Super Bowl Preview: Carolina Panthers

020316-roberto-ruiz-pix-2Super Bowl Preview: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers can win with a dominating defensive performance, or an equally dominating offensive performance. The Panthers can win with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly patrolling the field from sideline to sideline, or they can win with Cam Newton slinging the football to any spot on the field. What is scary is when they are winning with all of the above.

In the first half of the season Carolina was an undefeated 8-0, but they weren’t being viewed as the best team in their conference. They hadn’t yet lost, but it was only a matter of time. When they were 11-0, Neil Payne of (the brainchild of the famed Nate Silver) called them the worst team to ever be undefeated through eleven games, and it was hard to argue with him. Something changed entering their twelfth game though, and Cam Newton came to life. The defense had been winning games all year despite the streakiness of the offense. Yes, the Panthers finally lost a game, but they haven’t lost one since and nearly every performance has been as dominating as can be expected.

Newton is likely going to win the MVP award this year, and deservedly so. Despite all his naysayers (of which I am one), Newton has compiled a list of dominating performances, spectacular throws, and exciting runs. Does he celebrate every first down like he just won the Super Bowl? Yes and there has been a lot of celebrating this year. Does he make every touchdown seem like it was scored in the final, decisive second? Yes and there have also been a lot of those this year. Though grating, he has always had his comeuppance, especially when the scoreboard has shown zeroes, but not this year. 35 passing touchdowns, 10 rushing touchdowns, and 4,473 total yards against just 10 interceptions and 5 fumbles are stats that are fit for the Most Valuable Player of the NFL.

While Newton has been great since the calendar flipped to December, the defense has been great all year. Led by its devastating unit of linebackers, the defense swarms, pressures, and forces the opposing offense into making mistakes. Thomas Davis did break his arm in the NFC championship game, but the surgery was a success and he promises to play in the Super Bowl. How effective a linebacker can be with a cast on his arm is yet to be seen, but if he can play anywhere close to the all-pro level he usually does, Peyton Manning might want to consider retiring a game earlier than planned.

Like all Super Bowls, this game could go either way. It will come down to which defense can be more dominating. The Broncos defense definitely has a taller task in front of it, but they could easily be up to the challenge. Then again, Cam Newton could slice through this defense like he has so many others this season. When it really comes down to it though, who doesn’t like an underdog?

Broncos win 24-21.

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