After an exciting Championship Sunday, the matchup for Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 at Levi's Stadium is set. The Denver Broncos used a dominant defensive effort to hold off the New England Patriots, while the Carolina Panthers outright smothered the Arizona Cardinals in all phases of the game.
Von Miller and the Broncos defense may get all the headlines in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, but don't sleep on the Panthers defense. Luke Kuechly and Co. dominated the Cardinals, picking off Carson Palmer four times and forcing seven turnovers overall.
Las Vegas has a lot of immediate confidence in Carolina, as Odds Shark initially set the Panthers as four-point favorites.
As Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus pointed out, this matchup will pit two elite units against each other:
Khaled Elsayed @PFF_Khaled
Panthers, top ranked @PFF offense, up against Broncos, top ranked @PFF defense. Something has to give!1/25/2016, 2:56:58 AM
The Broncos have the better defense statistically, and coordinator Wade Phillips has his unit clicking at the perfect time. But Newton is having an out-of-body experience this year. As SportsCenter noted, he's accounted for 50 touchdowns this season, including in the playoffs. At 6'5" and 245 pounds, he is essentially a linebacker playing quarterback.
Phillips and his defense will have a tough time slowing down Newton, who is a threat with his arm and his legs. He can make pinpoint passes and plays in the open field if he escapes the pocket. The Panthers will even design runs for him; he rushed for 10 touchdowns in the regular season, which was tied for the second-most by any player.
And on the other side, the Panthers have a more than capable defense. They have elite players at every level, from Dwan Edwards to Kuechly to Josh Norman. Carolina led the league in pretty much all turnover categories, including differential.
If the Panthers continue to play as they have all season, it will be tough for the Broncos to beat them. But if the Broncos defense continues playing with its hair on fire, it could give Manning a chance to use his brilliance to navigate the Broncos offense down the field.
Either way, this is already shaping up to be a tremendous football game. Feb. 7 can't come soon enough.