Searching for gold in California: Super Bowl Sunday predictions
The Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers enter football’s final weekend under very different circumstances. Denver skirted into the Super Bowl on the back of it’s elite defense, dragging the statistically best quarterback in history behind itself like a worn-out toy. On the other side, Carolina shellacked a strong Arizona squad 49-15.
The Student Life Sports staff has very little faith in the Broncos and predicts the Panthers to triumph in a 6-1-1 split. But what do we know. Will the old guard triumph one more time? Or will Cam Newton and the stacked Panthers usher in a new era of the NFL? Tune in Sunday at 5:30 p.m. to find out.
Carolina 24, Denver 10
Take out Denver’s short-field score after a Von Miller interception against the Patriots, and Peyton Manning has led only two touchdown drives in as many games since returning from injury. He won’t find marching down the field any easier against Carolina’s ball-hawking defense, which has already overrun Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer in these playoffs. Without a strong rooting interest entering the 2016 Super Bowl, I fear it could be as uncompetitive as the Broncos’ last championship appearance. That game was a rout, and I expect something similar on Sunday: a fourth quarter full of Cam Newton smiles and Manning retirement speculation in lieu of a close contest.
Carolina 21, Denver 17
Is anybody going to pick against Cam Newton and the Panthers? I certainly won’t. Newton has been unstoppable in his past nine games, tossing 23 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and the defense has been nearly as good. However, I suspect that the Broncos’ defense, which allowed a league-low 199.6 passing yards per game in the regular season, will make Newton look mortal again. It won’t be enough, though, as Carolina will control this one from the start while Peyton Manning’s dramatic comeback will run out of time—just like his career.
Carolina 31, Denver 20
I always love a satisfying sports story. I want nothing more than for Peyton Manning to lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl victory and ride off into the golden San Francisco Bay Area sunset, second Lombardi Trophy in hand. But I can’t, in good conscience, pick against this Panthers team. They’re firing on all cylinders, dominating on all three sides of the ball—offense, defense, and special teams. Carolina is an exuberant bunch with no shortage of confidence after picking apart the Seahawks and Cardinals. They have the swagger of a 17-1 squad and the fire of a team with something to prove. The Panthers are the most complete group Denver has seen since Seattle two years ago, and we know how that turned out. Denver can make this a contest if its defense can limit Carolina’s run game and Peyton can keep his offense on the field, but the Panthers simply have too many playmakers all over the roster. Give Denver credit for making it this far when they had no business being here, but their run ends one stop short. It’ll be all smiles for Newton in the 2016 Super Bowl.
Carolina 27, Denver 17
While I’m rooting for Peyton Manning to get another Super Bowl ring (primarily so he can match his brother’s two), I don’t think the aging, perhaps soon-to-be-retired superstar matches up favorably against the younger Cam Newton, who threw for a career-high 35 touchdowns this season and was picked a career-low 10 times. Though I don’t think Denver will suffer the same drubbing as they did two years ago against the Seattle Seahawks, I still can’t see them walking away with a victory this time around.
Carolina 27, Denver 6
The Broncos surprised me in the AFC Championship Game. I give all of the credit to the defense which stifled a Patriots offense that methodically puts up points. But things have fallen a little too perfectly into place for the Broncos in this playoffs. Von Miller played like a man possessed and Manning threw just enough wobbly spirals to squeak by an injury-ridden Pittsburgh team and the reigning champs in New England. The Panthers, on the other hand, have jumped on their competition early, effectively putting the game away at the half in both affairs. Cam Newton has been the unequivocal MVP this season. And with all due respect to Peyton Manning, this looks like his swan song. While it would be fitting to watch him go out on top, I just can’t see it happening. It’s no secret that you can’t rely on his arm anymore–lobbing one up and hoping your receiver makes a play can only get you so far. I expect Newton to make plays that Manning can only shake his head at. Greg Olsen will be a major factor as Carolina’s receivers will likely struggle against a stingy Denver secondary. The Panthers have looked the part in this year’s playoffs, and I expect them to cap off their strong performance.
Denver 27, Carolina 24
I acknowledge the temptation to join the masses picking the Panthers, but the Broncos have plenty of weapons as well. First, if they are going to have any remote chance of winning, the defense will have to play extremely well. While Carolina annihilated Seattle and Arizona, Denver has the best defense in the NFL. From linebackers to the secondary, the defensive unit held elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in check en route to Santa Clara. Don’t forget that defenses win championships, as Peyton Manning found out when the Seahawks whipped the Broncos in the 2014 Super Bowl. Offensively, while Manning statistically enters Sunday as one of the worst quarterbacks to reach the Super Bowl, he has not thrown an interception since he returned from a foot injury back on Jan. 3. An old, yet-experienced veteran, Manning has turned to making short, high-percentage throws to eliminate risk. While Carolina presents a variety of challenges, the Broncos have the weapons to keep pace. This will be Manning’s fourth Super Bowl appearance, and I have never picked against him. That won’t change this Sunday.
Carolina 0, Denver 0
Both teams are phenomenal athletes, sure. They can throw the ball, run the ball, defend the ball and even kick the ball. We get it, fellas, you like football! But that’s not going to stop the inevitable: the 2016 Super Bowl will end in a 0-0 tie. Why will this happen?
1. Peyton Manning will quit the Broncos before the game in order to campaign for Nationwide Insurance full-time, making up more lyrics for that “Nationwide is on your side” jingle. This gig will be more than he bargained for, however, and in two-months time Manning will be found inside the Bronx Zoo penguin exhibit repeating the jingle with the words “penguin friends you soothe my pain.” The penguins will not be happy.
2. Tom Brady, still bitter over the Patriots’ loss, will deflate all the footballs, forcing the game to be played with tennis balls instead; all will be confused, all will trip on the tennis ball.
3. John Madden will interrupt the second quarter by running out onto the field with a big “4” painted on his chest, screaming “Favre is prophet.”
4. During the halftime show, Coldplay gets stuck on a loop playing the last part of “Yellow” over and over again. This will continue ad infinitum until the sun’s hydrogen is consumed and we are all left in a lightless void. Still, if anyone wants to watch the game with me, I’ll be making nachos.
Senior Sports Editor
Carolina 23 Denver 10
I want to talk a little bit about the Denver Defense. Specifically how Cam Newton will be their kryptonite.
Everyone and their mother knows how good the Broncos defense was during the regular season. They ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed, net yards per pass attempt, yards per carry and finished in the top five in a host of other categories. However, through sixteen regular season games, one team, or rather, one player got the better of Wade Phillips’ unit: Ben Roethlisberger. In week 15, Denver’s top ranked defense was torched by the big man for 380 passing yards and three scores. The only other player to throw for over three hundred net yards, that is total yards minus lossed-sack yardage (important considering Denver’s league-high 52 sacks this year), was Big Ben again in the AFC Divisional round. This isn’t astonishing since the Steelers have the third most prolific passing attack in the NFL, but the Broncos were able to stifle other powerful areal units like the Patriots. Clearly, Big Ben’s elite elusiveness, albeit somewhat dulled this season, gives him some kind of edge.
Which brings me to Cam Newton. Newton draws quite a few comparisons to Roethlisberger due to his large size and mobility, which allow him to extend plays downfield. Newton is also seven years younger, and is spry enough to make plays with his legs, an added wrinkle that Roethlisberger never truly possessed.
If the Broncos couldn’t contain a Steelers quarterback with torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder from 12 years of NFL wear and tear, what chance do they have against a healthy and dynamic Newton?