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Super Bowl 50 Preview

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Super Bowl 50 Preview

Jamison Amerine, Sports Editor

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One of the biggest sporting events in the world will be renewed for the 50th time when the AFC champion Denver Broncos battle the NFC champion Carolina Panthers on sunday. After a season of gold paint lacing the 50-yard line markers at each respective NFL stadium, it’s only fitting that the two teams will square off at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge.

There’s no shortage of intrigue when looking at all the aspects of this matchup. On Denver’s side, you have the sheriff in Peyton Manning participating in what could be the final NFL game of his no-brainer Hall of Fame career. Denver also strolls into San Francisco with the league’s best defense, allowing only 283 yards per game throughout the season. The havoc Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware create on opposing offenses will certainly play a role come Sunday, along with the tight coverage by the NFL’s best secondary, led by Pro Bowlers Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and Chris Harris Jr.

But the Broncos will arguably face their toughest offensive opponent yet in the Panthers, who led the NFL in scoring this past season at 31.2 points per game. The offense, at the helm of NFL MVP Cam Newton and his running mate Jonathan Stewart, combined to put up the second best rushing attack in the NFL, and will surely look to bring that one-two punch to the table on Sunday.

Looks like something will have to give.

This is the first Super Bowl for the Carolina Panther franchise since Super Bowl XXXVIII, where the Panthers lost on a last second dagger to the New England Patriots and Adam Vinatieri’s clutch foot. A win on Sunday would give Carolina their first Lombardi trophy in their existence.

For the Broncos, this road to the championship seems all too familiar. In a game that Peyton Manning and the Denver fan base would all like to forget, Super Bowl XLVIII featured a 43 to 8 beatdown by the Seattle Seahawks at Metlife Stadium in New York two years ago.

While Manning isn’t playing the Seahawks, he is, however, playing a team in the Panthers that possesses some interesting similarities to that 2013 team.

How so?

Let’s start at the quarterback position. In 2013, the Seahawks were lead by emerging talent Russell Wilson, a mobile QB with an improving pocket presence. Back in that season, Wilson completed 63.1 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,357 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Those statistics propelled him to a 101.2 passer rating.

Wilson also ran for 539 yards and a touchdown.

In 2015, Manning will be facing, yet again, an emerging talent in Cam Newton, who is a mobile threat with a much improved pocket presence. Newton threw for 3,837 yard, 35 touchdowns, and ten interceptions. Cam Newton finished the season with a 99.4 passer rating.

Newton also ran for 636 yards and an extraordinary ten touchdowns.

The 2013 Seahawks and the 2015 Panthers also share a top five running game. The Seahawks activated Marshawn Lynch, A.K.A. ‘Beast Mode’ for that entire season. Lynch ran for 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns, posting a 78.6 yard per game average in 2013. Jonathan Stewart posted his best season by far as a Panther in 2015, scampering for 989 yards and six touchdowns. In 13 games, Stewart averaged 76.1 yards per game.

On the other side of the ball, the 2013 Seahawks and the 2015 Panthers both had a shutdown corner who played with a bit of an attitude. Richard Sherman of the Seahawks and Josh Norman of the Panthers were both deemed the title “shutdown corner” in their respective seasons, with quarterbacks looking to throw anywhere but their direction.

In 2013, the Seahawks intercepted the opposing quarterback a league high 28 times, returning three of those for six.

This past season, the Panthers snagged a league high 24 interceptions, returning four of those to the end zone.

That 2013 Seahawks defense recorded 44 sacks on the season, forcing 17 fumbles as well.

Coincidentally enough, the Panthers got to the quarterback 44 times and forced 22 fumbles this past year.

Need more?

Lets look at the playoffs leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII and Super Bowl L.

The Panthers held the NFL’s best record this past season, going 15-1 on the year, with their only loss coming in a divisional matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16.

The AFC’s top two seeds were the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, both at 12-4.

At the conclusion of the 2013 year, the Seattle Seahawks were tied for the NFL’s top record at 13-3. This team also lost in Week 16 of that regular season to a divisional opponent in the Arizona Cardinals.

The top two in the AFC? You guessed it, the Denver Broncos with a 13-3 resume and the New England Patriots, who went 12-4 during that season too.

The sixth seed in the AFC for 2013 was the San Diego Chargers, who clinched their playoff berth in the last week of the regular season. Their playoff journey saw them go into Cincinnati and knock off the AFC North champion Bengals. Their season ended the following week, when they lost to Peyton Manning and the Broncos 24 to 17.

The Pittsburgh Steelers locked up the sixth seed in the AFC with a week 17 victory over the Cleveland Browns this past season. In their playoff journey, they went into Cincinnati and defeated the AFC North champion Bengals. Of course, the Broncos ended their season with a 23 to 16 victory the next week.

In 2013, the AFC Championship featured Manning vs Brady at Mile High Stadium, where the Broncos’ defense got the best of the Patriots’ quarterback. In the NFC, the Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers, an NFC West foe, to punch their ticket to New York.

This year’s AFC Championship gave us Manning vs Brady, again, at Mile High Stadium, with a stingy Broncos defense shutting down Tom Brady. The NFC saw the Panthers dismantle the Arizona Cardinals, an NFC West representative, to claim the conference.

Oh, and one more thing.

At intermission, Super Bowl XLVIII headlined Bruno Mars as the halftime performer.

Super Bowl L will have Bruno Mars, yet again, perform at halftime, along with Coldplay and Beyonce.

With all these haunting coincidences surrounding the Broncos, it’s understandable that they would request the white uniforms for this go around rather than the orange ones they got embarrassed in two seasons ago.

However, the big question still remains as follows; who will be hoisting that Lombardi trophy under the bright lights of Levi’s Stadium come sunday night?

Will Peyton Manning cliche-ly ride off into the sunset with his second career Super Bowl? Or will the Cam Newton take a hard dab at the Broncos and spoil Manning’s retirement party?

Before I continue, I want to make sure you guys appreciate what I did there. “Take a hard dab”? You know… Instead of jab? Because Newton is famous for his ‘dab on dem folks’ celebration?

Alright, enough of that nonsense. Let’s get back to business.

Last year, I predicted the Seahawks to get the best of the Patriots by a score of 26 to 21 in Super Bowl XLIX. My preseason Super Bowl L prediction gambled on a Steelers-Cowboys matchup where I dreamed of my favorite team taking down ‘America’s Team’ on the NFL’s biggest stage, along with a picturesque image of cowboy fans sobbing into the Terrible Towels lent to them.

My Point? I’m 0 for 2, so don’t be all too shocked if my prediction falls short.

In making my decision, I went back and looked at who the Panthers and Broncos played that gave their respective strengths the biggest test. For the Panthers, I observed the best defenses they played this season, including the playoffs, and how they managed, given they’ll be going up against Denver’s number one defense on Sunday. As for the Broncos, I looked for the best offenses they battled because the Panthers bring the most potent scoring offense to the table. Here is what I found:

The five best defenses the Panthers played this season were the Seahawks twice (second), Texans (third), Cardinals (fifth), the Buccaneers twice (tenth), and the Titans (twelfth). In the seven games against those formidable defensive challenges, the Panthers offense didn’t seem to miss a beat, averaging 33.9 points per game and 345.3 yards per game.

The five best scoring offenses the Broncos faced this season were the Patriots twice (third), the Steelers twice (fourth), the Bengals (seventh), the Chiefs twice (ninth), and the Packers (fifteenth). In those eight games, the Broncos allowed 21.5 points per game and 307.6 yards per game during that stretch, not too far off from 18.5 point per game and 283.1 yard per game lockdown they implemented throughout the regular season.

What now?

While we’ve analyzed the superior defense of the Broncos and the prolific offense of the Panthers, let’s flip the spectrum on both teams. Now, we’ll look at the Broncos offense and the Panthers defense.

The Broncos ranked sixteenth in the NFL this past season in offensive yards, with 355.5 yards per game, and nineteenth in scoring at 22.2 points per game.

As for the Carolina defense, this unit was not too far off the fourth ranked scoring defense of the Denver Broncos, allowing only 19.2 points per game, good for sixth best on the year. The Panthers also ranked sixth in yards allowed per game at 322.9.

The Panthers defense lead the NFL in takeaways, forcing 39 on the year.

The combination of Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning threw a league high 23 interceptions on the year, with the Broncos offense also tied for third at 33 giveaways this season.

This game smells very opportunistic for a greedy Panthers defense who has returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the past two playoff games, both by linebacker Luke Kuechly. While the idea of Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks all-time, retiring a champion sounds fairytale-like, unfortunately that’s all it will be for Manning. A fairytale.

You can’t ignore the run the Panthers are on, dominating and disposing of every opponent that stands in their way. At 17-1, and looking to post one of the best seasons in NFL history at 18-1, I don’t see a way where this team doesn’t rally together and finish the job. The defense will create misfortunes for Manning and the Broncos offense, while Cam Newton will maintain the team’s ‘keep pounding’ mentality and find success against that stout Broncos defense.

I’m not predicting a 43 to 8 drubbing like what occurred two years ago, but Manning will once again be on the wrong end of the scoreboard at the conclusion of the Super Bowl as the Panthers taste NFL supremacy for the first time in franchise history.

Prediction: Broncos – 23  Panthers – 28

Super Bowl MVP: Cam Newton – 24/33, 309 yards, 2  TDs, 1 INT, 58 yards rushing

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