Isaiah Freedman staff writer
As with any Super Bowl, there are tons of juicy narratives floating around before the big game. This time is no different, with questions concerning whether or not this could be Peyton Manning’s last game, if the Broncos’ offense will self-destruct (like they did in the 2014 Super Bowl) and if Cam Newton is too happy (I never said the narratives had to make sense).
ESPN SportsNation recently ran a poll asking fans which team will come away with a victory. The results were two-thirds believed the Panthers would bring home the Lombardi, while only a third believed the Broncos would win it all.
It seems the public lacks confidence in the Broncos, but for good reason. For one, this current Panthers team is constructed eerily similarly to that of the Seahawks team that dismantled the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVII. That Seahawks team had an athletic, dual threat quarterback in Russell Wilson, as does this Panthers team in Cam Newton. That Seahawks squad also had a vicious and athletic defense featuring a dominant player in each layer, and so does this Panthers team with studs along the defensive line (Kawann Short), at linebacker (Luke Kuechly) and in the secondary (Josh Norman).
Meanwhile, the Broncos haven’t really changed much since that game. Yes, they improved their defense, but their offense has regressed as well. Quite simply, the Broncos excel only at one side of the ball, and the Panthers excel at two. The sad part is that the Broncos offense used to be an absolute juggernaut. It was the norm for them to put up 35 points a game without blinking. Times have gotten tougher. Peyton Manning, the Broncos’ quarterback, is 39-years-old (and playing like it), reportedly “has no feeling in his fingers” and now boasts a noodle for an arm. At least it’s al dente, though.
Junior Grant Gaon, an avid football fan, is predicting a Carolina victory.
“I believe the Panthers will win the Super Bowl because the team is really rolling right now, and this just feels like Cam’s year,” Gaon said.
However, senior Alex Alcalde’s prediction doesn’t echo Gaon’s.
“It is a similar case back in 2014,” Alcalde explained, “where the Broncos faced Seattle, and the better defense [Seattle’s] won. But right now, Denver boasts the better defense, so that’s why I think they will win.”
Here is a look at each team’s offense and defense, head-to-head.
Carolina Offense: The Panthers’ offensive production this year has definitely exceeded expectations, considering the team lost its top wideout Kelvin Benjamin before the season. If I told you a team with Ted “Butterfingers” Ginn, Philly Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and inexperienced second-round pick Devin Funchess as its top receivers would rank number one in the league in scoring, would you believe me? It starts with Cam Newton, the favorite to win MVP. The man just demoralizes defenses the same way Steph Curry does. Cam has the rare ability to beat teams with his legs and his precision passing. His favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, is one of the best at his position. It’s really astonishing how often Olsen catches passes without a single defender in his vicinity, especially since so much defensive planning goes into containing him. It is a testament to his clean route-running that he manages to escape from double-coverage so often. To round it off, the Panthers’ offensive line has been much better than expected. The biggest story has been left tackle Michael Oher, who you may know from The Blind Side, or as I put it, another sappy Sandra Bullock film. After flaming out in Tennessee last year, Oher looked to be on his way out of the league, until Carolina gave him another chance. Combine all that with tough-as-nails running back Jonathan Stewart, and the Panthers offense is a churning machine.
Denver Offense: This offense was 19th in the league in scoring this year, but watching them, it’s a wonder why they’re not worse. With Peyton Manning suiting up for what may be his final game Sunday, his wobbly throwing arm has dragged him this far. Teams don’t expect the Broncos to throw long; therefore, the field is shortened for the entire Broncos offense, which is the last thing this group needs. Their offensive line is questionable, and it will probably be torn into pieces by the indestructible Kawann Short and his partner in crime Star Lotulelei. Denver’s running game is solid, but their tendency to run it an inordinate number of times in a passing league has squandered their running backs’ production. Here’s a stat that puts it in perspective: Peyton Manning threw only one touchdown pass in Denver the entire season. In short, this is an offense that grinds out points excruciatingly slowly, and will probably need to rely on a defensive touchdown to stay in the game.
Carolina Defense: They were sixth in points allowed this season, and have some truly generational stars such as those mentioned above in Short, Kuechly, Lotulelei and Norman. Besides those studs, the defense is filled with solid role players: Thomas Davis, Mario Addison, Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has mastered the art of getting everything there is to mine from this group. The scary part is, they are not the best defense in this matchup.
Denver Defense: While the Panthers’ defense is fantastic, this Broncos unit is on another level, and is the main reason reason coach Gary Kubiak and his squad are competing for the Super Bowl. They allowed the least amount of yards all season, and were fourth in the league in points allowed. With the Broncos, their defense is filled with stars and quality depth. Their defensive line boasts quarterback-hounds Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, who do an excellent job of creating pressure albeit while being constantly double-teamed. With their linebackers, the Broncos have two superstars who probably literally give quarterbacks nightmares: linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Finally, there is the Denver secondary, perhaps the deepest and baddest in the NFL, containing three shutdown corners in Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby. By having all these quality players, the Broncos will harass Newton and lock down his receiving options.
This Super Bowl will have a difficult time living up to last year’s, but it should provide plenty of action. As a fan, I really do worry about a repeat from the Super Bowl two years ago. While the Panthers will struggle with the Denver defense, I can still see them putting up strong fight. As for the Broncos and their run heavy game plan, let’s just say I have my doubts.
Final Prediction: Panthers 26, Broncos 19