Hollywood couldn't pen a better run to the 2016 Super Bowl.
Golden boy Tom Brady has a shot at redemption and another ring. His career-long nemesis, Peyton Manning, gets a stab at riding off into the sunset in the best way possible. Cam Newton could make history by carrying maybe one of the worst supporting casts to a title. Carson Palmer could squash a career of letdowns after his first-ever playoff win.
The league has come quite a long way from a sub-.500 team such as the Jacksonville Jaguars potentially making the playoffs.
Before the top-tier conference title games get underway, let's take a look at the info surrounding the Super Bowl and outline what to expect.
When: Sunday, February 7, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Super Bowl 2016 Odds
|New England Patriots||19-10|
Super Bowl Breakdown
Jump right to it—the heavyweight slugfest between legendary quarterbacks won't have a problem providing entertainment value.
Brady boosted the Patriots this year despite missing Julian Edelman for a chunk of the season and Rob Gronkowski at times, and losing key contributors such as running back Dion Lewis and others, to the point where the team had to sign Steven Jackson.
Alas, Brady threw for 4,770 yards and 36 touchdowns to seven interceptions before leading his team over the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round, 27-20.
Contrast that with Denver, a team that benched Manning this year to let him heal and rode Brock Osweiler. Manning returned, of course, and looked solid in a season-ending victory before riding his elite defense to a 23-16 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bleacher Report provided the tale of the tape:
Quarterback play will come up big in the contest, but even bigger? Defense. Denver ranks fourth in the league at 18.5 points allowed per game. New England is 10th at 19.7.
When these two met back in Week 12, Denver escaped with a 30-24 overtime victory with Osweiler under center, while C.J. Anderson ran for 113 yards and two scores. If Anderson can produce in similar fashion again and help a fully healthy Manning, Denver should be able to win at home.
On the NFC side, folks might be content to lean on Cam Newton and the Panther and call it a day. There's not a huge amount of room to protest the notion after Newton looked like the MVP while accounting for 45 total touchdowns in the regular season without top wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
What's scary about the Panthers is the 31-24 win against the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, where Newton and Co. jumped out to a 31-0 advantage at the half and fell silent as the Seahawks went on a 24-0 run in the second.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly put it in plain terms after the game, according to ESPN.com:
That's what this game is going to teach us. No matter how good you play in the first half, the second half is just as important. It's crazy. You go into these games, and you expect it to be like this, so it wasn't a surprise for us. But you've got to be locked in the whole game.
Such a collapse won't work against the Cardinals, and a one-man show might not, either.
Arizona ranks seventh in scoring defense right behind Carolina. What makes the difference in this encounter is Palmer's offense. He threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns to 11 interceptions this year because he's got a triple-headed monster at wideout in Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd, and a hodgepodge of names such as Chris Johnson, David Johnson and Andre Ellington can run well in this offense.
In a defensive-minded affair, Arizona has a big advantage. The press corners can slow top target Ted Ginn and focus on containing Newton. The Seahawks gashed the Carolina defense through the air, which is terrible news for the Panthers going into a game against Palmer.
Palmer-Manning might not be the encounter most want to see, but it's one heck of a Super Bowl regardless.
As one should expect, it projects as another defense-first encounter. Arizona has to bring pressure while Patrick Peterson squares off with Demaryius Thomas. Denver has to do the same while Chris Harris Jr. deals with Larry Fitzgerald.
Call it a matchup worthy of a Lombardi Trophy, where two quarterbacks with everything to gain give it 100 percent.
The advantage has to go to Manning and Denver, though, if not in large part for how they continue to win games against expectation.
"I just think we've got to be ourselves. Sometimes we do make mistakes," receiver Emmanuel Sanders said, according to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post. "I know a lot of people expect us to go out and have a perfect game, but the way we're winning, it's working."
Expectations are a funny thing. Arizona needed late magic to even get past the Green Bay Packers, which isn't what most expected. Some expected Denver to falter against Pittsburgh.
In this potential matchup, at least, expect experience to win out. Denver can stifle any running game Arizona trots out, placing an added emphasis on production from Palmer, who simply doesn't have the championship-game experience his counterpart brings.
For this scenario, it only makes sense that Manning rides off into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy. Unlike Palmer, he won't have to do the heavy lifting by himself, providing a stark reminder in a quarterback-focused postseason that this is, indeed, the ultimate team game.
Prediction: Broncos 28, Cardinals 27