Super Bowl 50: Peyton’s Last Rodeo
“This might be my last rodeo.” Peyton Manning uttered these words to Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick after the Broncos’ 20-18 AFC Championship win, a win that booked Manning and company a one-way ticket to Super Bowl 50. Will this be the last ride for one of the most storied quarterbacks in football history? If you ask the man himself, he’ll respond with uncertainty and emphasize that his thoughts are focused on Sunday.
If this were a Disney movie, Manning would continue to defy the odds and exit Sunday’s game hoisting up the Lombardi trophy. But this is the National Football League, every storybook tale faces a brutal reality check. For Peyton Manning and the Broncos, the 17-1 Carolina Panthers led by probable MVP Cam Newton will be in their way. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers boast the 2nd most efficient defense and 8th most efficient offense during the regular season; a statistic that exemplifies the team’s dominance on both sides of the ball. I would waste space in this article if I were to list all 10 Panther players elected to the Pro Bowl. I could write an infinite amount of pages on the prowess of Cam Newton as both a passer and a runner. The bottom line is the Panthers are legit.
The Broncos have emerged as the unanimous underdog for Sunday’s matchup. Many point to the fact that the Panthers’ defense will be too fast and overbearing for Peyton Manning to handle. Major factors in the Broncos’ win during the AFC Championship game were the lack of pressure generated on Manning from the Patriots’ front seven and the lapses in coverage from their secondary. This Panthers’ defense is a different animal, a defense that leads the league in total takeaways, with an astounding 39. Pro Bowlers Luke Kuechly and Kawaan Short anchor their dangerous front seven. The team as a whole has compiled eight sacks in their two postseason games thus far and will look to add more.
Despite the odds placed against them, I am not ruling out the Broncos. After all, you don’t find yourself in the Super Bowl by accident. Since returning to the starting role from injury, Peyton Manning has thrown zero interceptions and is completing 55% of his passes. The team’s offense will need production from its two-pronged rushing attack of Ronnie Hillman and C.J Anderson if it wants to succeed. The Broncos are undefeated this season when they run the ball 30 plus times and amass at least 120 yards. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos’ defense must constrict Cam Newton to the pocket. Although a prolific passer, Newton has spells of inaccuracy and frequently relies too heavily on his back foot. Broncos’ linebacker, Von Miller, has the chance to put together one of the greatest defensive postseasons, and I believe his performance will have a significant impact on the game. Finally, the Broncos must prevent the “home-run play.” The Panthers have thrived this year on pivotal, game changing plays. These types of plays range from defensive scores to 80-yard touchdown passes. The Broncos must find a way to prevent the Panthers from making big plays that could likely decide the game.
Super Bowl 50 will most likely be Peyton Manning’s last game. With a plethora of injuries that seem to be getting worse, he finds himself on the wrong side of 30. He is placed with the opportunity to end his career on a high note and join John Elway as the only quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in their final game. The Broncos are all rallying around Peyton. During media day, almost all players said that they are competing for their quarterback. Can Peyton Manning defy the odds and ride off into the sunset with two Super Bowl rings, or will the clock strike midnight on this Cinderella story? Tune in Sunday at 6:30 to find out.
Prediction: 17-13 Panthers
Photo courtesy of CBS Sports (http://cbssports.com/images/blogs/belichick-manning-best-ever.jpg)