Super Bowl Sunday is finally here.
After a long tiresome season that saw the highest of highs for the Carolina Panthers, just one game stands in their way of an 18-1 record and the first Lombardi Trophy in the franchise’s 21 year history.
The Panthers officially have the reigning Offensive Player of the Year, MVP and Coach of the Year on their side and after routing their previous postseason opponents, stand tall as the favorites in this Super Bowl 50.
The Denver Broncos have had their fair share of adversity this season but made it here because of a top defensive unit that will hope to stop Cam Newton and this explosive Panthers offense who will try to neutralize yet another top-tier defense.
He was named the OPOY and the MVP last night and was certainly the most deserving as he led this 17-1 Panthers team to new heights this season. Newton has been tremendous against the best and worst the league has to offer this season and now will face his biggest test yet.
The Broncos defense is elite in more than one way. They have a top tier front four in Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson who led the league with 52 sacks. But they also have the league’s top cornerback duo with the talents of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris to go with a solid safety duo in T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart. This bunch was rated the top secondary by Pro Football Focus and will throw everything they have at Newton to try to derail the MVP performances he’s made a usual thing.
As we know though, Newton and this offense can attack in multiple ways. They can gash you with the run, scorch you with the pass, and at the helm is Newton who can do both to you. There’s plenty of key performers to watch that will impact this game with their play against the man they line up against, but the new MVP will be at the center of it all and can truly take this game over; singlehandedly if he needs to. All eyes will be on Superman in this one.
Fast Start or Come Back Strong
One aspect of the game that used to plague Panthers teams of recent years was slow starts and the inability to come from behind is they got down early. That was not the case this year as this season’s team made scoring on the first drive and taking double digit leads to the half a common occurrence.
In the postseason, the Panthers have scored 31 first-quarter points combined in both games and in the regular season scored on nine opening drives. Carolina has made it a point to start off strong and build a lead and confidence early by pounding Jonathan Stewart up the middle and riding Newton’s arm to dink and dunk his way downfield with his receivers like Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr.. An early start to this game against Denver could be huge in not only giving them the lead and confidence to drive against this group but also to keep the Broncos’ defense honest and off-balanced, throwing them off rhythm early on.
Comeback attempts also used to be a struggle for Carolina to accomplish as their run-first philosophy and lack of an adequate pass attack had them ill-equipped. Now, Newton has taken matters into his own hands and has led numerous late, game-winning drives this season alone, commanding his offense and driving down the field with ease throwing to his unsung group of trusted receivers. Denver’s offense doesn’t appear to be able to put up a bunch of points against the Panthers’ D but should Carolina need to come from behind, and finish it off late, they are certainly ready and able to accomplish such a task.
Starting strong would likely be the preferred route, but the Panthers ability to comeback could come in huge here as well and either way, the Denver defense will need to be ready if they hope to take down these Panthers.
Can the Panthers Keep it Loose?
This Panthers team has operated under a looseness that rivals that of even the most fun-loving teams in league history. They hit the field with power, conviction and an attitude that no matter what, they’re going to have fun. Usually while their beating teams down.
As their win total grew, so did the confidence and exuberance that they put on display each week. Whether it was Newton’s celebratory dances, Josh Norman’s attention-grabbing quotes or the routine group photo at the end of a blowout, with nearly every Panther dabbing it up, this team flat out has fun. And that didn’t change into the postseason as the celebrations and fun continued from the divisional round all the way to media week in Santa Clara.
Looseness and extreme confidence can also be a negative on a big stage like this as has been seen in the past. But something about this crew seems different. No matter the “over-confidence” of enthusiasm, this team looks like they have the stuff to back it up and like they’re ready to take what they believe is theirs and cap this season off the right way and take home the Lombardi Trophy.