The Big Game: Bigger Than Ever

This year’s edition of the greatest spectacle in all of sports will have huge implications, as the Super Bowl on February 7th has many headlines and stories.  

Super Bowl 50

The biggest headline of this year’s Super Bowl is….the game itself.  The 2016 Super Bowl is the NFL’s 50th big game, which was first played in 1967.  The game will return to the state it was born in, California. It will be played in Santa Clara, some 350 miles north of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the site of the inaugural game.  Super Bowl 50 is actually the NFL’s 83rd championship game, which was first played in 1933.  This year’s version will be played at the league’s youngest venue, the home of the San Francisco 49ers, Levi’s Stadium.  Opened in 2014, the stadium is state of the art with 176 suites and a seating capacity of around 75,000. Ticket prices vary for the game, as general public ticket prices range from $3,000 to $23,000.  Super Bowl 50 will also be the most charitable ever. The Super Bowl 50 Host Committee will donate 25% of all proceeds to philanthropic causes in the Bay Area.

The NFL’s Best

Super Bowl 50 will feature the two best teams from this season, the Carolina Panthers (15-1) and the Denver Broncos (12-4).  It is the 3rd year in a row the Super Bowl features the two #1 seeds from the playoffs.  Both teams have top six defenses, with the Broncos having the best defense in the league.  The Panthers have 10 Pro Bowl players, more than any other team. Super Bowl 50 will be the first Super Bowl where both quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, were drafted 1st overall in their respective draft classes.  

The Old vs The New

Super Bowl 50 is the classic old versus new matchup in many ways.  For starters, the Denver Broncos, who were a charter member of the American Football League, have won 2 Super Bowls and appeared in a total of eight. The Carolina Panthers, on the other hand, a 1995 expansion franchise, have only appeared in one Super Bowl, 2003, where they lost to the New England Patriots.

The old versus new theme also holds true for the starting quarterbacks. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is 39 and in his 18th season in the league.  He was selected #1 overall in the 1998 draft when Carolina’s quarterback, Cam Newton, was just 8 years old.  Manning is playing in his 4th Super Bowl.  He is the only quarterback to take two separate franchises (Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos) to two Super Bowls.  Cam Newton was the first pick in the 2011 draft and is making his first Super Bowl appearance.  At 26, Newton will likely be the NFL’s MVP.

The Defenses

Both the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos have exceptional defenses. The Broncos defense is ranked first and the Panther’s defense is ranked sixth.  Denver’s defense, led by linebackers Demarcus Ware and Von Miller, finished 4th in points allowed per game, 1st in pass defense and 3rd in run defense. They also ended the season with the most interceptions.  The Broncos had four players selected to the Pro Bowl, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Von Miller and Demarcus Ware.  Forcing the Panthers to throw the ball and creating turnovers will be key for the Denver defense.

Carolina’s defense also experienced success as they finished sixth in points allowed per game and fourth in run defense.  The Panthers are coming off a win against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship, a game where they forced seven turnovers.  The defense is led by linebacker Luke Kuechly and veteran defensive end Jared Allen.  Along with Kuechly; Josh Norman, Thomas Davis and Kawann Short were selected for this year’s Pro Bowl.  

The Offenses

The Panthers definitely have the offensive edge, as they were better in almost every statistical category.  Carolina finished second in rushing, first in points per game and sixth in total giveaways.  The Panthers offense is full of depth. The one-two punch of fullback Mike Tolbert and running back Jonathan Stewart, along with Cam Newton, poses a serious threat to the Denver defense.  Besides the potent running game, the Panthers passing game is also dangerous with the combination of young receivers Devin Funchess and Corey Brown as well as veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Ted Ginn Jr.

The Broncos offense struggled this season as they finished 29th in total giveaways. Manning only played in ten of the regular season games due to injuries and had a career low paser rating of 67.9.  Denver has a strong combination at running back with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman as well as talented receivers such as Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and tight end Owen Daniels.

The Special Teams

Special teams could play a significant role in Super Bowl 50, just like it did in the AFC Championship Game two weeks ago.   Both Carolina and Denver have solid special teams units.  The Broncos’ kicker Brandon McManus, a North Penn High School graduate, has made 30 out of 35 field goals and has only missed one extra point.  On the other side, Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano has made 30 out of 36 field goals attempted and missed only three extra points.

Both kickers will be kicking off to some dangerous return teams, despite both sides having quiet seasons.  The Panthers did not have a return touchdown all season, but veteran Ted Ginn Jr. has a total of seven return touchdowns in his career.  The Broncos, however, had an 83 yard punt return touchdown courtesy of safety Omar Bolden, who is currently on injured reserve. Taking his place will be wide receivers Andre Caldwell and Emmanuel Sanders.

Field position could also be a factor in the Super Bowl.  Panthers’ punter Brad Nortman averaged 45 yards per punt this season, which is slightly higher than Broncos’ punter Britton Colquitt who has a 44 yard average.  

Peyton Manning- The Final Chapter

It has been unofficially announced that Super Bowl 50 could be Peyton Manning’s last game, as heard from a sound bite during a conversation between Manning and Patriots coach Bill Belichick following the AFC Championship game. For Manning, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time for both his talent and professionalism, the postseason has always been his Achilles heel.  A Super Bowl 50 victory would put his career postseason record at 14-13 and his career Super Bowl record at 2-2.