After a week full of drilling the same storylines into our heads repeatedly, the time for the big game is finally here. Compared to years past, this Super Bowl matchup isn’t thought to be particularly close but we all know anything can happen once the game happens. Regardless, it should be an exciting game to watch as we could potentially see the rise of one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Cam Newton and possibly the last game for one of the best to ever play the position in Peyton Manning. Here is my x-factor for each team and my game prediction.
Panthers X-Factor: The offensive line: Other than calls for more weapons on the outside, fans and experts alike had been clamoring for the Panthers to get Newton more protection for years. In 2015, we’ve seen Newton with that luxury and it has come in part due to some unlikely players. For example, if we’re honest nobody thought Michael Oher would be a starting tackle for a Super Bowl team let alone an effective one this time last year. But now this line gets its toughest test in a fantastic Broncos front seven.
Not many teams can have two Hall of Fame caliber talents rushing the passer, but in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller the Broncos do. We already saw against the Patriots how disruptive this defense can be to a passing game, but the Panthers have something the Patriots didn’t. That is the threat of a productive and creative rushing attack. Whether it’s a traditional run to Jonathan Stewart, a trick play for Ted Ginn or a designed run by Newton, the Panthers line has allowed the ground game to flourish. If the line helps establish running the football early, it makes the Panthers more unpredictable which in turn opens things up while also limiting Ware and Miller as outside rushers.
Broncos X-factor: Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver: The Panthers have shown this postseason that they can score on teams in a hurry. One thing that does to opponents is that it makes them extremely one dimensional. Manning may not have what it takes at this stage to roll of 20 straight unanswered points, but he has weapons that could certainly help. With Demaryius Thomas figuring to see plenty of Josh Norman, his number one option should be Sanders.
Throughout the year, the Panthers cornerback corps went through some tough injury luck. While the unit has played well despite that, it has shown some vulnerable patches. With his crisp route running and speed to stretch a defense deep, Sanders could be the guy who makes a play or two that swings the direction of a game. Even against this stingy defense, a productive game for Sanders is a very realistic possibility.
Prediction: While some see this game getting out of hand quickly, I feel the Broncos defense is too good to let that happen. Despite that, the level Newton and the Panthers have been playing offensively has been too high to expect a defensive struggle. This one should be close for the majority of the game, but if the Panthers are able to convert a turnover or two into points, that could seal the deal. My prediction is Panthers 26 Broncos (+6.5) 17.