BY OWEN SANBORN
Have we really already reached the 50th Super Bowl? Man, if this game were a t-shirt, it would be a large. (That was my first and only roman numeral joke. I’m sorry I put you through that.)
Heading into Sunday’s games, the general consensus pinned the New England Patriots as a lock to make it back to the “large” game — utilizing Roger Goodell’s bounty for the suspected use of deflated footballs as fuel to a remarkable seventh Super Bowl appearance in the Belichick-Brady era. Unfortunately for New England, their efforts fell short as the Denver Broncos pulled out a nail-biter behind a fierce pass rush and the curiously rejuvenated arm of Peyton Manning.
Over in the NFC, the fun-loving (and dabbing) Carolina Panthers matched up against the gunslinging strategery of the Arizona Cardinals. Carolina and Arizona were by far the two best teams in the NFC all season, so the game was set up to mirror the dramatic elements of its predecessor. Wrong. Put it this way: Carolina scored so much that every child in Carolina may have their own football (a player gives away the ball after each touchdown scored).
Given that this the first time the two teams have met this season, here are some crucial things to watch out for when you tune into the big game.
Peyton Manning: The prospects of the Broncos winning this game begins and ends with the throwing prowess of “The Sheriff”. If Manning continues to show the arm strength that we saw on Sunday, Denver should be able to put up 20-plus points. Manning’s lack of arm strength has dictated the entire offense for much of the season. If he is now able to throw different route combinations other than an out or a slant, that in itself is a game changer.
Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas: Chunk yardage and big plays are going to be a necessity for Denver to be victorious and both dynamic wideouts have the skill set to break one loose at any moment. Look for Manning to try to hit Sanders over the top while Thomas elects to pile on yardage after the catch with various short-to-intermediate routes.
Von Miller: What a ferocious performance Miller had on Sunday against the Patriots. New England’s offensive line never had a chance en route to a 2.5 sack performance along with an interception that very few at his position could have made. Miller will be a key cog in the game plan to stop Cam Newton. Also: Keep an eye out for his sack dance. It isn’t exactly G-rated, but it will bring out a chuckle.
Whoever Defends Greg Olsen: Denver will have their hands full with Olsen, who has been Newton’s favorite target all season. Expect the Broncos to treat Olsen much like
they treated Rob Gronkowski on Sunday by surrounding him with two or even three defenders if warranted.
Cam Newton: The future league MVP will finally get his chance to shine on football’s biggest stage. Cam has never shied away from the spotlight, but it is fair to assume that there will be nerves involved at the outset. It will be crucial for him to get off to a good start to shed away the nerves and play his routinely superhuman brand of football.
Jonathan Stewart: Denver has one of the best pass rushes in the league. In order to refute that, Carolina will have to use their ground game as a neutralizer. Stewart is a bruising back who relishes on the attention opposing defenses pay to Newton’s rushing ability. He should be able to find some holes, though it won’t be a walk in the park. New England’s leading rusher against Denver was the lumbering clydesdale himself, Tom Brady.
Any Receiver Not Named Greg Olsen: Unsung heroes have been prevalent in past Super Bowls and I have a sneaky suspicion that someone like Corey Brown or Devin Funchess could come up big. They will certainly have opportunities with the Broncos’ secondary having to account for Olsen.
The Safeties: Josh Norman and Co. have played well for Carolina on the outside all season, but Manning will take his shots over the top if the safeties creep too far toward the line of scrimmage. If the safeties can keep Thomas and Sanders in front of them, the Panthers defense is in business.
Look out for:
-Being the one stuck with having to explain the game of football to the person that only watches on Super Bowl Sunday.
-Over 3,858,697 mentions of Peyton Manning’s “legacy.”
-All of the Super Bowl commercials being a letdown.
-Your drunk Patriots fan friend who is still bitter and obnoxiously ruins the viewing experience.
-People who won’t stop asking when Beyonce is going to come on.
Carolina 27, Denver 17