By Dakota Randall
BU News Service
The Carolina Panthers stand as 5.5 point favorites over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, which will be played Sunday at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
While many would like to see Peyton Manning end his career with a second championship, few expect it to actually happen. The Carolina Panthers, led by MVP-lock Cam Newton, are the consensus pick, and rightfully so.
Carolina has more talent across the board and has played at an extremely high level from beginning to end this season. Compared to Denver’s inconsistent performance, and with the Broncos’ failures in Super Bowl 48 still fresh in mind, the Panthers look and feel like a lock to bring home the franchise’s first championship in its 23-year history.
While Denver certainly has a fighter’s chance, here are five reasons why I believe the Carolina Panthers will win Super Bowl 50.
This Is A Quarterback’s League
This year’s Super Bowl is being billed as a battle of the quartearbacks. In this case, we have Peyton Manning, a sure-fire hall-of-famer who, despite his struggles, is attempting the storybook ending to a mixed bag of a career.
On the other side is the Panthers’ Cam Newton, whose on-the-field personality and off-the-field history have divided football fans. Still, most agree that he’s a singular talent that the NFL hasn’t seen before. His game has been elevated this season to a level that is sure to win him the league MVP, whereas Peyton Manning would, if such things existed, be a strong candidate for a “Least Valuable Player” award.
The big game has typically been won, especially recently, by great quarterbacks who are playing at the top of their game.
The Panthers are diverse offensively
I know what you’re thinking: “The Patriots were revered for how diverse they were all season long, and the Broncos figured them out.” That’s fair. However, not only did the Patriots abandon any sort of offensive multiplicity or diversity in their loss against Denver, but they really never were able to diversify their attack against defenses that were decidedly above-average.
I believe Carolina will fair much better this Sunday. Outside of Cam Newton, the Panthers may not have any player on offense with as much skill or dynamic playmaking ability as Ron Gronkowski or Julian Edelman, but they have skill players at every position and an offense that is designed to win in different ways.
Newton may not be in the same league as Tom Brady in terms of pure pocket-passing, but his improvisational ability and skills as a runner, in addition to his ridiculous size, offer a dynamic that the Broncos haven’t dealt with yet.
Newton has plenty of weapons around him. Jonathan Stewart is not a great running back, but he’s very good. And while Greg Olsen may not be as good as Gronk, it’s fair to say he’s the second best tight end in football right now. The Panthers also boast talented young receivers in Devin Funchess and Corey Brown, as well as veteran speedster Ted Ginn Jr.
Carolina’s Dynamic Defense
I believe Denver has a better defense than Carolina, though it’s close. Denver’s defense is bigger, stronger and has better players across the board. The Panthers, though, are very strong in their own right. The team led the league with 39 takeaways this season, and its five defensive touchdowns were good for second in the NFL.
This is especially bad news for Peyton Manning. While he’s been relatively mistake-free in the postseason, his regular season was a different story.
Manning’s 17 interceptions were the second-most in the league, and his tendency to throw up balls that hang in the air for an extended period of time could be pounced on by Carolina’s opportunistic secondary, led by emerging star cornerback Josh Norman.
I like Carolina’s chances to throw up an early crooked number. This would put Manning and the Denver offense into a position where they have to take chances down the field, which is a recipe for disaster against a team like the Panthers.
Denver’s Dysfunctional Offense
Despite still having many of the same players the team had in Super Bowl 48, the Broncos’ offense bares little resemblance to the squad that ran up huge point totals throughout the 2013-2014 season.
In addition to the interceptions, Manning’s 67.9 QBR is good for dead-last in the NFL, and his nine TD passes this season were by far the fewest of his career. The Broncos’ 22.2 PPG also ranks in the bottom-half of the league.
Manning’s not the only player on the Denver offense to show dips in production this year. Running backs Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson have underwhelmed, and the Broncos have gotten little production from the tight end position all season.
The absence of the Denver crowd and the “mile-high” advantage will be a factor in Super Bowl 50. This is not to say that the Broncos are incapable of winning away from home, but the team does have one of the truly great home-field advantages in the NFL, which was on display in their victory over the Patriots in the AFC championship game.
The Denver crowd can get very, very loud, which has been a big advantage for Wade Phillip’s aggressive defense. Visiting teams’ offensive lines have trouble with their silent snap counts, and the Denver defense, led by its veterans, can make it very difficult for opposing offenses to ever get comfortable. The unit is capable of wreaking havoc anywhere it plays, but it will not have the advantage that was so clearly on display against New England.
Playing indoors in a climate controlled, neutral environment can be a positive for both teams, but the fact that Denver’s crowd and environment won’t involved is a big plus for Carolina.
Picking this game has been difficult. It’s really come down to going with my head or my heart. My heart tells me that Denver, who has pulled out bizarre, improbable victories all season, has a legitimate chance on Sunday. Carolina could show its youth and inexperience and get overwhelmed by a savvy veteran group that’s been through this before.
More often than not, though, this is a league where talent wins out, especially when one team is so clearly superior. The Panthers simply have too many weapons, and are complimented by a defense that, while not quite as good as Denver’s, is among the elite.
For the Broncos to win this game, it would have to look a lot like Super Bowl 36, when the Patriots pulled off a stunning upset of the St. Louis Rams. It will take something equally shocking and improbable for Denver to win this game.
Carolina – 34 Denver – 17.