It’s an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. The old man taking on the kid. Goliath vs. Goliath. The Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos meet this Sunday in San Francisco, and only one thing is certain: Super Bowl 50 will define the legacy of two quarterbacks.
The Panthers, led by quarterback Cam Newton, seek to continue a season of utter dominance. After finishing the regular season with only one loss, the Panthers have steamrolled both their postseason opponents in the respective first halves. The sole exception to this dominance being their second half against Seattle, which they survived nonetheless thanks to 35 points from their offense in the first half.
Representing the AFC will be the Denver Broncos, a team led by veteran quarterback Peyton Manning, and anchored by the best defense in the NFL. After a rock solid defensive performance against New England in the AFC championship, Manning and the offense will be the variable in the question of whether or not Denver can vanquish these upstart Panthers. And with this almost certainly being Manning’s final season wearing #18 for the Broncos, there’s slightly more than just a Super Bowl ring at stake.
So what are they keys to each teams success? Carolina’s offense needs to produce against the relentless Denver defense. Cam Newton’s mobility in the pocket will be especially important as a potential means of thwarting Denver’s pass rush. Establishing a successful run game will be of equal importance, as it would force Denver to keep linebackers up close to the line, opening up downfield for Carolina’s speedy receivers.
For Denver, the big question mark will remain the productivity of their offense. The defense has held opponents in check all season long; it would be a shocking twist if they fail to do so in their final game of the season. No, certainly the issue will be whether 39-year-old Manning and the offense can put up enough points to allow their defense to do what they do best. Newton and company will most likely be firing on all cylinders, so Denver can expect to have to score at least 24 points to stay in the game. Against New England, Denver put up a measly 3 points in the second half, and their defense bailed them out. Perhaps they can count on one more bailout if they fail to produce. Perhaps not.
And so the biggest game of the NFL season has come down to arguably the two most compelling stories, meeting in a final, winner-take-all decision for which story comes out a winner. Will Peyton put up the points necessary to end his career on the highest note possible? Will Cam Newton and the seemingly unstoppable Panthers find a way to overcome Denver’s defense and cement themselves as the youngsters that could? Those questions, we cannot yet answer. Finding out will be a damn good time though.