by Ian S Palmer
The wait is finally over as the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will battle it out at Super Bowl 50 this Sunday, February 7 at Santa Clara, California’s Levi’s Stadium for all the marbles. The Panthers almost pulled off a perfect record this season, but had to settle for a 15-1 mark to easily capture the NFC South. The Broncos were no slouches by any means as they took home the AFC West by going 12-4. The two top seeds are known as defensive specialists as the Broncos were ranked number one in the NFL while the Panthers were right behind them in second.
- 5Dimes currently lists the Panthers as six point favorites at -110 with the Broncos +6 at -110 and the over/under at 45 points with both being -110
The Panthers don’t really have a lot of Super Bowl experience as this will be just their second appearance in the big game. They were downed 32-29 at Super Bowl XXXVIII by the New England Patriots in Houston in 2004 and will be trying for their first-ever triumph a dozen years later. Carolina nearly missed the boat though when they eased up on the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Game and hung on for a 31-24 home win. They didn’t make the same mistake twice however as they punished the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 at home in the NFC Conference Final.
Panthers’ quarterback and likely league MVP Cam Newton through for 335 yards and a pair of touchdown passes against the Cardinals and also ran in two touchdowns as he rushed for another 47 yards. The Panthers led the NFL in points per game this year at 31.2 and then racked up 80 in their two playoff contests against teams who were both ranked in the top five in defense. Carolina also led the league in forced turnovers with 39 and was credited with another nine in their two postseason victories.
This means there will be a lot of pressure placed on the shoulders of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning as the 39-year-old was picked off 17 times in only 10 games for the second-worst mark in the league. The Denver offensive line could have problems with the Carolina’s strong front and Manning is going to have to be at his best to handle the pressure. If he does make any mistakes, the Panthers will certainly be ready to jump on them and make him pay.
Newton will definitely be a key player in the game especially if he can handle the pressure and stay in the pocket. He’s also got the skills to carry the ball out of trouble if he doesn’t have any passing options. Newton will be backed up by Carolina’s solid ground attack which resulted in five touchdowns in their two playoff outings along with an average of 148 rushing yards in each game. Overall, it looks like Carolina has a stronger and more flexible attack, but they’ll be facing an excellent Denver secondary and pass rush.
On the other side of the coin, if defense wins Super Bowls, then the Broncos will be tough to beat. Wade Phillips, the team’s defensive coordinator came up with the perfect game plan to baffle Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in their 20-18 home win in the AFC Conference Final. Brady was hit 23 times and sacked on four occasions. No other quarterback had been hit that much in a game this year. Malik Jackson, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware led the way against the Patriots and will be counted on to do the same against Carolina.
But while the Denver defense has been in top form for most of the season, there are some doubts about the offense. Manning threw for 176 yards as he went 17 for 32 against New England and the ground attack produced just 30 carries for 99 yards. Denver could have problems advancing the football against a solid Carolina front. The Broncos hit the 30-point barrier just twice this season and 13 of their encounters were decided by a maximum of seven points. They need to make sure the stay within reach against the Panthers because they’ll find it extremely hard to come back from a deficit of more than 14 points.
The week’s rest should be beneficial to Manning and it’s possible that he goes out in a blaze of glory at what could be his last Super Bowl appearance. He’s gone 1-3 in title games so far, but could still have enough left in the tank to pull off an upset. However, for it to happen, the Broncos will need to play a near-perfect game.
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