Future first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning may be done with football after Sunday, while we are just scratching the surface to see how good Cam Newton can be. The teams are different, the coaches are battle-tested, the Super Bowl odds are getting tighter each day, and the passing of the torch is pertinent with Manning and Newton. The feel of the game is WWE-like, and it could possibly be the best Super Bowl in recent memory.
With that said, I decided to take a page out of Snapchat legend and music enthusiast DJ Khaled and look at the 10 keys — five for the Broncos and five for the Panthers — to a Super Bowl victory.
The likely MVP, Cam Newton has obliterated defenses this season. The Broncos, who arguably have the best defense in the NFL, have the tough task of attempting to be the kryptonite to Carolina's Superman.
Stopping Newton is pretty close to impossible, but containing him is feasible. To slow down the unearthly QB, it is essential that the defensive line, linebackers and secondary play with discipline. Being overly aggressive against someone who can hurt you in many areas can be dangerous.
Against the blitz, Newton has thrown for 19 touchdowns with a QB rating of 118.1. Versus defenses that are less aggressive, his production takes a dip with a passer rating of 68.0. Aquib Talib, Chris Harris, Derek Wolfe, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will have their hands full, but they may do just enough to snatch the powers from Superman.
Establish The Run
Under Gary Kubiak, the Broncos have become adept at running the ball. Thus far, in two playoff games, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have combined for 58 carries and 198 yards. The numbers may not be pretty, but the combination is doing just enough to alleviate the pressure on Peyton Manning.
Running the ball consistently creates the threat of the play-action pass and keeps the Panthers' high-octane offense on the sideline.
Protect The Sheriff
The Carolina defense made Carson Palmer look like Cap Rooney from the movie "Any Given Sunday" in the NFC Championship Game, and it will try to do the same with Manning. The offensive line must protect Manning in order to pose a threat in the passing game.
The Panthers aren’t known as a blitzing team, but they finished sixth in total sacks with 44. With Kawann Short leading the surge from the defensive tackle position, interior linemen will have to make sure that Manning has a clean pocket from which to make plays.
Attack The Panthers Inside The Numbers
At this point, we know that Peyton’s arm is noodle-like, but in the AFC Championship Game, he showed flashes of making the big throw down the field. Tight end Owen Daniels had a big day, and that could happen again this Sunday.
With Josh Norman locking up the outside, it would be best to attack aggressive safeties Roman Harper, Kurt Coleman and nickel cornerback Courtland Finnegan. The aforementioned players have played big roles for the Panthers this season, but at times their aggressive play have been their Achilles heel.
Understand The Moment
One of the most compelling stories of Super Bowl 50 is that this may be Manning’s last game of his illustrious career. The Broncos know that their quarterback doesn’t have many throws left in his weary arm, so there is an understanding of how important this game is. To have him ride off into the sunset with a Super Bowl victory would be breathtaking, but it will be easier said than done.
This Broncos team has shown an undeniable level of confidence, and these players know if they play 60 minutes of sound football, they can be victorious. Add in the strong possibility that this may be the end of one of the most celebrated players in NFL history, and it should give the Broncos a little more purpose to win the game, if it's possible to have any more motivation than the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Big Plays From The Special Teams
The Carolina Panthers offense will have its hands full with one of the best, if not the best, defenses in all of football. With that said, it may be likely that the offense sputters at times.
A big play from special teams may be looming this Super Bowl Sunday. As we’ve seen in this year’s playoffs, special teams play has been critical. Whether it’s a blocked punt, field goal or a big return, the Panthers will need their third unit to be special.
The Blind Side
Michael Oher may have the toughest job of the day trying to contain Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. In the AFC Championship Game, the duo harassed Tom Brady in menacing fashion. Newton may be a different quarterback than Brady, but the responsibility to keep him away from duress will be key.
Oher has done an admirable job in his first season in Carolina. As it was instilled in him in his days as a youth in Memphis, it will be a major key to protect No.1’s blind side.
The No-Name Offense
All eyes will be on Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen. But the most important players might not be any of those three. It will be important for players such as Devin Funchess, Corey “Philly” Brown, Ed Dickson, Mike Tolbert and Ted Ginn Jr. to bring their A games.
In each playoff game this postseason, a member of the "no-name” offense has made a key or game-changing play. This Sunday it should be no different. It's important for them to play at a high level on football's biggest stage.
The Panthers' supporting cast has been ridiculed all season, but with a big performance in Super Bowl 50, it may have the last laugh.
Remain True To Self
Are the Panthers too cocky? I can assure you that this week, that question probably has been uttered 100 times. Carolina oozes confidence and swagger when it plays the game, and oftentimes people take it the wrong way.
There will be picture taking, celebrations after a 12-yard gain and, of course, an occasional dab. The team is just having fun, while others think the Panthers are trying to show up their opponent. Many pundits do not want the Panthers to be themselves.
I don’t recall ever seeing a team that has played with this much bravado while winning in the manner that it is. The Super Bowl will cause anyone to become uneasy, so it will be key that the Panthers continue to embrace themselves and grace the field as they style and profile, as the great Ric Flair would do.
The Play Of Cam Newton
Despite the Broncos keying on Carolina's behemoth of a quarterback, it is important for his play to be astounding. He doesn’t have to be a one-man show, but it will be vital for him to have a big game.
Does he have to have a legendary six-touchdown performance like Steve Young in Super Bowl XXIX? The answer is no. But he has to play at a high level.
Going against a defense as tough as Denver’s, the numbers may not be pretty, but that will not stop him from being the player that we know him to be. When the lights are bright, Cam plays his best football, and there is no bigger stage than the Super Bowl.