Later today, the world will get to watch the high-octane offense of the Carolina Panthers clash with the intimidating defense of the Denver Broncos. Watching a great offense take on an incredible defense is the dream of almost every football fan, and Sunday’s Super Bowl in Santa Clara, California, should not disappoint.
The Denver Broncos
Among the many intriguing storylines ahead of the 50th Super Bowl is whether this will be Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s last game. Manning’s performance declined significantly this year, as he ended the season with just nine touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions, while completing just 59 percent of his passes. Before this season, Manning had not thrown more interceptions than touchdowns or completed less than 60 percent of his passes since his rookie season in 1998.
Midway through the season, Manning suffered a foot injury that kept him out for six games, during which promising young quarterback Brock Osweiler started in his place. Osweiler played well, completing nearly 61 percent of his passes, while throwing 10 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Despite Osweiler’s play, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak decided to go back to Manning at quarterback during the final game of the season, when the Broncos’ offense committed 5 turnovers in a game against the below-average San Diego Chargers’ defense. This decision turned out well, as Manning led the Broncos to victory.
The Broncos then defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional playoffs, and narrowly defeated the New England Patriots the following week to reach the Super Bowl.
This will be the Broncos’ second Super Bowl appearance in the last 3 seasons, but they certainly hope for different results this time around, as they were blown out by the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII two years ago.
Although the Broncos’ offense is not as good as it was two years ago – when it broke many records during the regular season – the Broncos’ defense has improved significantly since the loss to Seattle.
Broncos linebacker Von Miller (pictured below), who did not play in the Super Bowl loss to Seattle two years ago because of a torn ACL, was the Broncos’ best defensive player this year, making 11 sacks and forcing four fumbles.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. also missed the Super Bowl against Seattle with a torn ACL, and has since developed into a top-five NFL cornerback. The Broncos coaches usually put Harris against the opposing team’s best wide receiver.
In addition to having Miller and Harris this time around, the signing of two Pro-Bowl players, safety T.J Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib, within the last two years has also significantly helped the Denver defense.
The Carolina Panthers
On the other side, the Carolina Panthers have been amazing this season, finishing the regular season with just one loss and leading the NFL in points scored.
Much of the Panthers’ success has been due to the outstanding performance of quarterback Cam Newton (pictured below), who won the league MVP award. Throwing for 35 touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions, along with 10 rushing touchdowns (which is rare for a quarterback), Newton is the main reason the Panthers are still playing football in February.
What’s even more impressive is that Newton has played well with average wide receivers, such as Ted Ginn Jr., who had never caught more than five touchdowns in a season before catching 10 this year. Many people assumed that the Panthers’ offense would struggle after star receiver Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL before the season began, but those people were proven wrong by players such as Ginn.
And of course, star tight end Greg Olsen had yet another amazing season for the Panthers, with seven touchdown catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards. Running back Jonathan Stewart also chipped in with around 1,000 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
The impressive Panthers offense was greatly aided by its offensive line, which exceeded expectations this year. After allowing more than 40 sacks in each of the previous two seasons, the Panthers’ offensive line allowed just 33 this past season. The stellar play of interior linemen Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell and Ryan Kalil was the main reason for the success of the offensive line this year.
On defense, the Panthers were dominant. Led by former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly, veteran linebacker Thomas Davis and emerging stars such as cornerback Josh Norman and defensive tackle Kawann Short, the Panthers’ defense held opponents to fewer than 20 points per game and also led the league in takeaways with 39.
Both teams clearly deserve to be playing in the Super Bowl, and it will certainly be an exciting game.
Unfortunately, injuries will be a factor for both teams, as Denver’s Harris has a separated shoulder and Carolina’s Davis will attempt to play with a broken arm.
Keys to victory for Carolina
Cam Newton must extend plays by maneuvering around the pocket and, if necessary, running with the ball.
The offensive line must be able to stop Denver’s incredible pass rush.
The offense must stay balanced by consistently handing the ball to running back Jonathan Stewart.
Concerns for Carolina
Will lack of Super Bowl experience be an issue?
Can the Panthers hold a second-half lead?
Can the receivers be successful against the dangerous secondary of Denver?
Keys to victory for Denver
The Broncos must establish the running game early with C.J Anderson and Ronnie Hillman to avoid forcing Manning to make too many throws.
Inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall must keep their eyes on Cam Newton and prevent him from running with the ball.
The offense must avoid turnovers to make the game easier for Manning.
Concerns for Denver
Will the Broncos’ cornerbacks be able to prevent the Panthers’ fast wide receivers from gaining separation and catching long passes?
Will the Broncos be able to score enough points to keep up with the Panthers?
How well does Manning need to play in order for the Broncos to win?
It will be a close game, but it will rain blue and black confetti when the clock hits zero. The Broncos have not shown that they can score enough points to keep up with the Panthers, and despite their amazing defense, I envision Cam Newton having another stellar performance and leading the Panthers to victory.
PANTHERS 28, BRONCOS 17
The saying “defense wins championships” only goes so far.
Contact sports editor Charlie Broaddus at firstname.lastname@example.org