Super Bowl 50 has all the makings of an epic matchup, highlighted by arguably the best player in the league this season in Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and one of the best of all time in Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
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With the exception of the game two years ago, we’ve been fortunate to have a string of close, compelling Super Bowls. And this one should follow suit.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on for the final 60 minutes of football of the NFL season. .
1. Last rodeo: We won’t know until sometime after the confetti falls whether we’ve watched the final game of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s Hall of Fame career, but it will be interesting to watch how he plays.
This performance certainly won’t define Manning’s legacy, but there’s no question it will be near the top of the recall list when Manning’s name is brought up for years to come.
If Manning can lead Denver to a win, he will cement his legacy as one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history as one of just 12 to win multiple Super Bowls.
2. Fast starts: During the playoffs the Panthers have outscored their opponents 31-0 in the first quarter and 55-7 in the first half, and those foes were ranked No. 2 (Seattle) and No. 5 (Arizona) in the NFL in total defense.
Carolina scored on its first three possessions against the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game and its first four against Seattle in the division round.
If the Panthers get off to that kind of start Sunday, it would be another long and fruitless Super Bowl for Peyton Manning, whose Broncos were outscored by Seattle 22-0 in the first half of Super Bowl XLVIII two years ago.
3. Denver’s D: With the pass-happy offenses and pinball like statistics quarterbacks and receivers are putting up these days, you don’t hear the phrase “defense wins championships” that much anymore.
But the Denver defense led the NFL in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and sacks, was third in rushing yards allowed and fourth in points allowed.
The Broncos made four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady look average at best during a 60-minute beating in the AFC Championship Game.
And it’s not just the ferocious pass rush. Denver has a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. who have the potential to dominate Carolina’s hum-drum receiving corps.
4. Turnover tale: The Carolina Panthers led the NFL with 39 takeaways this season, and their plus-20 turnover margin also ranked first, well ahead of runner-up Kansas City’s plus-6.
Denver, meanwhile, was minus-4 thanks to 31 giveaways. Only Tennessee (33) and Dallas (33) had more turnovers the Broncos.
And in the previous 49 Super Bowls, teams that commit fewer turnovers are 36-4.
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5. Pain tolerance: Carolina Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis isn’t going to let a little thing like a broken arm stop him from playing in the first Super Bowl his 11-year career.
Thomas broke his right forearm in the Panthers’ 49-15 victory against Arizona in the NFC Championship game two weeks ago. But he’s going to give it a go 12 screws and a metal plate in his arm, which will be wrapped in a protective cast.
There is no amount of medicine that will keep him from feeling pain the first time that arm gets hit. It’s going to be worthy watching how effective he can be given the circumstances, or how well backup A.J. Klein can play if Davis can’t make it through the game.
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