Super Bowl 50 Preview: Carolina vs. Denver

super-bowlThis Sunday, is the biggest game day of the year for football fans, Super Bowl 50 will kick-off will be at Levi’s Stadium, around 5:30 p.m. local time in Santa Clara, Calif. when the almost perfect Carolina Panthers (17-1) will square off against the underdog Denver Broncos (14-4).

Many experts believe, leading up to the big game, that maybe Cam Newton is right when he says that the world has not seen any player like him, that he is almost like a superman figure to the sport. But he alone cannot carry that title, because the quarterback from the opposing side is Peyton Manning, he’s the NFL’s only five-time MVP, and on Sunday will be the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl.

If Newton was not facing Manning he would definitely be making all the headlines leading up to the match, and his Panthers would be the top story-line after having had a surprising yet well earned 15-1 regular-season record, alongside earning the top seed in the NFC.

Newton is also the odds-on favorite to win league MVP honors. But what Newton wants more than anything is earn Carolina its first Super Bowl title. He also wants to win the historic game for probably another reason, one that is at Manning’s expense, who might just be playing the final game of his career. A banged up Manning has had to overcome many injuries, poor play and a benching to finally get to the party and have an invite written in his name, for a fourth Super Bowl appearence. Surely he is hoping for a better result than the 43-8 beating the Seattle Seahawks game him and his teammates two years ago. “I’ve tried to take it one week at a time all season long,” Manning told media. “I’ve tried to stay in the moment and take it one week at a time.”

The matchup consists of the top seed in each conference. It also features the best of the best in that Carolina’s offense is top-ranked in the league, and it will face off against the league’s No. 1 defense in Denver.

Carolina has had an amazing run, winning its first 14 games with Newton at the helm, who threw 35 touchdown passes and rushed for 10 more scores to kick start an offense that racked up an average of 31.3 points per game and amassed 80 in dispatching Seattle and Arizona in the postseason. That’s dauntingly impressive.

Panther Running back Jonathan Stewart came back from a three-game absence to rush for a combined 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the two playoff victories. Tight end Greg Olsen got six receptions in each of those games. Overall, Olsen posted a team high of 77 catches and 1,104 yards during the regular season.

Carolina has a high-powered offense, but the Panthers only ranked sixth in the league with an average of 19.3 points allowed and fourth against the run (88.4 yards per game). Equally, Carolina was only fifth in the league with 44 sacks, despite having a pair of marquee defenders with linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman protecting their field. So despite the near perfect record, there are some points of weaknesses that Denver can exploit.

The Broncos’ Manning during his so far, illustrous career has shattered all kinds of offensive records and set news ones. But this year has not been as stellar. Since he reclaimed his starting position he has been more of a game manager, throwing for only 398 yards and two TDs in Denver’s two playoff wins.

The lucky thing is, Manning has elite wideouts in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who each got over 1,000 yards this season. Strangely enough though, both of Manning’s scoring passes in the postseason were thrown to tight end Owen Daniels who is another weapn.

Broncos’ star running back C.J. Anderson didn’t have a stellar regular season either, but he poured it on at the end and rushed for 92 yards in Week 17 and added 72 in each of the two playoff victories. But still, chances remain that the Broncos’ can cause some damage if they play strictly a defensive game. Their defense only permitted a league-low 283.1 yards while topping the NFL with 52 sacks. It’s also time to remember that Broncos star linebacker Von Miller, was selected one spot behind the No. 1 overall pick of Cam Newton in the 2011 entry draft. He recorded 11 sacks during the regular season and added 2.5 more in their playoff win over New England. So he could also be a decisive factor.

Imagine how extraordinary it would be if Manning, who’s attempting to become the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams, actually does it? What an amazing swan song that would be. But Carolina will work hard to stop that and instead will fight to become the fourth team – and third Super Bowl champion – to finish with an 18-1 record. Whatever the case, for the Denver fans, it will be a treat to watch since it will be their eighth Super Bowl appearance, tying New England, Dallas and Pittsburgh for most in league history. And when they don’t win, it should be a great send off party for Manning, who definitely makde his mark.

As much of a fairytale ending it could be, the Broncos aren’t going to win Super Bowl 50. Especially with Manning slinging the ball downfield with a less than perfect arm. He obviously doesn’t have the arm strength to consistently attack vertically, and to have a chance Denver need to engineer and execute lengthy drives. That’s just too much to ask of the old Bronco.

The Panthers are the big favorites for a reason. When you look at their blowout first halves in their two playoff games so far, it shows the same deadly recipe – a strong ground game to negate the opposing pass rush combined with a defense that can dominate between the trenches and consistently put quarterbacks in long passing situations. Situations that make opposing fail. Carolina has played consistent and dominating football, and their blueprint is working, it go them this far and all is left now for them is to raise the Vince Lombardi trophy on the ultimate stage.

Our Pick: Panthers over Broncos 33-21.