This Sunday will mark the 50th Super Bowl when the Carolina Panthers meet the Denver Broncos in Santa Clara, California. The young and brash Panthers have been the heavy favorites so far, but the Broncos, led by the resurgence of quarterback Peyton Manning, are coming on strong.
The Panthers will look to be the fourth team of all-time to finish the season with one loss, and the first since the 18-1 New England Patriots in 2007. The storyline that the Broncos are dealing with is whether or not this will be Peyton Manning’s last game; it is being reported that he told Bill Belichick after the AFC Championship Game, “This may be my last rodeo.”
Two campus correspondents for the Daily Campus sports section debate who will win the big game.
Matt Barresi: I almost feel bad to go with the overwhelming favorite, but I have to stick with the Carolina Panthers. The media, the public and Vegas are all in on the Panthers, much like they were on the Patriots last week against the Broncos – and that didn’t exactly work out. But the Panthers aren’t the Patriots. They have one loss all season and have been great on both sides of the ball.
Cam Newton is the NFL MVP and is an elite offensive threat. His athletic ability and style of play makes him a far different challenge than the one the Broncos just faced in Tom Brady. Greg Olsen is having a tremendous season from the tight-end slot. And unlike the Patriots, the Panthers have a deep threat in wide-out Devin Funchess, who has been strong all year.
Defensively, Luke Kuechly may be the best defensive player in football not named J.J. Watt. And while his play after the whistle may garner him more attention than he deserves, Josh Norman has been a standout all year for the Panthers at cornerback.
The Panthers have some elite talent, and I don’t know if the Broncos are ready for it. All year, the AFC was unimpressive and inferior to the NFC; and the Panthers’ road to the Super Bowl was much more impressive than that of the Broncos.
Shahan Kamal: I feel like I’ve heard this before. This team is better than the Denver Broncos. The Broncos don’t have a chance. Vegas isn’t giving Denver a chance. They just aren’t good enough. Two weeks ago, when the New England Patriots took down the Kansas City Chiefs, I thought, “there goes Denver’s shot at a Super Bowl.”
But as the week went on, Denver’s confidence didn’t waver, and they felt disrespected. The Broncos thrived in their role as the underdog against New England. The funny thing is, New England would never have been such a heavy underdog against the Carolina Panthers, yet the Broncos, who physically and mentally outlasted the Patriots, are being counted out.
The Broncos boasted the best defense in the National Football League, with a fearsome pass-rush and a very talented secondary. Carolina may have the best offense in the league, but we saw what came to be when a record setting offense with a great red-zone tight-end met the best defense in the league two years ago.
Julius Thomas and the Denver Broncos were embarrassingly beaten down by the "Legion of Boom" in what is considered one of the worst games in Super Bowl history. Now, after two years of living with that loss, the No Fly Zone is going to try to do the same to Cam Newton and the Panthers.
Barresi: At the end of the day, the Broncos will still rely on Peyton Manning. The saying may be that “defense wins championships,” but I don’t think it applies when your quarterback is an ineffective 38-year-old with no juice left in the tank.
Manning was effectively replaced by Brock Osweiler this season because he was so terrible, and only regained his spot after the running game led them to a comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs with him back in behind center. He just doesn’t have it anymore. I’ll give him the opening drive against the Patriots, but that game got off to a funky start with the Patriots electing to receive, giving him a solid field position after a punt.
He really accomplished nothing after that point. The Broncos defense won them that game. If you are going to argue against that, than you must’ve been watching a different game than me. The Panthers come in with the seventh best defense in the league so it will be another tall task for Manning.
Even if Manning can bring his “A” game, which isn’t much, I still think the Panthers have a certain swagger to them that they’re not going to lose. They have that “it” factor. They’re not that cocky (although maybe a little bit), they’re just supremely confident and they carry themselves like it.
They’ve backed up their attitude on the field all season long. They won convincingly over the Arizona Cardinals and beat up on the Seahawks in the first half. Two teams who frankly could, and I think would, beat the Broncos as well.
Kamal: While I agree that there is plenty of reason to believe in the Panthers’ swagger, this Broncos defense is like nothing they’ve faced so far. The Cardinals defense suffered without Tyrann Mathieu, and the Seahawks defense was good, but not great.
As for Peyton Manning, he made some great throws against New England, and as always, did a great job dissecting the defense when necessary. He got the offense in the lead, which is all that head coach Gary Kubiak has asked him to do. All year, people have been saying that he has no arm strength anymore, but I can recall a number of passes this year and even in the AFC Championship game where he overthrew his receiver.
Not to be forgotten, Manning had one of his best games this season after the team’s bye week, when he looked two years younger and picked apart the Green Bay Packers. Once again, Manning will be coming off of an extra week, and will be able to do what is necessary for them to win this game.
One of the most forgotten reasons that the Broncos have flourished defensively this year has been the addition of Wade Phillips at defensive coordinator. His game-planning was masterful in confusing Brady and Roethlisberger in their first two playoff games, not to mention their incredible comeback win against the Cincinnati Bengals in a game that was crucial for the Broncos to make the Super Bowl (they would not likely be in the playoffs if they hadn’t won that game).
I expect Phillips to dial up another great game-plan and for Manning to put together his best game of the season, because they will need everything they can get to upend the Carolina Panthers in Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.