Despite the national spotlight almost squarely on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, there actually are two teams in Super Bowl 50.
Carolina deserves the top billing, with the top player and the league’s top record beaming from the marquee. Cam Newton has turned into the Terminator, morphing into the dual-threat many thought Colin Kaepernick would become. And the way they vaporized the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship should impress any football devotee.
But before you toss the dirt over Denver — suddenly a 6-point underdog in some precincts — consider they’ve only lost once by more than one score all season. That was in Week 10 against the Chiefs.
And though Carolina seems to drop 30 points by halftime every week, the Broncos’ D has only surrendered that many points in one game all season. They yielded a total of 34 points combined to the pyrotechnic Patriots and Steelers in the playoffs. (Granted, the Steelers were hamstrung without Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Antonio Brown.)
So in the quintessential matchup between the irresistible force and the immovable object, the stats lean toward the latter.
While Carolina’s offense scored a robust 32.2 points per game, teams that have led the NFL in scoring have reached the super Bowl 21 times, and have won just 10 of them.
Meanwhile, Denver allowed the fewest yards per game, at 283.3. And the NFL’s top-ranked defense has reached the Super Bowl 11 times, and is 9-2.
Just two years ago, the best defense (Seattle) met the best offense (Denver) in the Super Bowl, and the results defied the public, pundits and point spread. The biblical beating led John Elway to retool, spending ample quid and draft picks on defense, tilting their gridiron rankings from top offense to top defense.
Carolina is overwhelming teams, essentially ending games by halftime, while ringing up 500 points over the season. But only four teams to score at least 500 points have won the Super Bowl (1994 49ers, 1998 Broncos, 1999 Rams and 2009 Saints).
According to The New York Times, of the top-10 scoring offenses in NFL history — based on points-per-game — only the ’99 Rams won the Super Bowl. And they were 10th on the list.
Then there’s the Sheriff. The soap operatic ending for Peyton Manning, whom no one reasonably expected to be here after the aforementioned game agains the Chiefs. Manning threw four, first-half picks and was benched in favor of Brock Osweiler.
It would not have been a stretch to assume you’d never see Manning again. Between his age and injuries, the weathered icon seemed to limp off the gridiron for the final time.
Now he’s on a roll, having vanquished his career-long nemesis, Tom Brady, and seems to be entering the Super Bowl as America’s darling. Manning is the first QB to lead two teams to multiple Super Bowls, and is looking to become the first starting QB to win a Super Bowl with different clubs.
Not only is he looking to win Super Bowl 50, Manning is looking for win No. 200. That would break a tie with Brett Favre for the most overall victories, including regular season and playoffs.
This isn’t the first time an aging Bronco has had the wind and world sentiment at his back. John Elway played his last game in the Super Bowl, and won. Granted, those Atlanta Falcons don’t resemble these Panthers. But a diminished legend can win the big game if he has the team around him.
While at least 70 percent of the betting public is slapping its money on Carolina, it’s unfair to assume the Broncos are roadkill on the Panthers’ road to the title. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Or is the best offense a great defense?
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.