You can’t write enough about a Super Bowl with so many things happening around the game, before it and during it. But the storylines to look closely at as they develop in Super Bowl 50 will be the Last Rodeo for Peyton Manning, Cam Newton trying to show how special he is, the Carolina Panthers defense dealing with an old man and the two coaches, Ron Rivera and Gary Kubiak of the Denver Broncos, who no one believed would be in this position has they been asked two or three years ago.
You can go with quite a few things here regarding Manning and you won’t be wrong. But above all, this might be the final game for one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. People like to say the best quarterback in regular season history, which pretty much says there’s something of a loser in him when it comes to succeeding in the playoffs. So many times he’s made it in, but walking away with just one Super Bowl ring while his brother has two championships and Tom Brady has four shed a negative light on his legacy.
Manning isn’t a favorite in this Super Bowl. Not even close. In fact, the expectations are for him to be crushed. And it seems the only way for him to somehow walk away with a championship is to do the same thing he did against the New England Patriots – toss out all his ammunition in the early goings and hope it’s enough. He probably doesn’t have the arm to surprise everyone in the fourth quarter of a close game.
The Panthers Defense
Related to Manning of course. There’s a lot of talk about the Broncos defense because of how they performed in the game against the New England Patriots, but they might not be the best defensive unit on the field. The Panthers might not dominate with just four guys rushing the passer, but their secondary is physical and dangerous to challenge, while the biggest problem for the Broncos, who hope that their short passing game works early, is the presence of Luke Kuechly and overall the Panthers linebacker crew, which intercept passes better than anyone. As Matt Ryan said yesterday, as the only quarterback who has beaten the Panthers this season, you have to get your running and passing game going very early to set up play action and open up some things down the field. Otherwise, it’s very difficult finding an opening.
The MVP of the 2015 NFL season and the best offensive player in the NFL. Newton isn’t the first quarterback to thrive in an option system, and even won’t be the first to win a Super Bowl. But while his numbers in terms of accuracy and passing yards don’t scream elite, it’s misleading, especially when considering how many times his defense left him with short fields to work with.
The reason the Broncos dominant display against the Patriots could be worthless in the Super Bowl has to do with Newton himself. They haven’t faced someone like him all season long, and while taking away options by rushing him with four guys is going to put him in some difficult spots, Newton isn’t Brady. His numbers outside the pocket aren’t great, but actually sacking him and putting pressure on him is a lot more difficult. Even if the Panthers offensive line breaks down at times, Newton isn’t that easily hit, not to mention very difficult to take down.
The Head Coaches
Ron Rivera won a Super Bowl as a player with the Chicago Bears 30 years ago. He didn’t get a lot of respect once hired instead of John Fox at Carolina, but the Panthers have made the playoffs three years in a row with him, including winning the division three times, and are in the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history. Many thought he should be fired after the second season and a 13-19 record. The Panthers were wise to be patient with him and with Newton.
Kubiak played for the Broncos, was an assistant for the Broncos when they won their two Super Bowls (also for the 49ers in 1994), and also replaced John Fox at the job. He seemed like his time in the NFL could be over following the 2013 season with the Houston Texans, in which they went just 2-14, while Kubiak suffered from a transient ischemic attack and was eventually fied by the Texas before the season was over. He did a good job as an offensive coordinator in Baltimore and set himself up for the greatest season in his career, working under the man he was a backup quarterback for in the 1980s.