The day is almost upon us. On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will participate in the 50th iteration of America’s collective national holiday. The teams took very different paths in getting to this stage and I believe that will play a role in determining who comes out ahead.
The Panthers were on a destructive rampage for the majority of the season. Only one of a handful of teams to go 15-1 in a season, Carolina was well on its way to being undefeated until they ran into an Atlanta Falcons team that ended up playing spoiler. Since then, the Panthers have shown they still are as good as they were during their 14-0 start. With a blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game, Carolina nearly went through this postseason without breaking a sweat, save for a second half collapse against the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round.
The Broncos are a different story. Right now, they’re led by the legendary Peyton Manning, who has had by far his worst season of his long career. But that wasn’t always the case. For a solid part of the season up until the last game, it was Brock Osweiler’s team, but a poor performance in that game brought Manning back and he hasn’t looked back since, not throwing an interception after throwing 17 during the first half of the season. Denver’s league-best defense got to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots time and time again during the AFC Championship game, and it was ultimately a missed extra point from the usually automatic Stephen Gostowski that gave the Broncos the win. Nonetheless, here they are, and they intend to show why they belong this Sunday night.
When you look at the Panthers, you look first at their explosive offense, led by the likely MVP, quarterback Cam Newton. Cam has beaten defenses through the air and with his feet. After losing Kelvin Benjamin before the season even began, Ted Ginn Jr. and the Carolina receiving corps has stepped up in his absence. No defense has had an answer for Newton. The only way the Panthers are going to lose is if the other team puts up a lot of points.
The scary thing, though, is that Carolina has a top-notch defense as well. Luke Kuechly, Jared Allen, Thomas Davis, and Josh Norman have anchored down a defense that has committed punishing turnovers left and right. There’s not much margin for error when it comes to playing against the Panthers defense. Their one weakness, if there is one, is that they are vulnerable in the secondary, as evidenced by some big performances throughout the season by various opposing wide receivers.
Denver’s defense is just as good as Carolina’s, if not better. But their offense is a little more one-dimensional. The run game, led by Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, is pretty consistent, but the guy under center is not. At the end of his long road, Manning does not have the zip on the football he once had. He’s stayed mistake-free for the most part in the past few games. But no one knows if that will last one more game or not.
This is likely Peyton Manning’s last NFL game and to that, I must salute one of the greatest players this game has ever seen and one that I have had the opportunity to follow my whole life. Everyone wants “The Sherriff” to ride off into the sunset with a second ring in tow, but I have not been convinced that he can do enough for his team to give them the chance to win. Carolina is a different beast when it comes to the cream of the crop NFL teams. They have beaten the daylights out of almost everyone. My Super Bowl predictions are rarely right, but I’m riding the red-hot Cam Newton and the Panthers to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history, and in convincing fashion as well.
Panthers 31 – Broncos 13
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Matt Weingarten