The Carolina Panthers have the NFL's best record and best offense. The Denver Broncos were the top seed out of the AFC and boast the league's best defense.
Who will get the upper hand in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California on Sunday? Here are three questions and a prediction.
1. Which Peyton Manning will show up?
This is hardly a groundbreaking statement, but it bears repeating heading into Sunday: Peyton Manning ain’t what he used to be. His 67.9 regular-season passer rating is by far the worst of his 18-year career.
Manning has been better, if unspectacular, so far during the postseason: He’s been a good-enough game manager in Denver’s playoff victories over Pittsburgh and New England, and he didn't throw a single interception in those games. Will another good-enough game from a past-his-prime Peyton be enough to overcome Carolina?
2. Will Cam get the best of Denver’s defense?
Two years ago, the Broncos had the NFL’s top offense but crashed and burned in Super Bowl XLVIII when they faced the Seahawks’ No. 1 defense. The script has flipped a bit this season, as Denver now boasts the NFL’s No. 1 defensive unit, and it’ll face the NFL’s top-ranked offense, led by league MVP Cam Newton.
As the Cardinals recently learned: Newton is the NFL’s scariest player, as he can beat you with his arm (3,837 passing yards, 35 TDs) and his feet (636 rushing yards, 10 TDs). The Broncos defense hasn’t faced a QB like Newton this season, but of course, Newton hasn’t come across a defense like Denver’s. Who will get the best of whom in Santa Clara?
3. Who wins the ground game?
Don’t forget about the importance of running backs C.J. Anderson and Jonathan Stewart on Sunday. Anderson rushed for 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season and followed that up with 144 combined yards and a touchdown in Denver’s two playoff games; Stewart followed up a 4.1 ypc regular season for Carolina with 189 combined yards and two scores during the postseason.
All things being equal, the team that runs the ball the best on Sunday will probably win.
Both teams are good against the run, but the Broncos are better. Who will win the ground battle on Sunday?
The Panthers have been the NFL’s best team from the beginning to the end of the season. Newton carried the Auburn Tigers all the way to a national championship, and there’s no reason he can’t do the same at the pro level.
But if the old axiom defense wins championships holds true, the Broncos will win their third-ever Lombardi Trophy. What’s more, Manning will equal his brother with two Super Bowl rings (though it will have taken him twice as many tries).
Let’s go with that outcome: The Broncos deny Newton his moment -- at least for this year -- and Manning goes out the same way former Broncos QB John Elway did: as a winner.
Broncos 21, Panthers 16
PREDICTION: The winner of the #SuperBowl will be...
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