Super Bowl 50 – Carolina Panthers Take It, Dang It

 

So we have the Denver Broncos going up against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

For me, it’s about as much fun as trying to pick the lesser of two evils for the Republican Party.

Neither team catches my interest…I’ve had a dislike for the Broncos ever since John Elway became part of the team. I think it comes from how he kept the Cleveland Browns from getting to the Super Bowl a few times back in the 1980’s.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Detroit Lion fan but back then, the Cleveland Browns appealed to me. They were a good, hard-nosed football team with players such as Bernie Kosar, Ernest Byner, Kevin Mack, Clay Matthews and Webster Slaughter.

But John Elway and those Denver Broncos broke the hearts of Cleveland fans everywhere, not once but twice. 1986 Conference Championship when Elway connected with Mark Jackson for a 5-yard TD to tie the game and send it into overtime. Then he drove the Broncos into Browns territory for a game winning 33 yard field goal.

Then, in 1987, Elway engineered “The Drive” killing perhaps the best chance the Cleveland Browns getting into the Super Bowl to face the Washington Redskins. I truly believe the Browns would have put up a tougher battle than the Broncos did…but I was pretty happy when the Skins trounced them 42-10.

As for the Panthers, there are several reasons why I have an intense dislike for them. One is the fact they dispatched my second hometown team, the Seattle Seahawks, from the playoffs this year. Second is Cam Newton.

Look, you can point to all the statistical information you want regarding Cam. You can point to his size and speed and his ability to throw a solid deep ball. I won’t deny that he is a talented and special football player. I just don’t like the way the man plays the game.

His cockiness and attitude toward opposing teams is bush-league and every damn game, I hope that some huge defensive lineman pops him a good one and shuts him up. He is an attention whore and he looks for people to tell him how great he is. I will admit I don’t know the man but all outward appearances show him to garner attention and be a show-off.

I’m sure those in the Cam Newton camp will have their arguments…but do me a favor and save your breath. There will be nothing you can say that will bring me over to your side. Would I feel the same way if he was on the Detroit Lions or the Seattle Seahawks? Hard to say though I would still disapprove of the way he carries himself and how he calls himself “Superman.” The attention should be on his team, not him…and he certainly shouldn’t call himself out for praise.

Sure, there have been other quarterbacks that have done celebrations. Aaron Rodgers does his discount double-check routine, Tom Brady has his screams, Brett Favre, who enjoyed the game as much as anyone, would run down the field with his hand in the air to celebrate with whatever receiver caught the ball. But for the most part, these were spontaneous, not the premeditated celebration that Cam does. I’m sure he sets aside an hour a day to make sure he gets the celebration down pat.

I have always been a fan who disliked the planned celebrations…even as far back as the infamous Billy “White Shoes” Johnson with his weird little dance that he used to perform when he scored a TD. Hated the Washington Redskins “Fun Bunch” planned group celebrations after scoring. Thought the Icky Shuffle was idiotic. And the worst was my own Detroit Lions celebrations to the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen in the 1980’s.

All of those cases were a collective “look at me and what I did” celebrations. Selfish and self-absorbed. On the other hand, I don’t want to see robots on the field. Celebrations are the best when the person scoring looks for his teammates to high-five or chest bump and spike the football in warrior style conquest that gets the crowd into it as well as the rest of the team. I would say more so than any planned celebration…because it’s genuine.

But Cam will be Cam and I doubt anything I write will change anything. And before anyone accuses me of being racially biased, stop right there. I could give a damn if the man was white, black, green, purple or orange. If he acts like a jerk, looks like a jerk and smells like a jerk, then he’s just a jerk.

OK, enough of traveling down this road.

Who will be the winner of Super Bowl 50? As much as I hate to say it, I believe it will be the Carolina Panthers. They are just too much in a groove right now and I can’t see Peyton Manning getting the protection he will need to have any chance. And I won’t be surprised if Brock Osweiler comes in to relieve Manning.

Statistically, Carolina has the edge being ranked number 11 for 2015 scoring an average of 31.2 points per game over the 16th ranked Broncos coming in at 22.2 points per game. We need to take into consideration that Manning has not played the full season.

Below is the statistical information for the Denver QB vs. Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton:

Denver QB’s: Yards – 4,126, Avg. per Pass – 7.0, Completion % – 60.8%, TD’s – 19, INT – 23, Sack – 39

Newton: Yards – 3,837, Avg. per Pass – 7.8, Completion % – 59.6%, TD’s – 35, INT – 10, Sack – 33

We also need to take into account Newton’s threat to run…he has 10 running TD’s as opposed to 1 between Manning and Osweiler.

Edge: Panthers

Running Game:

Panthers are geared to run the ball first, pass second. They ranked first in the NFL with 32.9 rushing attempts per game, second with 2,282 yards gained, tied for first with 19 scores and ninth with an average of 4.3 yards gained per attempt. They don’t have a 1,000 yard rusher but between Jonathan Stewart leading the way with 989 yards and Cam Newton adding 636 yards, that’s a combined total of 1,625 yards.

Denver came in at the middle of the pack for most of the running stats. 17th with 22.2 rushing attempts per game, 17th with total yards gained, 12th with 13 scores, 11th coming in with 4.2 yards gained per attempt. Broncos failed to have a 1,000 rusher as well but the combination of Ronnie Hillman (863 yards) and C.J. Anderson (720 yards) put up 1,583 yards to go along with 12 TD’s

Edge: Panthers

Receiving:

If Denver is going to have any chance to win this game, this is where I think they can exploit the Panther secondary, provided their defense can hold the Panthers from starting out too quick.

Panthers are ranked 24th in the NFL in receiving, averaging 242.1 yards per game. Much of that is probably due to the fact they had huge leads and were just running out the clock. Panthers have some weapons so the Broncos need to be careful here. Their top receiver is tight end Greg Olson who finished the regular season with 1,104 and 7 TD’s. He is a clock killer and has a knack for getting open on critical 3rd downs and gains 14.3 yards per catch. Next up is Ted Ginn who is having a breakout year with the Panthers. He’s caught 44 passes for 739 yards and 10 TD’s to go along with his team leading 16.8 yards per catch. The next 3 receivers, Jerricho Cotchery, Devin Furness and Cory Brown have combined for 1,406 yards, 12 TD’s, and an average of just over 14 yards per catch.

Denver came in at 14th in receiving for 2015 with 263.5 yards per game. Leading the way is Demaryius Thomas with 105 catches for 1,304 yards and 6 TD’s to go along with 12.4 yards per catch. Emmanuel Sanders finished with 74 catches, 1,135 yards, 6 TD’s and 14.9 yards per catch. TE Owen Daniels pitched in with 46 catches, 517 yards, 3 TD’s with 11.2 yards per catch average. Vernon Davis, who was brought in to give the Broncos another weapon has virtually disappeared contributing only 20 catches, 201 yards, 0 TD’s and 10.0 yards per catch. If he can return to the player he was while with San Francisco, he could be a game changer for the Broncs.

Edge: Broncos

Defense:

Where ultimately I think the game will be decided.

Carolina has a pretty stout defense with a strong secondary though they will be playing with second string players at corner opposite Pro-Bowler Josh Norman. In addition to Norman, Panthers have several dangerous players the Broncos will need to account for such as Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Curt Coleman as well as Kawann Short who led the Panthers defense with 11 sacks in 2015.   Because of that rush, Panther ranked first in interceptions with 24 including 4 pick-sixes.

Panthers are going to go after Manning, and why wouldn’t you? He has a 4.8 40 yard time but that was way the hell back early on in his career. I’d be surprised if his 40 yard time isn’t somewhere in the lower sixes with him being 39 years old. He still has a quick release but he really isn’t a threat to go deep anymore. If there is a real advantage here it’s that Manning is so good at reading defenses and making adjustments. He will outthink the defense and get the ball out as fast as he can. He doesn’t take many sacks. In the 58 regular season games he has played for the Broncos, he was sacked a mere 72 times which breaks out to be about 1.24 times a game. The one area that has been an issue of late is his interception rate. From 2012 to 2014, he was intercepted 36 times over 48 games, less than once per game. In the 10 games he has appeared this season, he was intercepted 17 times in 10 games, a rate of 1.7 times. And some of the passes he’s thrown look dreadful. Look for the Panther D-line to get their hands up if they can’t get to him. They will need to force Manning to go deep where his passes will tend to lose velocity and be easy pickings for the Panther secondary.

Denver ranked first in team defense, the first time any Denver Bronco team accomplished that in their 55 year history. They limited offenses to an average of 283.1 yards per game, sacked the QB 52 times leading the league in both categories for 2015 and forced 22 fumbles, recovering 13 of them.

Denver’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips put together a masterful plan forcing Brady to throw 56 times while limiting the Patriots rushing total to just 44 yards. And you know you are doing well when the leading rusher is Brady with 13 yards. The only rushing TD was by Steven Jackson from 1 yard out late in the first quarter.

Granted, Brady threw for 310 yards and 1 score but he was also intercepted twice, sacked 4 times and the Bronco defense harassed him all day. Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski 8 times for 144 yards and the one score but the rest of the 4 receivers collectively caught 19 passes for 166 yards and no TD’s.

Cam Newton presents a whole set of other issues for the Bronco defense. Granted he’s no Tom Brady when it comes to passing but he also has tools that Brady doesn’t have such as being mobile, huge (Newton is listed 6-5, 245 lbs. and has run a 4.59 40 yard dash time) and very difficult to bring down. He won’t be a sitting duck back there and if he gets flushed from the pocket, he has no issues becoming a rusher. He gained 636 yards to go along with 10 TD’s. When the Panthers get close to the goal or in need of a first down on third and short situations, Ron Rivera has no problem calling Cam’s number to get what’s needed.

Edge – Even

My heart wants the Bronco’s to beat the snot out of Carolina. But logic dictates to me that the Panthers have just too much for Denver to overcome.

Carolina Panthers 31, Denver Broncos 17.

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