CAROLINA PANTHERS vs. DENVER BRONCOS
4 PM (MT) CBS (online)
The Broncos are making their eighth Super Bowl appearance tying them with the Steelers (6-2), Cowboys (5-3), and Patriots (4-4). Super Bowl Sunday has not been too kind to the Broncos with losing the big game five times and losing each time by double digits. Denver is in the record book for having given up the most points in the second half (30, Super Bowl XXI), most points given up in any quarter (35, Super Bowl XXII) and biggest halftime deficit (25, Super Bowl XXII), most touchdowns given up (8, Super Bowl XXIV), most points allowed (55, Super Bowl XXIV), biggest defeat (45, Super Bowl XXIV), biggest deficit while being shutout (22, Super Bowl XLVIII), and twice being shutout in the first half (Super Bowl XII, XLVIII).
Though the Broncos did win back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1990s (XXXII, XXXIII) in quarterback John Elway’s final two seasons and with the addition of much needed running game provided by Terrell Davis.
This is the Panthers most recent Super Bowl since their appearance in Houston back in February 2004. The game is regarded as one of the best in NFL history, but it is largely overshadowed by the Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson halftime show.
The Broncos come in with the number 1 ranked defense while the Panthers come in with number 1 scoring offense as well as leading the league in turnover differential. Denver’s defense faced these quarterbacks who played in a Super Bowl or their team made the playoffs this season: Joe Flacco, Alex Smith (twice), Teddy Bridgewater, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger (twice), and Tom Brady (twice). Pretty impressive class of quarterbacks that have played in 11 Super Bowls and won 8 with their respective teams.
The Panthers are no slouch either having faced these quarterbacks using the same criterion: Drew Brees (twice), Russell Wilson (twice), Kirk Cousins, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, and Eli Manning. Among these quarterbacks: 6 Super Bowl appearances, 5 wins, 4 Super Bowl MVPs.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is the league MVP because of his 2015 stat line: 3837 yards, 59.7% completion, 35 TDs vs. 10 interceptions, and 636 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Most importantly, Newton was part of a 15-1 team. Newton’s favorite target in this offense is tight end Greg Olsen having caught 77 passes for 1,104 yards and 7 touchdowns. No tight end has ever been named Super Bowl MVP, but if one was to claim this award he could do it.
Peyton Manning has won the NFL MVP 5 times and is a solid lock for the Hall of Fame. This season was a very un-Manning-like season having completed 59.8% of his passes, thrown for 2,249 yards, and 9 touchdowns vs. 17 interceptions. Manning was 7-2 in the games he started and that was in part due to their defense. Backup Brock Osweiler came in when Manning was benched and led the Broncos to 5 wins to keep the Broncos playoff hopes alive. With the AFC West and homefield advantage on the line in the season finale against the Chargers, Osweiler was benched for Manning and he led the team to a 27-20 victory.
Throughout the playoffs Carolina overwhelmed their opponents first by blowing out Seattle in the first half of their divisional round game and then destroying Arizona in the NFC Championship. In a theme throughout the season, Denver has had to grind their way to victory. This was true in the playoffs. The Steelers played essentially a perfect game despite being decimated by injury at receiver and running back but a key fumble in the fourth quarter led to a Broncos touchdown that put them up 7. Even though tight end Rob Gronkowski had his way with the Broncos secondary, the Broncos defense was able to apply constant pressure on quarterback Tom Brady throughout the game. I remember watching the CBS pregame show prior to the AFC Championship Game and Broncos linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller were saying if they sacked Tom Brady two times, they win the game.
Denver recorded four sacks on Brady as well as forcing two interceptions. And won the game.
Carolina as well has played some close entertaining games as well. Their Week 6 come-from-behind win at Seattle where Carolina scored two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, a Week 8 win at home on Monday Night in overtime against the Colts, a high scoring affair against the Saints in New Orleans in Week 13, and a Week 15 win over the Giants that kept their perfect season intact until a loss the following week at Atlanta.
This could likely be Manning’s last game. If he ends up winning this game, he would have two Super Bowls – matching the same number of titles as his younger brother Eli Manning. Throughout the playoffs, Peyton Manning has thrown for zero touchdowns and most importantly zero touchdowns. Manning has evolved into the game manager mainly having the team rely on their running game of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman who have combined for 1,583 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Denver also a potent receiving offense at Manning’s disposal as well. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Demaryius Thomas could also be considered for the game’s MVP as well. Sanders caught 76 passes on 136 targets for 1,135 yards and 6 touchdowns while Thomas led the team in receptions (105), targets (177), and yards (1,304).
Enough rambling… time for the pick…
The focus will be on the quarterbacks, but this could be a good defensive Super Bowl as noted by FiveThirtyEight. Also FiveThirtyEight has been a pretty good predictor during this playoff season having only missed one game: The Bengals, who had a 58% chance of winning, lost to the Steelers.
Carolina is a 5.5 to 6-point favorite according to odds makers and per FiveThirtyEight has a 59% chance to win.
Denver has that number-1 ranked defense, but again Carolina led the league in scoring and led the league in turnover differential.
I think this will be a good entertaining game, and I agree with my fellow prognosticator on this.
PANTHERS 24, BRONCOS 20
MVP: Panthers QB Cam Newton