Forget all that stress from midterms. Forget that dreadful fantasy football season you had. Forget all that drinking you’ve missed out on the past couple of weekends because you were busy working or studying. It’s almost Super Bowl Sunday.

This magical day rarely disappoints, but boy, do we have quite the matchup before us in the 50th edition of the greatest event in American sports culture: the past, represented by the legendary Peyton Manning – a five-time NFL MVP known not only for owning a “laser rocket arm” and the catchiest chicken parmesan jingle in history, but also just about every passing record imaginable – going up against the present, represented by Cam Newton – one of the league’s greatest entertainers, likely MVP and a budding superstar who at the age of 26 already owns the record for most rushing TDs of any QB in history.

Their styles could not be more different, but this game will really come down to which star quarterback can figure out the other’s defense.

We have not seen the same Peyton Manning this year that we have in past years, but he has still managed to get the job done in the postseason, now looking to improve upon his 1-2 record in Super Bowls. He will conclude potentially his final year, a campaign in which he threw the most interceptions per game since his rookie season, going against a Panther defense that led the league in picks.

That’s not to say that Newton will have it any easier, going up against the league’s top defense and possibly one of the top units of all-time.

On paper, we’re in for a classic. So long as the Broncos’ opening snap doesn’t result in a safety.

So grab some beer, grab all your fellow football fans and non-football fans who are only there to complain that “the commercials aren’t even funny,” and enjoy what could be No. 18’s final chance to match his little brother Eli in the jewelry department. Happy Super Bowl!

Tarush Mohanti/ Daily Nexus

Tarush Mohanti/ Daily Nexus

Broncos Passing Offense vs. Panthers Secondary by Daniel Moebus-Bowles

With everyone calling Denver’s defense the best in the league and Cam Newton being the likely winner of the NFL MVP award, the matchup between the Broncos’ passing game and Panthers’ secondary truly may be the decider in the game.

We know Cam and the Denver D will have a close battle, but will the great Peyton Manning show up against a very tough group of Carolina defensive backs? Or will he show up as the 39 year-old whom we’ve seen regress heavily in the past year. Manning will more than likely walk off the gridiron for the last time this Sunday and, win or lose, he will go down as one of the greatest to do it.

Unfortunately, whether he wins or not, his last few seasons in this league were not at all an accurate portrayal of the Manning we have grown to know. He has been stricken with injuries, thrown for all-time lows and was even benched in the same game in which he broke the NFL’s all-time passing record.

He’s thrown a career low nine TD’s this year, along with his fewest completions, his most picks since 2010, and, for the first time in his career, he didn’t play and start in every game. This is surely not the same Peyton Manning that won five MVPs.

To make matters worse, Peyton is widely known as being very unsuccessful in the Postseason, with a record of just 13-13 in his 18 seasons and only one Super Bowl win out of three tries.

Now, with sports being the beautiful and unpredictable animal that it is, we can by no means count this man out. With the incredible receiving options he has around him, Manning could very well come out and have an above average day if he can just tap into what ever talent and youth he has left in the tank. What makes this a tall task are those men in blue on the other side of the ball.

Carolina is known to have a great defense, especially in their front seven with a player like Luke Kuechly handling the run game very well, but what about those who stop the pass? The Panthers have been blessed to feature what may be the most improved corner in the league this season in Josh Norman, who picked up career bests in every defensive stat this year, excluding tackling. Norman had four picks, three forced fumbles and two defensive TD’s this year, but more importantly he became a truly lock-down corner.

Robert McClain, Kurt Coleman, Roman Harper, Cortland Finnegan and Teddy Williams join him to make up this very talented secondary that reeled in the most interceptions during the regular season and has allowed the least passes in the playoffs so far.

When looking at this matchup I truly see the thick of the game coming down to how well Peyton can play against this very talented passing defense. The Broncos have great receiving options in Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis whom will be covered well by a talented Panthers defense that will result in a stalemate.

The Carolina Panthers will be Super Bowl champions unless Peyton shows up as the great player we have grown up with and makes the super star plays he has been known to make, albeit in the regular season as opposed to on the biggest stage.

Cam Newton vs. Broncos Defense by Jorge Mercado

While Peyton Manning and Cam Newton exchanged praises for each other at the Super Bowl 50 media day, one of the many attractions entering Sunday’s game is how well Newton will fair against the Denver Broncos’ defense.

Entitled is a matchup between one of this season’s best quarterbacks going head-to-head with the NFL’s No.1 defense. Yet, it is no shock that Newton has garnered most of the spotlight thanks to his MVP caliber play this season.

This season, the Panthers star quarterback set a new career high in passing touchdowns with 35 in the regular season, which tied for second best in the league. He also tied for fifth in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 10 — the next closest quarterback on the list was Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie QB Jameis Winston with six.

Last week in the NFC championship game against Arizona, Newton threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, an encouraging sign that he is still hot heading into the Golden Super Bowl. However, Newton has had his fair share of struggles when facing good defenses this season.

Although the Panthers dominated the Seahawks for the most part in their divisional matchup, Newton was average, throwing for only 161 yards and rushing for three yards on 11 carries. In Carolina’s only loss of the season in week 16, Newton was pressured immensely by Atlanta, being held to 142 passing yards and 46 rushing yards.

Point being, when Newton is pressured he starts to play a bit more poorly than usual — as do most quarterbacks. Unfortunately for Newton, this Sunday the former No. 1 overall pick will face off against possibly the best pass rushing defense he has seen in his five-year career.

The Broncos’ defense has dominated all year long as the No. 1 total defense, No. 1 against the pass and No. 3 against the rush. Most notably, it has been Denver’s pass rush which has been most valuable. In the regular season, the Broncos led the league in sacks with 52.

Last week, Denver hit the Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady 17 times. It was the most the quarterback had been hit in a game this season, including the postseason. Newton has yet to be hit more than six times in any game this season.

However, just as Newton has never faced a pass rush like the Broncos, subsequently Denver has never faced a quarterback like Cam Newton, which is what makes this matchup so great.

The most rushing yards by a quarterback against the Broncos was Alex Smith, who ran for 33 yards, but Newton and Smith are two completely different quarterbacks. The unpredictability of Newton’s talents is what might be the determining factor come Sunday afternoon.

At this point, it seems clear that the Broncos defense holds the advantage. One player cannot possibly beat an entire defense. Then again, not many players, let alone QB’s, can match Cam Newton’s skillset. Part of the intrigue will be to see if he can overcome the best defense in the NFL.

Broncos Rushing Offense vs. Panthers Front 7 by Elliot Thornton 

They say numbers never lie and as cliché this statement may be, it could well be a recipe for success for Head Coach Gary Kubiak and the Denver Broncos.

Denver is 8-0 this season when its ground and pound game rushes for 130-plus yards. With the combination of a downhill rusher like C.J. Anderson and the finesse of Ronnie Hillman in the backfield, Kubiak will likely take this stat into account as he helps to prepare the Broncos’ offensive scheme for Super Bowl 50. While the Panthers’ defense, especially their front seven, has been impressive this season, the Broncos know running the ball effectively will play a key part in their ability to move the chains.

It’s no secret that Peyton Manning’s throwing arm doesn’t possess the same amount of strength and precision it once did. Although he still retains the knowledge and ability to manage a game, the Broncos’ ability to establish their rushing attack will be pivotal in aiding their aging quarterback.

Despite a lethargic start to begin the season, Denver’s run game gradually improved as the year progressed. Both Hillman and Anderson have proven to be clutch in the post season, coming up huge during the team’s game-winning drive against the Steelers. While Anderson wasn’t as dominant against the Patriots in their second matchup, the former Cal Bear led all rushers with 72 yards, including a rumbling 30-yard pickup in the fourth quarter that set up the game deciding field goal. His hardnosed running style will be a vital factor in the Broncos’ chances of earning a victory in the matchup against the physical front of the Panthers.

The Panthers’ front seven on defense, led by the All-Pro linebacker duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, could very well prove to be the deciding factor in this year’s Super Bowl. Kuechly leads the team this postseason with 19 tackles, while Thomas has 11 after leaving the NFC championship game with a broken forearm. While he is planning to play with a brace in the Super Bowl, it remains to be seen how effective he can be with only one fully functioning arm.

These two linebackers, as well as Kurt Coleman, who leads the team with two interceptions this postseason, headline an aggressive front seven that gave Carson Palmer nightmares during the NFC championship. Fast and intelligent, they will need to be on their toes against Manning and all of his deceptive play calling at the line of scrimmage.

The Panthers’ defense altered what should have been two hard fought battles this postseason against the Seahawks and Cardinals into near blowout victories with their smart, opportunistic play complementing their explosive offense led by likely MVP Cam Newton.

Yet enhancing the narrative of Sunday’s game is the curiosity of if the “Sheriff” can dig deep and orchestrate one more victory to top off one of the greatest quarterbacking careers of all time. If Manning can manage to prevent from turning the ball over, the Broncos’ defense might have what it takes to keep Denver within reach for earning its third Super Bowl victory in franchise history.

However, the edge overall must go to Carolina and its dynamic leader in Newton alongside the Panthers’ ferocious defense, which has taken the league by storm this year with aspirations of becoming the NFL’s next dynasty.

Broncos Defense/Special Teams vs. Panthers Defense/Special Teams by Ryan Burns

It’s fairly common that a defensive or special team’s play can end up having a huge impact on the outcome of the Super Bowl. Just ask the Denver Broncos.

Two years ago in Super Bowl 48, Denver lost 43-8 to Seattle, and a long interception return TD for Seahawks’ Malcolm Smith sucked the hope out of the Broncos in the second quarter. Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin delivered the final blow on the kickoff of the second half, returning it 87 yards for a touchdown.

In this season’s edition of the February classic, two of the premier defenses in the NFL will battle for the crown. Denver definitely comes into the games with the edge, though, as they led the league in the regular season with a stingy 283.1 yards allowed per game and a fourth-best 18.5 points allowed per game.

Denver’s all-around solid team defense will have to outperform Carolina’s explosive, hard-hitting D led by lockdown cornerback Kurt Coleman and all-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers had a league-high 23 interceptions in the regular season and like their offense, plays with an edge that often gets on the nerves of their opponents. Cornerback Josh Norman has had on-field scraps with several top wide-outs, such as Dez Bryant and Julio Jones, and the frustration has to stem from how tough and gritty the Carolina defense really is.

As for special teams, neither team has had any explosive players this season, with the Broncos’ Omar Bolden the only player in the Super Bowl with a return touchdown this season. Broncos’ kicker Brandon McManus has hit 85.7 percent of his field goals with a season high 57-yarder, while Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano is similarly successful, converting 83.3 percent of his FGs with a long of 52-yards.

 

A version of this article appeared on pages 10 & 11 of February 4, 2016’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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