Another NFL season comes to an end on Sunday, which will likely leave many fans feeling helplessly lost and empty in the weekends to follow. Depressing as this may be, the memory of a fascinating 2015-16 season should be enough to get us through a gruelingly long offseason. We’ve seen incredibly tough runs:
We’ve seen record-breaking shootouts:
We’ve even seen the unthinkable happen:
— Packers News (@GBPackNews) February 5, 2016
We’re hoping Super Bowl 50 gives us a few more good moments to hold onto over the next few months. Sunday’s matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers has all the makings of something special, and we’ve come up with 8 insights to help you get ready for the big game.
Denver’s pass rush is scary-good…
The Broncos led all defenses in regular season sacks this year with 52, and they certainly haven’t slowed down in the playoffs, tacking on another 7 in two games thus far. The unit is led by two of the most dominant outside rushers we’ve seen in recent memory in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The two of them beat the Patriots offensive tackles around the edge and terrorized Tom Brady all afternoon on their way to a surprising AFC Championship Game win. Come Super Bowl Sunday, they will need to do whatever they can to keep Cam Newton in check.
…But Superman himself may be the Kryptonite to it.
Much unlike Tom Brady however, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton possesses the ability to escape the pocket quite routinely. The Broncos will have to adopt a new pass rush strategy or Newton will have no problem holding onto the ball and burning them right up the middle on Sunday night. This threat effectively neutralizes the menaces Miller and Ware typically are on the outside and thus diminishes Denver’s defense, which most would argue is their greatest asset.
Peyton Manning may be playing his last game ever.
He’s been mum on the subject, but it’s not unreasonable to assume this may actually be the 39-year-old’s last rodeo. He struggled mightily this season before sitting out 6 games with a foot injury. Since returning, presumably well rested and at full health, his play has been better (it was good enough to get them this far after all), but we still aren’t seeing the Peyton we’re used to. If this truly is his final game under center, let’s hope we get one more glimpse of this Peyton:
- Panther’s linebacker Thomas Davis has a broken arm…and he plans to play.
Davis broke his arm playing against the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, but when he says nothing will stop him from playing in the Super Bowl, it appears he means it. The star linebacker has been practicing with a hard brace on and while he may only see limited time on the field, Davis is confident he can make a difference. It may be reckless, but it sure is tough, and laying everything out on the line for your teammates is what football is all about.
Carolina Head Coach Ron Rivera is looking to make history, in multiple ways.
Ron Rivera has been lauded for his success with the Panthers five years into his tenure with the team. On Sunday he can help deliver the first championship to a franchise that just turned 20 years old. On a personal level, moreover, Rivera can become just the second Hispanic coach to win a Super Bowl. On top of that, he would join three others as the only people to win as both a head coach and a player. (He won Super Bowl XX with the Chicago Bears. Yeah, those Chicago Bears.)
Score early, score often.
The Panthers led the league this season with 18 touchdown drives of fewer than 5 plays. This without a doubt helped make them the highest scoring team in the NFL, putting up just over 31 points per game on average. Carolina stuck by this formula in the NFC playoffs, running up big leads early over Seattle and Arizona. A double digit lead for the Panthers in the first quarter could spell big trouble for Peyton Manning and co., who many feel won’t fair well against the Carolina D, so Denver’s defense better be up to the task.
Demaryius Thomas needs to step up.
If the Broncos have any shot at keeping up with the prolific Panthers offense, it probably lies in the hands of this guy. Thomas has had another fantastic season, catching over 100 passes for the second year in a row, but he’s reeled in only 6 balls in the playoffs. Facing off against arguably the best cover corner in the game in the outspoken Josh Norman, the much more subdued Thomas must regain his regular season form, when he was hauling in passes like this:
Who has the edge in special teams?
That third unit is there for a reason, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see the game come down to who delivers the better special teams performance. Ted Ginn Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders each present themselves as punt return threats that must be respected, but neither has taken one to the house this year. Besides, Panther’s punter Brad Nortman and Denver punter Britton Colquitt shouldn’t have problems keeping the ball away from the opposition’s return man as both have had over a quarter of their punts downed inside the 20 yard line. Instead, we have this one coming down to the kickers. Graham Gano (Panthers) and Brandon McManus (Broncos) both had good, but not exceptional, seasons. They have two of the biggest legs in the NFL and will give their teams a fighting chance if called upon to kick one between the posts from 50 yards or further.
So where can the separation be drawn between the two? Gano missed 3 extra point tries this year from the longer distance that was just implemented this season, compared to McManus’ 1 miss. We’re not saying the game will come down to a missed PAT, (although how would that be for irony?) but a missed kick early on can really change the complexion of a game.
We can’t wait to see how these storyline play out on Sunday when we sit down once more to watch one of the most entertaining spectacles in sports. All things considered, we see the Panthers having a bit of an edge in Super Bowl 50, but don’t expect Peyton Manning to let this one get out of hand. And as far as we’re concerned, a close game is as good as we can ask for.