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Super Bowl 50: Denver And Carolina Battle To Be Called NFL’s Best

Saturday, February 06, 2016


The crowd holds its collective breath. Seconds remain on the clock, just six points separating the top 2 teams in all the land. The QB takes the snap, avoids the pass rush, and seeing his man in the end zone, he somehow gets rid of the ball just as he is crushed to the ground. The receiver leaps, his outstretched hands barely making contact with the ball,yet he makes the catch and lands with two feet down in the end zone. The officials signal a touchdown, and the Levi Stadium crowd goes bonkers.

As the offense stays on the field, the crowd falls back into an eerie silence, the head coach has no interest in ties today. The offense lines up, hikes the ball, and throws incomplete to the tight end in the corner of the end zone. The clock reads zero, with a tie score.

Overtime, in the Super Bowl, for the very first time. For those of us in the Northwest who don’t have a horse in this particular race, that’s the best ending we can hope for: a memorable game that lives up to the Super Bowl name.

But for others, this game has meaning much, much bigger than that. Entire seasons are on the line. Legacies, retirements, the old establishment versus the young guard.

This Sunday, when Carolina and Denver take the field, everything will be on the line, with hundreds of millions of viewers watching from around the world.

And a champion will be born.  

Notes, Trends, And Parallels:

Appearing in their second Super Bowl in franchise history, Carolina enters this game as the 8th team in the Super Bowl Era (1967-present) to represent their conference with only one regular season loss or less. The previous teams to accomplish this feat hold a 3-4 record in the Super Bowl. Carolina’s first appearance resulted in a 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots.  

Denver is making their 8th Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, with a 2-5 overall record. Their most recent trip was in 2013, a 43-8 demolishing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

This is the 8th time the NFL’s #1 overall defense has played in the Super Bowl, those teams are 6-1 in past matchups.

The color of Gatorade dumped on the winning head coach in the last five years has been blue (2014), orange (2013), purple (2011), and orange (2010). The 2012 Baltimore Ravens opted not to dump Gatorade on head coach John Harbaugh.

This will be Peyton Manning’s second Super Bowl with Denver, and his fourth overall. He is 1-2 in previous trips, with a title in 2006 over Chicago. Should Manning win this Sunday, he will become the first QB in Super Bowl history to start and win a Super Bowl with two different teams. Manning is the third QB in Super Bowl history to start at QB for two different teams, the others being Craig Morton (Dallas, Denver) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis, Arizona).

Denver head coach Gary Kubiak and Carolina head coach Ron Rivera both replaced John Fox to take their current roles. Fox led both Denver (2013) and Carolina (2003) to Super Bowls, both losing efforts. This will be the first trip for both head coaches, and both have now been to Super Bowls as a player, as an assistant coach, and as a head coach.  

This will be the 2nd time Peyton Manning will face a Ron Rivera defense in the Super Bowl. In the 2006 Super Bowl, Manning completed 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards, one TD and one INT in a 29-17 victory.

Cam Newton is appearing in his first Super Bowl in his 5th season in the NFL, Peyton Manning made his first trip in his seventh season.

Cam Newton and Peyton Manning are more than 13 years apart in age, the largest gap in age difference between starting QB’s in Super Bowl history.

This is the first time in Super Bowl history that two former #1 overall draft picks will start at QB on opposing teams.

Manning at age 39 will be the oldest starting QB in Super Bowl history, and will eclipse John Elway as the the oldest to win it if Denver emerges victorious.

If Newton wins, he will join Joe Montana and Joe Namath as the only QBs to start and win a college and a professional championship. Newton would also join Roger Staubach and Jim Plunkett as the only QB’s to win the Heisman trophy and a Super Bowl. Newton would be the only QB to have won all three.

Road To The Super Bowl:

For the Panthers, they designed their offense around the skillset of Newton, who has arguably entered himself in the discussion of the best dual-threat QB of all time. With an emphasis on running the ball, they had 17 more carries than the next team in the league. Passing was a little less successful, as Carolina had the #24 ranked offense when they went to the air, but the #2 offense when they stayed on the ground.

The defense did their part, creating the most turnovers in the league and holding offenses to the 6th fewest yards and points. Much of that credit is due to a great team effort, but Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly were without a doubt the standouts on that side of the ball.

While Carolina had what many considered the most balanced approach of any team, Denver spent most of the season forced to let their defense win games, while trying to find an identity on offense. With Peyton Manning nursing injuries and looking weaker in the arm each week, Kubiak turned to third year pro Brock Osweiller to run the offense while Manning got healthy. Manning would replace his understudy in week 17 to lead the Broncos to a win over San Diego and clinch the AFC top seed.

The offense finished 16th in yards and 19th in points, both far cries from the standards Manning-led offenses have been known for throughout his career. But the defense was far and away the best in the league, holding opponents to the lowest yards, 4th fewest points, and fewest passing yards. They sacked the QB more than any team in the league and held running backs to the third fewest yards. The one area they seem to lack is takeaways, producing just 18 all year.

The story changed a bit in the playoffs, and one could opine that Denver has had the easier go of it, even if Carolina looked like a buzzsaw in their two games.

Denver dispatched the #6 and #2 AFC teams by a combined score of 43-34, facing the #3 offense and #21 defense in Pittsburgh, and the #6 offense and #9 defense in New England. Carolina defeated the NFC #6 and #2 teams by a combined score of 80-39. Carolina roared out to a 31-0 lead over Seattle who were ranked as the #4 offense and the #2 defense. The following week, Carolina took a 24-7 first half lead over Arizona, who at the time carried the #1 ranked offense and the #5 defense.

Matchups can be tricky, and are never like comparing apples to apples, but numbers always tell the same story.

Based on these numbers, Denver could be in serious trouble as Carolina leads in all but two defensive categories and lead Denver in every offensive category.

This could indicate that Denver is just the latest lamb to the slaughter in facing Carolina, but on the other hand, Carolina could be in serious trouble as they have been able to coast in the second halves of their playoff games after surging out to big first half leads in both games.

Denver’s best bet is to force a slow game with low scoring and throw some adversity Carolina’s way for a change, they may have the upper hand if they can find ways to capitalize on the situation before Newton and the offense break a big play.

Who Wins And How:

If Denver is going to pull off the upset and send Manning riding off into the sunset a la John Elway, they are going to have to do some serious carrying of an all-time legend. While he used to be the focal point of the game plan for both teams, this week Manning should take a back seat and let his defense and running game lead him to victory, a time tested and successful game plan when facing dynamic offenses your team has little hope of matching in a shootout.

So far in the postseason Manning has been able to avoid a turnover, but his other averages do not exactly inspire hope. Newton on the other hand has been nothing short of brilliant, leading his offense to big leads in both games and making it look easy. Take a look at their numbers:

In addition to his passing production, Newton is averaging 50 rushing yards and 1 rushing touchdown per game. Most coaches could only dream of a QB who completes 70% of his passes and contributes 300 total yards and 2 total touchdowns per game while limiting his mistakes.

Manning is playing the “game manager” and doing an admirable job of it, and that simply is the best option for Denver at this point. Manning still has the premiere mind of any QB in the NFL and is always altering plays to put his team in the best situation possible. But it’s impossible to deny that his depleted arm simply cannot consistently make the plays that his eyes see on the field. There’s no doubt that he still has at least one great throw left in his right arm, but one critical mistake against Carolina could be the deciding factor if the play does not go his way.  

For Carolina, what they need to do is simple, on paper at least. On defense, they need to badger and bully a legend many of them grew up watching,and capitalize on his mistakes. On offense, they need to create long drives, put points on the board, and keep the pressure on the opposing team to keep up.

For Denver to win, they need to sustain drives, score early to put Carolina in a hole, and DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are going to have to make life a nightmare for Newton. No one on the Panthers is a legitimate passing threat other than Greg Olsen, so if they can limit him the same way they limited Rob Gronkowski last week, it will leave Cam with few ways to beat an elite defensive unit with three great cover corners. Ted Ginn and Corey Brown are both speedsters on the outside, so Denver will need to make sure they don’t let them loose in the secondary.

Looking at everything objectively, I have to believe that Carolina wins this one, and that the game is not as close as the fans deserve it to be. That said, it would be neat to see John Elway help give Manning the same sendoff Denver game him in 1998. If Denver’s defense can contain Newton and the offense can score at least three touchdowns, which doesn’t sound likely, then I like Denver’s chances. If Carolina storms out to an early lead, I like Cam’s chances to add NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Super Bowl champion to his hardware collection.

Regardless of who wins, I would like to see a  great game on Sunday, a closely fought contest that ideally goes into over time.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: The 10 Best Super Bowl Commercials of All Time

Here is a look back at 10 of the best, and most iconic Super Bowl commercials of all time.

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Apple: "Sledge Hammer" 1984

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Coca Cola: "Mean Joe Greene" 1979

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Nike: Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny, 1992

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Old Spice: “The Man your man can smell like” 2010

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Pepsi: Cindy Crawford, 1992

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 Monster.com: “When I Grow Up” 1999

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Snickers: Betty White, 2010

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Volkswagen: “The Force” 2011

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Budweiser Frogs, 1995

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 Budweiser: "Puppy Love" 2014


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