The hiring of Ron Rivera has proved to be a winning move for the Carolina Panthers.
Before he was signed to become their head coach prior to the 2011 season, Rivera had been mentioned as one of the league's top head coaching candidates for years, and while he had gotten his share of interviews, no one had pulled the trigger and given him the opportunity to serve as the No. 1 man.
Now Rivera is taking a 15-1 team to the Super Bowl. The Panthers didn't lose until the penultimate game of the season and have recorded two convincing wins in the postseason.
They go into Super Bowl 50 as the first team to enter the championship game with a 15-1 record since the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Bears and the 1984 San Francisco 49ers are the only 15-1 teams to get to the Super Bowl, and both recorded convincing wins.
The 2007 New England Patriots made it to the Super Bowl as a 16-0 team, but their hearts were broken by the New York Giants in the late stages of the fourth quarter as they dropped a 17-14 decision in Super Bowl XLII.
No 15-1 team has ever been beaten in the Super Bowl, and that trend will not change in this game. As a result, Rivera will become the 15th head coach to gain a victory in his first Super Bowl head coaching opportunity.
The Panthers have a huge advantage on the offensive side despite not having many big-name stars outside of likely MVP Cam Newton. The former No. 1 overall pick threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores in the NFC Championship Game.
That comes on the heels of a regular season in which he threw 35 TD passes and ran for an additional 10 scores.
Denver's Peyton Manning is one of the game's all-time great quarterbacks, but that description does not apply right now. Manning and the Broncos have two postseason victories, but he is clearly managing the game at this point. He has not thrown an interception in either playoff game, and he hurt the Patriots by throwing two TD passes.
However, he threw for just 176 yards against the Patriots on 32 passing attempts, and that 5.5 yards-per-pass mark is a big area of concern.
The Panthers are just too explosive for Manning to keep it clean on the interception side of the ledger. The bold prediction here is that he will throw at least two interceptions and no more than one TD pass in this game.
The line on Super Bowl 50 has the Panthers favored by 4.5 points, according to Odds Shark. However, prop bets are plentiful prior to the Super Bowl, and a bettor can improve their payoff by changing the line. The belief here is that the Panthers will win by 10 or more, and that will result in improved odds.
Prop bets are scheduled to come out later in the week, according to ESPN.com's David Payne Purdum.
While tight end Greg Olsen and wideout Ted Ginn Jr. are the Panthers' two leading receivers, we expect wideout Corey "Philly" Brown to have a big day against the Broncos. Brown caught four passes for 113 yards and a touchdown (86-yarder) against Arizona, and we expect him to get token coverage in this game. He will go over the 100-yard mark again and get into the end zone.
If Denver is going to have any chance in this game, it must get consistent production from the running game. We expect C.J. Anderson to be the Broncos' big-play running back after running for 720 yards and averaging 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season. Look for Anderson to run for at least 80 yards and score a touchdown.
Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly has had a year and a postseason to remember. The Pro Bowl linebacker had a team-high 118 tackles and four interceptions during the regular season, and he returned one for a touchdown.
In the team's two postseason games, he had a team-leading 19 tackles while also posting two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Kuechly has returned both interceptions for touchdowns.
While it may not seem logical, we believe Kuechly will poach one of Manning's passes and, yes, return it for his third touchdown of the postseason. Call it the NFL's version of the hat trick
The last time the Broncos were in the Super Bowl, they got overwhelmed 43-8 by Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII. The first play from scrimmage saw Manning lose track of the snap before it was recovered in the end zone for a safety.
While we don't think it will happen on the first play, the prediction here is that there will be another safety in this game.
Additionally, Denver kicker Brandon McManus will start the scoring with a field goal. He has not missed any of his seven attempts thus far in the postseason, and he will kick an early three-pointer to get the Broncos going.
It won't last, but they will have the lead early in this game.