Super Bowl 50: What to expect

Michael Smith, Reporter

On February 7, 2016, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will face off in a battle of old versus new in Super Bowl 50 at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California. MVP favorite Cam Newton lead the Panthers to a nearly undefeated season, suffering only one loss to division rival Atlanta Falcons in week 15 of the regular season.

Entering the season, few expected the Panthers to own the league in their dominant manner over the course of the 2015 season. The Panthers’ stellar defense and seemingly unstoppable running attack smothered opponents from week one through the NFC championship, which ended in a 49-15 blowout of the visiting Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers won the league turnover battle with a +20 margin, forcing interceptions from opposing quarterbacks with a crushing pass rush and outstanding coverage, led by cornerback Josh Norman, who broke out in 2015, consistently locking down the league’s top receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr. and Deandre Hopkins. Luke Kuechly, the Panthers’ all star inside linebacker, graded out as the top cover man in all of the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Carolina’s other two linebackers, veteran Thomas Davis and rookie Shaq Thompson, both played safety in college and have provided a key success to Carolina’s success.

The Denver Broncos bring the NFL’s top defense into Super Bowl 50. John Elway and the Denver front office loaded this defense with stars at every level, leaving no viable hole for opposing team’s to exploit. The defensive line, from rookie Malik Jackson to veteran outside rusher Demarcus Ware, rushes the passer better than anyone else in the league, recording a league best 52 sacks over the course of the regular season. Linebacker/ defensive end Von Miller leads the defense, and recorded 2.5 sacks and an interception two weeks ago in the AFC championship against the Patriots. On the back end, the Broncos have two of the league’s best corners in Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib. Last week, Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips confused Tom Brady by rolling to different coverages and blitzes post snap, so expect more of the same against Cam Newton.

The Denver offense limited the team throughout the season, with an aging Peyton Manning struggling through injuries, newly resigned pro-bowl receiver Demaryius Thomas suffering a down year, and an offensive line that struggled to carry out coach Gary Kubiak’s zone based run game. However, Manning played well enough against Pittsburgh and New England to get the team into the Super Bowl, committing no turnovers. Many believe he will have to play a turnover free game and surpass any game he played this season for the 6.5 point underdogs to pull off the upset. Manning, despite setting a plethora of career and single season records, faces criticism for only winning one career Super Bowl, especially when compared to fellow future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback with four rings. In order for Manning, who plans to retire after the Super Bowl, to cement his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all-time, Manning needs a second Super Bowl win, and tremendous help from his team to shut down the most complete offense in the NFL.
Prediction: Broncos 17; Panthers 15.