Here we go folks, that bittersweet time for every football fan. As much as Super Bowl Sunday is a celebration of the NFL's championship, it's also the culmination of another football season. Come Monday, it's all over for actual NFL football for another eight months until it all starts over again. Eight long months. So before we talk draft and free agency for the New Orleans Saints, lets break down this final game of the season.
The AFC Champion Denver Broncos face the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers in this 50th anniversary of the biggest spectacle in American professional sports. Carolina enters the game with a stellar 17-1 record and they stand as a 5-point favorite in Vegas as well as being an overwhelming favorite in the public eye. Denver enters the game with a 14-4 record and they field the best defense in football. This game, despite the lopsided odds, really has the makings of another Super Bowl classic. Lets take a look at Super Bowl 50.
Two weeks ago I went 1-1
I told you so: Broncos over Patriots!
What do I know: Cardinals over Panthers?
SUPER BOWL 50 - Levi's Stadium - Santa Clara, California
AFC Champion - Denver Broncos
NFC Champion - Carolina Panthers
Sunday, February 7th, 2016
3:30pm PST / 5:30pm CST / 6:30pm EST
The Panthers are going to win, of course!
This is the consensus refrain I've hear ad nauseam since the conclusion of the NFC title game. I've asked many, and it's always the same. When the question is asked back to me, it's also always the same... Denver. The puzzled looks on these people's faces are always good for a laugh. Really? Denver? Yes, really. It's pretty amusing.
I've seen it far too often over the years, in both college and the NFL, great defense wins at the championship level. It would just be foolish to look past this fact. Denver has been stingy, opportunistic, and motivated this season. This unit is neither the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens, but they are the best overall defense in the NFL today, and will be the best unit on the field this Sunday. It's not difficult to be enamored with the dominance of the Panthers this season, but the Broncos are far from a sacrificial lamb that fell backwards into the Super Bowl.
The lead-up to this game feels awfully familiar, intimately familiar to Saints fans. This game is being presented as a mere formality, the coronation of the Panthers as champions, and the new standard of NFL greatness. This is eerily similar to the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIV, in which Manning's Colts were to dispatch of the Saints with the ease they did against most of their opponents during their 16-2 run. As we are all aware, the story of Super Bowl XLIV unfolded in a spectacularly different manner. The Colts were the consensus pick, the smart pick, but they were also the wrong pick.
Super Bowl 50 is following a similar trajectory but with Peyton Manning trading in his role as the MVP and heavy favorite, into the "broken-down old QB" out for one last try. Just two seasons after leading the unquestioned best offense in the NFL into the Super Bowl, now the unquestioned best defense in the NFL leads Manning there. Just like defense overwhelmingly won the day in Super Bowl XLVIII, so will it cary the day in Super Bowl 50, this time in the Broncos' favor. Manning and the Broncos are being judged by that team that was obliterated in the Super Bowl two years ago, but expect the players who remain from that game to use the experience as motivation in this one.
This just feels like a Denver upset win. Carolina enters this game as a 5.5 point favorite, the heaviest favorite since the aforementioned Colts, and underdogs have won 5 of the last 6 Super Bowls (the exception being GB in XLV). The strange "white jersey" trend still stands with the team wearing white (Denver) winning 10 of the last 11 Super Bowls (the exception again being GB in XLV). Trends and coincidences are one thing, but the most important factor in this game is what we will see from Denver on the field on Sunday.
Wade Phillips' defense, led by Von Miller, has the speed, strength, and smarts to keep the versatile Carolina offense from overwhelming them. This is a defense that kept future Hall-of-Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady under 20 points-per-game in the playoffs. Their ability to consistently create pressure with their defensive line will allow their linebackers to read and react to the versatile Newton.
On offense, Denver is nowhere near the threat they were two years ago, but that's not what this team needs to succeed, by design. Manning cannot and will not attack Carolina deep downfield, but he will utilize Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Owen Daniels against the Panther secondary the way Seattle did in the second half of the divisional playoff. This offense is actually better than they'll get any credit for.
I can see Carolina leading 14-10 at the half before Denver takes the game in the second half. At some point in this game, I can also see Ted Ginn, Jr dropping a pass with his back to the defense and his eyes toward the end zone. A soul-crushing missed opportunity that will be replayed for years to come. Manning, like Elway before him, will ride off into the sunset with his second Lombardi, holding off Cam Newton's coronation for at least another season. I agree with Drew Brees, I'm taking Denver to win. The 2015 Carolina Panthers are a great team, but they'll come up just short on Sunday.
Great teams do lose Super Bowls but great defenses win them, and they do so consistently. The 2015 Denver Broncos have a great defense, and it will carry its once-great offense where it failed in the past. The odds aren't in Denver's favor, but that should make this unlikely win all the more golden.
Super Bowl 50 Champion: Denver Broncos
Final Score: Broncos 23 - Panthers 21
Super Bowl 50 MVP: LB - Von Miller
There you have it folks, another Super Bowl and another NFL season in the books. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get it all started all over again. Let's get ready for the march toward Houston, Texas for Super Bowl LI. Now its your turn, leave us your final score and MVP picks in the comments section below!