Super Bowl 50 is largely the tale of two quarterbacks. On one side is a legend of the sport, who is a previous Super Bowl winner, league MVP and a certainty to be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. On the other is one of the most exciting young players in the league, who has lit up stadiums throughout the season with his scintillating play.
But it is not only two former number one draft picks facing off in San Francisco. This year’s Super Bowl also sees the regular season’s best NFC team face the best AFC team, and the best offense in the league face the best defence in the league. So who will come out victorious and be crowned Super Bowl Champions?
We take a look over both the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers to see which great quarterback will be lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Regular Season: 12-4 (AFC #1 seed, 1st AFC West)
Road to Super Bowl: won 23-16 v Steelers, won 20-18 v Patriots
While they may not have won as many matches as the Panthers, the Broncos 12-4 regular season is arguably almost as impressive. From the much tougher AFC West, Denver finished one game ahead of the highly talented Kansas City and clinched the number one seed in the AFC. The Broncos opened their playoff campaign with an unconvincing win against the injury-riddled Steelers, before claiming a narrow two-point victory over the much more fancied New England Patriots.
Points per game: 22.2 (19th in NFL)
Yards per game: 355.5 (16th in NFL)
Passing yards per game: 248.1 (14th in NFL)
Rushing yards per game: 107.4 (17th in NFL)
For a side with the legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, the Broncos have hardly been an offensive juggernaut, especially through the air. With only a 47.7% red zone conversion rate and 13 reception touchdowns, the Broncos are one of the worst units in the league inside the 20.
But it’s not all bad news, especially when it comes to Denver’s rushing game. While overall their stats on the ground might not look all that impressive, they are arguably the form running unit in the league. Since week eight, the Broncos have the league’s best rushing yards per carry, had the second most runs over 15 yards, and the third most yards after first contact. Add to that three matches with more than 170 yards in the past two months and you’ve got a team who may surprise on the ground.
A win in the Super Bowl will be Manning’s 200th of his career, and his eighth in the San Francisco Bay area where he seems to revel in the warmer climates and has a 7-1 record.
Points per game: 18.5 (4TH in NFL)
Yards per game: 283.1 (1st in NFL)
Passing yards per game: 199.6 (1st in NFL)
Rushing yards per game: 83.6 (3rd in NFL)
Stats tell the tale of everything you need to know about the Broncos defence; they are simply the best in the league. The least yards per game, least passing yards per game, and 4th least points per game are sobering reading for any offensive coordinator.
But it is in key areas that the Broncos might just have an important edge against the run happy Panthers lead by the mercurial Cam Newton. The Broncos have not allowed a quarterback rushing touchdown all season, and know how to bring serious pressure with the third best blitzing defence in the league.
Even getting into a scoring position can be difficult against the Broncos, having only let 37 drives inside their red zone all season, the lowest number in the NFL.
Key to victory
In last weekend’s Conference Championship the Broncos’ hit Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady 17 times. Bringing the same heat against the multi-dimensional Cam Newton may be more of a risk. But given he has not been hit more than six times in a match this year, asserting early defensive dominance may win the Broncos the Super Bowl.
Regular Season: 15-1 (NFC #1 seed, 1st NFC South)
Road to Super Bowl: won 31-24 v Seahawks, won 49-15 v Cardinals
The Carolina Panthers ended the regular season as the best team in the NFL, and little we have seen since has suggested that has changed. Winning the NFC South by an amazing 9 games, the Panthers have only lost once during the season when they were defeated by divisional rivals Atlanta in a meaningless week 16 matchup.
With home field advantage guaranteed throughout the Playoffs, the Panthers hosted and defeated the Seattle Seahawks, before annihilating the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC and book their ticket to Levi Stadium.
Points per game: 31.2 (1st in NFL)
Yards per game: 366.9 (11th in NFL)
Passing yards per game: 224.3 (24th in NFL)
Rushing yards per game: 142.6 (2nd in NFL)
For a team with the league's in-form quarterback and the best offense, it may come as a surprise that it is on the ground where they get things done. The double act of running back Jonathan Stewart and QB Cam Newton are not only the 2nd best rushing yards per carry in the NFL, but have rushed for more than 100 yards in the past 31 matches straight.
But this should really come as no surprise given the Panthers rushed more often than any other team in the league on an amazing 46.2% of plays. Cam Newton’s 103 runs was almost double that of the next nearest QB. Bronco fans should be especially nervous if the Panthers reach the red zone. Newton posted 34 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line during the season including scoring 10 times from 29 red zone rushes.
Points per game: 19.2 (6TH in NFL)
Yards per game: 322.9 (6th in NFL)
Passing yards per game: 234.5 (11th in NFL)
Rushing yards per game: 88.4 (4th in NFL)
While the Panthers’ offense gets most of the headlines, on the other side of the ball they are equally as impressive. With the 6th best defence overall in the NFL on yards and points per game, the Panthers are also a standout unit with turnovers and inside the red zone.
Throughout the season, the Panthers forced turnovers on 19.4% of drives, the best in the league. The Panthers also only allowed opposition offenses into the red zone on 52.5% of drives (10th best in the NFL), while only conceded points on 26.5% of drives, the lowest in the league.
Key to victory
It seems obvious, but the success of the Panthers rests squarely on the shoulders of their quarterback Cam Newton. If he and the Panthers can assert their dominance on the ground it is hard to see anything other than a Carolina win. However if Denver can contain the ground game, it will be up to Newton to show he can pass his was to victory, something we are yet to see.
The Early Crow's Top Tip: Denver Broncos + 5.5 @ $1.94