It’s T-minus two days now until the kickoff of what could be the most-watched event in American history, so gather your chips, dip and beer, and turn your brains off to enjoy the spectacle that celebrates the pinnacle of masculinity—and no, we’re not talking about a Republican presidential debate here.
The Super Bowl kicks off Sunday evening, and whether you’re a casual football fan, a North Carolina or Colorado native who needs a briefing to impress his or her family or one of those “I don’t really understand sports” types, the Daily is here to give you a quick rundown of what it’s all about.
Historic Super Bowl 50 (the NFL has decided to drop the Roman numeral tradition for this Super Bowl to emphasize the special nature of this “Golden Super Bowl”) returns to California, where brand-new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara will play host to the NFC champions Carolina Panthers (15-1) and the AFC champions Denver Broncos (12-4).
Carolina and Denver both entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences, marking the third year in a row that both No. 1 seeds have made it to the Super Bowl. Both teams had to take down a recent Super Bowl champion on the way there. Carolina put up a startling 31 first-half points against the 2014 champ and 2015 runner-up Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round and held off a fierce comeback to stay on top, 31-24. Denver held on against last year’s champion New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must be pleased that there is no shortage of storylines to brew excitement for — and more importantly, attract TV viewers and advertising dollars to — his showcase event. Headlining the rosters, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning are both former No. 1 overall draft picks, albeit at very different stages of their careers.
Newton is the league’s rising star and likely MVP, and with his exuberant celebrations (that have at times drawn some resentment from the fans of teams he’s beaten), it’s clear that he’s been loving the spotlight this season. Newton, with 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing TDs, is the first quarterback to ever pass for more than 30 and rush for 10 or more touchdowns. After taking down the Seahawks twice this season, he may have taken over the mantle of the league’s top dual-threat QB from the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. With a Super Bowl win, Newton could become one of those rare players that have gone from proving their college promise after winning the Heisman to being successful in the NFL.
Manning, meanwhile, will be the oldest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl at 39 years old, and though he will appear in his fourth Super Bowl, he’s had his worst season of his career, statistically speaking. Manning may hope his swan song is a pleasant one, but that may be a tall order, especially if he continues to struggle with throwing the ball. We may even see the Broncos’ Brock Osweiler, who started during Manning’s absence this season, make an appearance.
Of course a lot of people would like to see Manning take home a ring in the final game of his career, but that seems unlikely in the face of the juggernaut that Carolina has been this season.
The Panthers emerged somewhat unexpectedly as the most balanced team in the NFL this year, with the league’s leading offense and the sixth-ranked defense in terms of points allowed. With 10 Pro Bowl selections among their 22 starters, the Panthers look downright hard to beat. Though they do play in the NFC South, perhaps the weakest division in football, the Panthers silenced any doubters by continuing to win all season, losing just once to their division rival Atlanta Falcons. Even more impressively, they have unloaded in the playoffs, most recently putting a beatdown on the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game.
The Broncos do boast the strongest defense they’ve ever had, which was first in the league in yards allowed. That defense has kept Denver’s games close and made up for an at-times uncharacteristically anemic Denver offense. Pro Bowl linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and Pro Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. were part of a Broncos secondary that stifled Tom Brady — probably the NFL’s best-passing quarter of this century so far — and the normally fearsome New England Patriots offense for most of the AFC Championship game.
But with Manning showing his age as he leads an average offense, it’s unlikely that the Bronco defense will be able to slow down a Panthers offense — an offense that made Seahawk and Cardinal defenses look weak — enough to keep this game close. It’s hard to see Manning’s offense putting up more than 20 points, and that won’t beat a Panthers offense that has churned out 31.3 points per game this season.
The official Vegas odds for the big game favor the Panthers winning by 5.5 points, and while we at the Daily would love to make an underdog pick, it’s hard to call an upset here. When the action finishes Sunday night, we’re likely to see Peyton gracefully take his bow and walk off the field to end a distinguished career as Cam and the boisterous Panthers begin their coronation.