SUPER BOWL 50: KEYS TO THE GAME

 

Las Vegas opened this years big game with Cam Newton and the Panthers as a three and a half point favorite (with the total set at 44 points). While that is certainly reasonable, there's a lot more to the point spread that meets the eye. If there's one thing about America, it's that we love a good old underdog. That being said, I expect the public to overwhelmingly be backing Peyton Manning in his self proclaimed "last rodeo". Much like the Golden State Warriors however, the youngsters will be all over the Panthers and their flamboyant swagger come February 7th.  But all bias and personal preferences aside, how is this game really going to shake out? What will each team need to do to capture America's most prestigious title? I'm going to break down the three keys to victory that each team must execute in order to achieve football immortality in the worlds biggest sporting event: THE SUPER BOWL! 

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS KEYS TO VICTORY

 

Let Cam be Cam! 

With the MVP trophy all but a formality, Cam Newton has been an absolutely dominating and polarizing force in this years NFL season. As the only player in NFL history with more than 30 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season, he has truly been an unstoppable force in every facet of the game in which a quarterback can be measured. Perhaps what makes Cam Newton so special however are the things that cannot be measured. Leadership, poise, infectious positivity, toughness and countless other superlatives come to mind. In a game, and more specifically a position, that not only encourages but almost requires stoicism, Cam has went the opposite way. He's got personality (what the kids call swag) and he's certainly unafraid to let it shine. This attitude has spread through his team like influenza and it's arguably what has carried the good (not great) roster of the Panthers all the way to big game. In Super Bowl 50, the Panthers must not try to stifle Cam and change what got them there in the first place. While most players fear the bright lights, Newton embraces and seemingly desires them. He has shown that his approach is both entertaining and wildly efficient and just because it's the "Super Bowl"doesn't mean it's time to make any changes. 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' as the saying goes. 

 

Pass Rush

An evident aging of Peyton Manning has occurred dating back to last year when his season ended with an injury riddled fizzle. The once cerebral gunslinger has been reduced to a shell (a cracked shell) of his former self. However, just like the old power punching heavyweight boxer who has one good knockout punch left in him, Peyton's sky high football IQ remains intact. While he may not possess the physical tools to beat a defense anymore, he certainly can outsmart them and put himself in a position to succeed (more on Peyton later). So just how do you stop a football mastermind like Manning? Blunt trauma. Ever heard the phrase, "kill the head and the body will follow"? That is very much applicable here. If Carolina can get to Peyton early (and often), disrupt his timing, and rattle him both physically and mentally, this game could be very akin to their blowout of the Arizona Cardinals just a week ago. Pressure bursts pipes and to the Panthers, Peyton is looking like a sewage system.  

 

Killer Instinct? 

The Panthers have almost been as frustrating as they have been great this season. Time after time we have seen them jump all over their opponents like, well Panthers, and build seemingly insurmountable leads only to allow the opposing team to come storming back and make it a competitive game. The last of these episodes was in the divisional round of the playoffs agains the Seattle Seahawks where the Panthers jumped out to a 31 point lead only to win the game with a final score of 31-26. Remember that Peyton guy I mentioned earlier? Well you might not want to give him too many chances to beat you so chances are when you jump out to that big lead, you want to keep the proverbial pedal to the metal. For Carolina to win, they must start fast and finish faster.  

 

DENVER BRONCOS KEYS TO VICTORY 

 

Pound that rock! 

If there is one thing in the world that can help an aging or inexperienced quarterback alike it's a running game. In CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman the Broncos have a MORE than formidable backfield. Taking the pressure off of the aging Peyton Manning will be paramount to the Broncos success. I will flat out say it, without a hundred yard rusher, the Broncos do not win the super bowl (quote me on that). There is also one sure fire way to stop the aforementioned Cam Newton as well: keep him off the field! The run game can control the clock for Denver and keep Cam and the explosive offensive unit of the Panthers on the sideline. 

 

Win the turnover battle

The bread and butter of the Broncos all season has been their ability to make plays on the defensive end. More specifically, take the ball away from their opponent and even score with it themselves. A prime example of this play style was seen in their divisional playoff matchup versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, the Denver Broncos won without scoring a single offensive touchdown. While that will be difficult to duplicate against the explosive Carolina Panthers, it is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities for them to get the big armed Cam Newton to turn the ball over several times. Did I mention Cam Newton has a big arm? In the history of football the quarterbacks with the strongest arms are not coincidentally also the biggest risk takers. Why? Because they can. When you can throw a football 60 yards off your back foot, you tend to gain a sense of invulnerability as your overall talent sometimes erases poor decision making. It is this kind of gamble that Newton possesses that can be his undoing against the great, opportunistic Broncos secondary.  

 

One last hoorah...

I have always been what you would call a football purist. I truly love the game and all its intricacies. Growing up, Peyton Manning was the ever present embodiment of what a quarterback should be to me. Smart, cool under fire, a relentlessly hard worker, and an overall good person. As I mentioned before, Peyton still has that football whit and smarts that he has become so famously known for. There's a funny phenomenon that happens when an injured or frightened animal is cornered: it fights for its life. While Peyton may be banged up, he is neither injured or frightened and make no mistake about it, he will be fighting for his football life. In the same way an animal facing an imminent threat will give every once of energy and effort it has to ward off its predators, so too will Peyton. With this being his last (at least according to all indications) game of his career, Peyton must paint one last masterpiece in what has been an almost artistically brilliant career. Peyton is a student of the game and understands the historical magnitude of this Super Bowl as well. He knows a win is another massive boost to his already substantial claim as the greatest quarterback of all time (obviously open for debate, relax). A win is also an out. A person as competitive as Peyton doesn't get to where they are but being "good enough". They strive for perfection. Any doubt that Peyton has about playing another season will be hugely magnified if he loses as well as plays poorly. He isn't the type of guy to go home and cut his losses. He wants to go out on top and the Super Bowl is no greater high for a quarterback. For the Broncos to win, Peyton Manning must go out with a bang. 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS 

 

This game is shaping up to be a wild one and it is predicted to be the most watched television event of all time with hundreds of millions bearing witness. Amidst billions of dollars worth of advertising, Bruno Mars, and all the pageantry, there will be a matchup for the ages. Whichever team checks the most of the above mentioned keys to victory will have the best chance of claiming the title but in a game as volatile as pro football, anything can happen. Enjoy the game and drink responsibly, I have a feeling we're in for a thriller! 

 

Final prediction: Panthers 24 Broncos 20