we enjoy the ride while we can.
As Newton’s storied career seems to have gained significant traction this season and gained luster with this Super Bowl appearance, Denver’s quarterback is looking to put a stamp on the culmination of his storied career in this Super Bowl. I grew up idolizing Peyton Manning and it’s going to be a different league without him, much like Major League Baseball is now without Derek Jeter. I still think he’s got a little bit left in his tank and I’m curious to see how he performs against a defense like the Panthers — as well as avenges his most recent Super Bowl appearance.
If both teams score at or under 20-points, I think the Broncos end up with the confetti raining down on them. If Denver’s offense is forced to put up much more than 20-points then it’ll be Newton and the Panthers dabbing all over Santa Clara. What’s certain is that if you’re a fan of defense, you’re in luck. Denver’s is better and has to have its best effort on Sunday to secure a win, whereas Carolina’s defense has to just not beat itself.
In reality, no one really knows what they’re going to see on Sunday. Two years ago when the Seahawks dismantled the Broncos, no one saw it coming. We could be in store for a bit of that if the Panthers roll early like they did against the Seahawks in the divisional round. But we could also see a classic Super Bowl, one in which the last team with the ball wins the game.
For Carolina, I would put a lot of emphasis on getting ahead early. I’ve certainly hyped up the Denver defense and I don’t think Carolina wants to get bogged down in a chess match with Wade Phillips (Denver defensive coordinator), at least right away. Newton will want to make some big plays right away, or the defense will need a big play leading to a short field for some points. I just think that getting ahead early against Denver and forcing Manning to play from behind would play right into the hands of the Panthers.
For Denver, they need to slow the game down. They need to be the opposite of the Golden State Warriors — they need to be the Wisconsin Badgers in basketball. Meaning that it’s OK for them to settle for a lot of field goals, provided they rattle off long drives and keep the clock moving. That strategy serves to allow the Broncos to keep utter control of the game, namely by keeping Newton off the field. I think that Denver will need to control the time of possession, and keep Carolina’s offense on the sideline, in order to pull off the upset.
Ultimately, I’m leaning toward the conventional wisdom in taking the Panthers; but I might change my mind a few times before the game. It just seems like the Panthers have something special going on and a lot of winning championships is being hot at the right time. The Panthers have been hot all year, but they’re scalding right now. If it was an instance where a top offense like the Panthers was taking on a top defense like the Broncos, I would take Denver. But that’s not the case. Carolina is about as complete of a team as I’ve seen in a long time and they’re going to be a pain for the Seahawks for years to come. It won’t be up to Newton to win the game, but he’ll make the big plays necessary for his defense to do what they do best. Even so, I would be remiss without acknowledging what a fitting ending to a career it would be for Manning to get another ring. Regardless of how all the chips fall, hats off to him for a Hall of Fame career.
Prediction: Carolina: 27 – Denver: 20
Only one way to find out what really happens, tune in 3 p.m. Sunday to CBS.
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