Super Bowl 50 on Sunday 7 February will pit the Carolina Panthers against the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
It promises to be an interesting tussle between the old and new breeds of quarterback: Peyton Manning epitomising the traditional pocket-passer, against the athletic Panthers signal-caller Cam Newton.
This has already been a record-breaking season for the Panthers but they will be keen to add a first ever Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history to their collection. During the regular season, the Panthers surprised everybody by racing into a 14-0 start, before finishing with a franchise best 15-1 record. They have since seen off the challenge of the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals – the latter on the end of a 49-15 mauling in the NFC Championship game where the Panthers defense forced six turnovers, with four interceptions.
Ron Rivera’s squad reached their second Super Bowl appearance in some style against the much fancied Cardinals, illustrating why their high powered offense and suffocating defense have been much feared. Defensive back Josh Norman has been one of the best shut-down corners in the league while the Panthers also possess star linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive lineman Kawann Short.
Equally though, the Broncos’ defense is formidable and has carried this team at times during the season. Led by star linebacker Von Miller, this unit ranked first in the league under first-year defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The veteran coach sat out the 2014 season but has revitalised Gary Kubiak’s Broncos. Operating a 3-4 scheme, you can expect him to dial up some interesting calls during this game.
It is just as well that the Broncos’ defense has been such a focal point this season, due to the injury to Manning which restricted the potency of their offense. Manning missed much of the regular season, but statistically had the worst season of his career throwing just nine touchdowns to a whopping 17 interceptions. He did, however, surpass Brett Favre’s passing yards record and a second Super Bowl win would be a fitting conclusion for one of the game’s all-time greats.
The last time the Broncos lifted the Lombardi Trophy was back in 1998, the year the team’s now General Manager John Elway entered retirement. Should the Broncos overcome the Panthers then it is highly likely Manning will do the same.
The Broncos overcame defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, 20-18 in the AFC Championship game. It produced a wild finish, as the Patriots required a two-point conversion to force the game into overtime, but Tom Brady was unable to convert. It now sees the Broncos and Manning trying to eradicate any lingering memory of their humiliating 43-8 drumming at the hands of the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII back in 2014, while the Panthers are aiming to make amends for their defeat in Super Bowl XXXVIII to the Patriots in 2004.
This Super Bowl has broken records even before a pass has been thrown. It will feature the oldest age difference between starting quarterbacks (Manning, 39 and Newton, 26), while it will be the first showpiece game to feature the number one and number two overall picks from the same NFL Draft as both Newton and Miller were drafted one and two in 2011.
With Manning’s physical limitations, he will be tasked with avoiding turnovers and leaning on his run game to establish offensive momentum. That said, Manning produced a solid two touchdown performance to trump his old rival Brady and lead the Broncos to this position. Newton’s dual-threat, on the other hand, poses a huge problem as the 26-year-old has combined for 50 total touchdowns in 18 games this season.
Both sides are #1 seeds respectively and the Panthers will walk out in Santa Clara as slight favourites, but it would be wise to never count out Manning.
Image courtesy of Chris Martin.