About twenty-four hours from now. . .we'll be around halfway through the pre-game.
But shortly after that, we will get the game that will put the cap on the 2015-16 NFL season, as the Carolina Panthers will battle the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, live from Santa Clara, California. You've read all the analysis, you've been subjected to highlights and whatever else, and now it's time for everyone to call their shot. As usual, we have our prediction widget from our friends at The Crowd's Line for you to predict your score on.
After I went the full Costanza on my Championship Game predictions, and watching all of the same hype that you all have, I can honestly say I have no idea which way to go in this one. I was so positive that Denver was going to get thumped by New England last week and that Arizona had enough momentum to take down Carolina, and neither of those things happened. Part of me looks at this matchup and says that if these two teams play the same games that they did in the Conference Championship round, then Carolina should win this game by about three touchdowns.
And yet. . .I'm not sure.
We know how good the Denver defense is, and it might be the best in the National Football League as things stand right now. However, Cam Newton has found a way to make defenses look bad all season, and the Broncos haven't seen many quarterbacks of his caliber this season. The Broncos' secondary has a clear advantage over the Panthers' receiving corps, but Newton can keep plays alive long enough for those guys to get open. . .as long as he can avoid DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, and the rest of that Denver pass rush. The key to this one for the Panthers might not be Newton as much as it is running back Jonathan Stewart. If he can get something going against the Broncos' run defense, it would soften things up considerably for Newton and company.
When Denver has the ball. . .man, I know that the fossilized husk of Peyton Manning had a bit of a mini-comeback against the Patriots last week, but you have to wonder whether or not he can replicate that against a Carolina defense that's awfully good in its own right. They have two Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman, and their pass rush has made things miserable for opposing quarterbacks all season. The key for the Broncos is going to be keeping the down and distance manageable so that Manning can attempt to get the ball out quickly. Oh, and it would help if Demaryius Thomas would stop dropping passes, too.
This game, like so many others in the NFL, will probably come down to who makes more mistakes. This season, Cam Newton has been infinitely more trustworthy than Manning has. . .and as much as the nagging voice in the back of my head wants to tell me that Denver can pull this one out, I just don't see it. Lord knows I've been wrong before, but that happens sometimes. I do, however, think this will be a much closer game than a lot of people are expecting.
Panthers 24, Broncos 21, with Jared Allen getting a ring (which makes me pretty happy) and yet another team getting their first Super Bowl ring before our beloved Minnesota Vikings get their first one (which, most decidedly, does not).
Who have you got in this one, folks?