It's going to be the first time he's an underdog, per Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Carolina opens as 4-point favorite over Denver in Super Bowl 50. Peyton Manning will be a Super Bowl underdog for the first time. #RJnow— Matt Youmans (@mattyoumans247) January 25, 2016
The stage is set. The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will meet in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Kick off is slated for 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS, when the Broncos will go for their third Super Bowl championship while the cats from Carolina will attempt to win their first title in franchise history.
Yes, this matchup is the epic game of epic defenses. The Broncos defense has been nothing but dominant all year and is the reason why Denver is back in the big game. Carolina's defense has been awesome as well, led by stars Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman.
But this Super Bowl won't be decided by the defenses. It'll come down to the quarterbacks: one who may be on the verge of retirement, and one who may be the MVP of the league and the future of the NFL.
Let's take a look at the quarterback battle between Manning and Cam Newton.
Win or lose, there may not be a better story to sum up the Broncos this year than the quarterback situation. Manning looked like he was done, like he had nothing left to give after a four-interception day against the Kansas City Chiefs in early November.
Two months later, Manning is back in the Super Bowl and has had just as much of an impact for Denver getting back there as the defense.
Since taking over for Brock Osweiler in the second half of the Week 17 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, Manning has played much better. He's not the Manning of old that threw three or four touchdowns in a game, but he's not turning the ball over. In fact, in the last 10 quarters he's played, the only turnover Denver has accumulated is a fumble that was charged to running back Ronnie Hillman.
Manning has played mistake-free football, and that's why Denver is in this position. But for Manning, each time he's gone to the Super Bowl, it's been a unique experience, per ESPN's Dan Graziano:
Peyton Manning has now gone to the Super Bowl with four different coaches.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) January 24, 2016
The last two times Manning has been in the Super Bowl haven't gone well. Those games, against the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, are remembered for the defenses beating him. They're remembered for Tracy Porter's pick-six that sealed the Saints' first championship. They're remembered for Seattle's defense dominating the talented Denver offense, holding Manning and the Broncos to eight points.
There's a trend here. Carolina's defense is an entirely different animal than what the Broncos have seen this year. If the Broncos are to win this game, Manning needs to put on one last performance for the ages. He needs to hop in the hot tub time machine and put on a classic Manning performance of about 300 yards and a few touchdowns.
But if there's one more story to be told for this Manning narrative, he needs to look into the man running his team for guidance, per Rich Eisen of NFL Network:
After all the Denver drama, Peyton Manning now in a win-and-sunset-ride-off position just like Elway.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) January 24, 2016
Everyone enjoys a good story.
The Past vs. The Future
Cam Newton was 9 years old when Peyton Manning made his NFL debut. pic.twitter.com/i0Td6TvpHj— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 25, 2016
The 13-year age difference between Cam Newton (26) and Peyton Manning (39) will be the largest age gap between starting QB's in SB history.— B/R Insights (@BR_Insights) January 25, 2016
First off, long live the dab:
But in all seriousness, at least Newton was honest when he was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, per Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com: "It's not something that's going to be instant, like instant grits. It's more like collard greens, that need to sit and wait," Newton said on April 29, 2011.
"But it's going to be a fun process, I know that. I'm just going to embrace this whole thing and see what happens."
It was certainly a process for the Panthers, who went from consecutive losing seasons in Newton's first two years to winning the NFC South for three straight years.
And it certainly had to be a process, because who could ever forget this Sports Illustrated cover? Because Josh Norris from RotoWorld definitely did not:
Newton has come a long way, from the quarterback from Auburn who had character issues written all over him, to the man who is playing for a Super Bowl in his fifth year without his best receiver, Kelvin Benjamin.
He threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns during the 2015 regular season and lead his Panthers to a 15-1 record. He'll also throw for 335 yards on 19-of-28 passing and accumulate four touchdowns in an NFC Championship Game to send Carolina to its second Super Bowl.
Oh, and he'll probably win the MVP award this year.
Until losing to the Atlanta Falcons, it looked like Newton could not be stopped. So far, in the playoffs, he hasn't been. He's completed 70 percent of his passes, thrown for three touchdowns to only one interception and ran for two more scores against the Arizona Cardinals.
Manning's story is great if he wins. Newton's is equally as great.
Very, Very Early Prediction
The Panthers have done what seemed to be impossible: dominate the two other best teams in the NFC. Albeit at home, for the Panthers to make Seattle and Arizona look they're well below their level is impressive.
Carolina's defense may be the best Denver has seen this year. It'll be rough for Manning. As for Newton, he may be the lone quarterback that can make that Sunday evening a far-from-enjoyable experience for the Broncos.
Right now, Charlotte will be having a parade.
Carolina 24, Denver 17