By Taylor Adams, Staff Writer
As the crowning moment of the football season quickly approaches, fans across the nation are preparing to take in the final game of the year.
The grueling schedule of the postseason has left only two teams poised to take home the Lombardi Trophy. The Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers have been at the top of their respective conferences for nearly the entirety of the year. A matchup between these squads is certainly reason for any fan to look forward to this year’s big game.
Much of the talk surrounding this Super Bowl will be centered on the quarterbacks. Peyton Manning of the Broncos and Cam Newton of the Panthers are nearly polar opposites in terms of playing style and experience.
Manning, age 39, has played 17 NFL seasons coupled with what will become his third Super Bowl appearance. Among an almost unending list of career accomplishments, he ranks as the league’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns and passing yards. While Manning has never been known for his agility, age along with injuries have hampered his playing style in the past year.
He missed six games due to lingering foot problems. On-field performance seemed to allude Manning much of the season as critics are quick to note he threw more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his career.
Cam Newton’s physical appearance does not suggest that he plays the quarterback position. His build is similar to that of defensive player. Newton couples his sheer physicality with the precision passing of a typical quarterback. This has led Carolina to rely on Newton as both a runner and a passer for much of his career.
Newton, the first overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft, is in his fifth season with the Panthers. His emergence in the league has been a long process of maturation. Many see his first Super Bowl trip as a completion of that process. While leading his team to the best regular season record in the NFL, (15-1), Newton garnered attention as the likely Most Valuable Player of the NFL.
While the individual spotlight might shine brightest on the quarterbacks, there are plenty of other key players that will have a big impact on Super Bowl Sunday.
Defense is the name of the game for both teams, as the Broncos and the Panthers rank at the top of the league in nearly every defensive metric. The Bronco’s Von Miller tied for eighth in the league for total sacks with 11. The linebacker will likely apply pressure to the Panther’s offensive line for much of the game, trying to disrupt Newton’s rhythm. Cornerback Aqib Talib and linebacker Brandon Marshall are also key players to watch.
On the other side, Luke Kuechly is regarded by many as one of the best defensive players in football. The fourth year linebacker out of Boston College has been at the top of the league in tackles nearly every season. Besides Kuechly, the emergence of shutdown cornerback Josh Norman has been a key to the Panthers success.
So, which team will walk away with a victory? Las Vegas clearly likes Carolina’s chances. The Panthers opened the week as a clear favorite thanks in large part to dominating performances over Seattle and Arizona in the past two rounds.
Before handing the trophy to Carolina, though, one must not overlook the impact of Peyton Manning. Many speculate that this will be the star’s last game in an NFL uniform. A stout defense and playmakers on offense that want to see one of the greats go out on top add plenty of fuel to the Bronco’s fire.
However, Newton’s quest to bring Carolina its first Super Bowl win seems almost unstoppable. I am predicting a Panther victory by a field goal, as the team shows why they only lost once all season.
All viewers should be in for a treat come Super Bowl Sunday.