On paper, the Carolina Panthers will defeat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
If you have watched the NFL at all during your life, you realize that games are not played on paper. If they were, Super Bowl 50 would be seeing a match-up of the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, because, on paper, New England was a superior team to Denver. On paper, the New England Patriots would have won Super Bowl 46 and Super Bowl 42. But they didn’t. They lost both times to significantly inferior New York Giants’ teams. (If it seems like I am picking on the Patriots, I am. Deal with it.)
Having said all of that, it would be unfair of me to ignore the statistics that say the Panthers are the better team and that they have a higher probability of winning the big game this Sunday. So, let’s take a look at what the numbers are saying:
To say that the Panthers put up impressive offensive numbers in 2015 would be an understatement. They were the number one scoring offense in the league, with 31.2 points per game. They had the number two rushing attack in the league, with 142.6 yards per game. They were 4th in time of possession. While their passing attack was not as lethal, they clearly were not focused on throwing the ball as much as beating defenses into submission by running the ball effectively. (To be completely accurate, their passing game got better as the year progressed.) Overall, they were a good offense. Methodical and physical.
Defensively, their numbers are nearly as good. They were the 6th ranked scoring defense in 2015, allowing 19.2 points per game. They were 6th in total yards allowed as well. Solid on both counts. However, where the Panthers did the most damage was in the turnover battle. They had a +22 turnover margin in 2015. They took care of the ball and their defense turned the ball over better than anyone else in the league.
Jumping over to the Denver Broncos, a few things really jump out at us: 1) They were middle of the road offensively, 2) they were 19th in scoring with 22.2 points per game, 3) they were 16th in yards per game, gaining 355.5 yards a game, 4) their time of possession fell at number 19, and 5) they also turned the ball over too much, racking up a turnover margin of -4.
It is a completely different story on the other side of the ball. They were the number 4 ranked scoring defense in the league, allowing only 18.5 points per game. Remember, they had a -4 turnover differential. That means their defense was put in some really bad spots throughout the season, and they still only yielded 18.5 points per game. They were number 1 in total yards allowed and pass yards allowed. They were 3rd in rushing yards allowed, giving up only 83.6 yards per game.
As I said, on paper, the Panthers are the better team. They should be able to turn the Broncos over a few times, wear down the Broncos on defense, and put enough points on the board to make it impossible for the Peyton Manning led offense to match.
They should be able to do those things. I just don’t think they will. Call me crazy, but I feel like the Broncos are going to pull this one out.
First, the Broncos have the experience. Most of this team was there when they played in the Super Bowl a few years ago. They understand the magnitude of this moment. The Panthers are young and new to this kind of spotlight. I believe the Panthers will make some mistakes early forced by their own nerves and a relentless Broncos’ defense that is good all across the field.
Second, Cam Newton was sacked 33 times this season – good for 12th most in the league. Guess which team sacked the opposing quarterback the most in 2015? Yep. Denver had 52 sacks. This is not to say it is a big weakness against a big strength, but it is one area on offense where the Panthers are not exceptional, and the Broncos can take advantage of that.
Third, Peyton Manning. Yes, he has had too many playoff disappointments. Yes, he is clearly not the same player as he used to be. Yes, his arm is not very strong these days. Granted, he cannot stretch the field with any sort of consistency. However, since he came back from injury to help Denver clinch home field advantage in the AFC playoffs, he has looked better with every game. He is the smartest quarterback in the NFL. He understands exactly what he has to do to keep his team in this game against a good Panthers’ defense. Manning will do just enough to win this game and he will avoid the costly, backbreaking turnover that has haunted him in too many other playoff games. Not to mention, outside of Josh Norman, the Panthers’ secondary is vulnerable and will give up some plays. All Manning has to do is find the weak spots.
Finally, the Broncos winning Super Bowl 50 and Peyton Manning riding off into the sunset with his second Super Bowl ring is a much better story than anything related to the Panthers. I am not knocking the Panthers either. I just don’t think their storyline is very interesting. Even if they win, ending the season with only one loss, very few people will consider them one of the all -time great teams. That is really the only good narrative they have going for them. The Broncos, and more specifically, Peyton Manning, have the best narrative. The only knock on Manning’s career has been his inability to win more than one championship. This would quiet many in that loud and obnoxious crowd. A win in Super Bowl 50 would be his second championship, and with it, he would become the only quarterback to win Super Bowls with two different franchises. He would justify his inclusion in the “Best QB of All-Time” discussion once and for all. What story line could be better than that?
In the end, the team that plays best will win Super Bowl 50. I know that might sound obvious, but it has to be said because the best team does not always win in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers are a deserving Super Bowl team. They have been the best team throughout the regular season as well as the playoffs. On paper, they will be the 2015 Season NFL Champs. On the field, the Denver Broncos have a fighter’s chance and if things break right, they will walk away on Sunday night as victors. I hope that we will get a good game. Because if this game ends up like the paper version, I am afraid it will be rather forgettable.