Saturday, February 6, 2016

Super Bowl 50 Preview

When: Sunday, February 7th, 2016
Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Kickoff: 6:30 PM Eastern Time 
Betting line: Carolina, -5.5 points

The 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl is upon us, and the narrative looks to provide another memorable match-up. Cam Newton plays the villain in Carolina as Peyton Manning looks to save the day for Denver one last time before riding off into the sunset, potentially for good. Who will prevail? With both teams sporting stout defenses, the victory bell will be rung at the hands of quarterback play. As of next Monday morning, a new champion will be crowned, forever carving their name into professional football immortality. So, without further delay,

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to witness the greatest sporting event known to western civilization."

Tale of the Tape

                               Carolina                     Denver
Super Bowl Appearances:                                 2                                                                  8
      Super Bowl Victories :                                 0                                                                  2
   Regular Season Record:                              15-1                                                             12-4
 Total Offensive Ranking:                                 1*                                                                8*
Total Defensive Ranking :                                 6*                                                                7*

*Indicates 2015 postseason statistics only

The Road to Super Bowl 50

Flashback all the way to August, 2015. Panthers number one receiver Kelvin Benjamin tears his ACL in a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins. Questions arise around Carolina's camp concerning how the team would perform without one of their best weapons. Many of us doubted the Panthers coming into the regular season, and many of us were proved utterly wrong. Although some still stayed faithful in their hopes for a title (Even Panthers GM Dave Gettleman admitted he lost faith after Benjamin's injury) clearly nobody could have predicted this. The Panthers rallied around each other and took on a "Us against the world" mentality, nearly completing a perfect regular season while creating a "bad guy" aura for themselves by dabbing and handing out footballs, eventually earning a first round bye in the playoffs. After thoroughly beating two exceptional football clubs in Seattle and Arizona, the Panthers now find themselves across from one of the most intelligent quarterbacks to ever step on a football field, and a stone-wall defense that's coming off a dominant performance against arguably the best quarterback of all-time.

While the Panthers addressed their adversity before even playing a game in 2015, the Broncos stared their fate into it's eyes late in the season. Peyton Manning had been benched during a game vs Kansas City after a (for lack of better words) poor performance against the Chiefs. Then came Brock Osweiler, the young knight in shining armor that had come to overtake the throne, and lead Denver back to the promise land. Leading Denver to the number one seed in the AFC, the debate weighed heavy across the football world of who should take over reins of the offense: Osweiler or Manning? Do you ride the horse that got you there? Or take a chance on a rested one? After long discussions within the organization, Peyton got the nod, and it turned out to be the right one. Scraping by Pittsburgh and New England, Manning held down the fort while Osweiler watched from afar. Although much of the attention is rested on Peyton, the heartbeat of this team rests within it's defense. It was they who weathered the storm as Denver found it's form offensively, and are in fact the reason Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger aren't playing in Sunday's game. Can the defense rise to the occasion one final time?

It's a Numbers Game...

10-9 Record of teams played who led NFL in scoring in Super Bowl, as the Panthers will become the 20th team to do so come Sunday. Unfortunately for Carolina fans, these teams have lost the last 4/5 games. Interesting enough, the Broncos' team of 2013 is part of that downward trend as well.

1st- There's a first time for everything, and interestingly enough, Super Bowl 50 will feature the first contest pitting two quarterbacks taken with the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. To continue the "first" trend, Peyton Manning is the first player to take four different head coaches to a Super Bowl appearance. Wait, there's more. Cam Newton has the opportunity to become the first player to win a National Championship in college, a Heisman trophy, NFL MVP and a Super Bowl as well.

10/11- Superstition trumps all when it comes to wearing white jerseys in the big game, as the team sporting their away attire have won the last ten out of eleven times. John Elway is very aware of this trend, as Denver was the home team and decided to rock the white uniforms. The Broncos are 0-4 all time in their orange uniforms for the Super Bowl, and Peyton Manning's only Super Bowl victory came in a... you guessed it... white uniform.

1.5- The amount, in millions, of people expected to call into work sick the day after the Super Bowl. I see your allergies are acting up already.

Key Matchups

Peyton Manning vs Luke Keuchly
When it comes down to intelligence, these two are the top-tier at their respective positions. The football IQ of both Manning and Keuchly will be drawn to a chess-match come Sunday, as you'll be able to see constant adjustments by both players to try and position themselves to make a play. Manning is notorious for making audible after audible (or dummy audibles for all we know) and yelling his favorite city in Nebraska, and Keuchly infamous for making on-the-fly adjustments after seeing what the offense presents. Not many players are able to go stride-for-stride with Manning in this department, yet Peyton just might have found his match. Luke Keuchly plays fast, physical, but more importantly, smart. Often times the mental battle, to the casual viewer, is overshadowed by the physical action on the field. But make no mistake, whoever wins the battle will have a heavy influence on Sunday's outcome.

Michael Oher vs Demarcus Ware 
If you're a fan of "The Blind Side" repeat after me: That Michael Oher isn't the Michael Oher playing in the Super Bowl. If you're dusting your seat off the Oher-bandwagon, we have some news for you: Michael Oher hasn't played great this season. In fact, his play has been at-best, suspect. Although Oher hasn't allowed a pressure on the quarterback in these past two games (Pro Football Focus), the inconsistency is worrisome enough to still grit your teeth at every snap. Unfortunately for Oher, the spotlight will be on him throughout the game with one of the best front-sevens in all of football in the Denver Broncos. Lined up across from Oher for the majority of the game will be the lethal tandem of Demarcus Ware and Von Miller, with Ware mostly being across from Oher. Keeping Cam Newton upright and healthy is obviously an important key to victory, and with Denver's defense up next on the menu, will Michael Oher be able to protect Cam's blind side? Or do Demarcus Ware and company have other plans?

How Carolina Can Win

  • Spread Denver Out- You have Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Tedd Ginn Jr. The last thing you want, especially with a defense as talented as Denver's, is to bunch everybody in the box. Spread the Broncos out and take your chances with the match-ups you have. Doing so, and doing so successfully, will then allow you to pound the football down the middle, something a 6'5" Cam Newton has no problem doing. 

  • Keep Things Simple- Like we talked about previously, Peyton Manning plays chess while others play checkers. Much of the time Manning wins the battle by the mind games he likes to play with the defense. During this process, defenses often try to keep pace and start overreacting to the audibles barked out by Peyton, therefore undoing the proper scheme that was originally set, and watching Manning take advantage of that after the ball is snapped. 

  • Play The Full 60 Minutes- This cannot be expressed enough. Finish. Finish. Finish. These Panthers all year now have had problems putting the icing on the cake (Most recently on display in the divisional round vs Seattle), and a veteran team with Super Bowl experience in the Denver Broncos will very easily keep themselves in a football game if given the opportunity. This is perhaps the most important facet of the game for Carolina, and should this come back to haunt the Panthers, it would be the greatest meltdown of a team in Super Bowl history. #KeepPounding and #DontGetComfortable
How Denver Can Win

  • Keep Cam In The Pocket- Typically with a mobile quarterback, you try to limit the damage done with their legs and force them into becoming a one trick pony. Although Cam Newton now is able to sit back and throw for 300 yards regardless, Newton still possesses an advantage when tucking the ball and running. Denver's secondary is talented enough to contain the Panthers' receiving corps, and the front four is talented enough to get to Newton, or at the very least, force questionable throws. 

  • Get Exotic- Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson said it best: "You really can't stop him (Cam Newton)... The best you can do is frustrate him". Cam's no longer a rookie, containing a veteran's memory under his belt. He's seen plenty in the NFL to not get rattled, big game or not. Wade Phillips has done a tremendous job with Denver's defense, and if the Broncos win this game, they'll have to do it by attacking Cam Newton from different angles. Like previously stated, the four man rush for Denver is good enough to get to Newton alone. Yet Denver needs to generate turnovers, and giving unseen looks on defense/attacking from different areas of the field will cause a better chance to unveil one of Cam's overthrown footballs, something Denver will need to feast on.

  • Establish the Run- As cliche as this sounds, Denver needs to get Ronnie Hillman/CJ Anderson going early and often. Often times the ground game has stalled for Denver and Peyton was forced to go back to his Colts days, airing it out practically all game. At this stage of his career, Peyton Manning shouldn't be trusted in a shootout, the role of "game manager" more-so appeals to his style in today's world. Carolina's defense is scary lethal in stopping the run, and having Manning try to win the game is exactly what the Panthers want. Get Hillman going and have a steady dose of carries to keep the defense honest, and more importantly, keep the pressure off Peyton. 

The Bottom Line
All across the self-proclaimed "I know what I'm talking about" football landscape on social media, nobody has given Denver a snowball's chance in hell. The assumption is Carolina will steamroll Denver, as if they were playing the Titans. These thoughts are fueled by the Panthers' dominating performance in this year's postseason, and almost rightfully so, it's hard to disagree with people picking Cam Newton & the Kool Gang. However, something needs to be heard, and heard loudly: The Denver Broncos are a good football team. Denver has had two weeks to prepare for Carolina, and surely wont want to leave with a disgusting taste in their mouth like the last time they played in the Super Bowl. Let this be a warning to Carolina: Don't for a second take those boys as a joke, as you're inferior to them. Denver is gladly taking on the role of underdog, and would love nothing more than to shock the world.
Bottom Line: 
This game will be closer than many of you think... With everything said in the above paragraph, this is Carolina's game to lose. The Panthers are the all-around better team, there's no hiding that underneath the blanket. With two stellar defenses, this game will come down to quarterback play, and I trust Cam Newton over Peyton Manning on this particular Sunday. 

Broncos-Panthers battle a tight game, but Carolina pulls away in the second half as...

Carolina defeats Denver, 26-13.

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