We’re just over a week from the “Big Game,” and the rhetoric is not difficult to read. Few people outside of the Broncos’ faithful fans are giving the them any kind of a chance in this game. The spread continues to grow in Carolina’s favor, and the pundits are drinking the Kool-Aid. We’ll remain as objective as possible at Goliath, and break this thing down looking at the potential strengths and weaknesses of both squads, and what could potentially happen. Here are nine X-factors that will determine Super Bowl 50.
9. Peyton Manning vs. Cam Newton
Isn’t it rather silly when networks and news outlets pair quarterbacks with a vs. as if they will see one another on the field? Like it’s a boxing match-up or something? That’s what fantasy sports will do to a pregame breakdown. Cam Newton and Peyton Manning will never see one another on the field until the game ends and they shake hands; however, there is a huge one-on-one battle between the two in this game, and it’ll take place above the neck. Both quarterbacks are facing formidable defenses. There is no denying Cam’s physical prowess and dominant talent, but which quarterback will make the best mental adjustments, and play the best combination of series over four quarters? Which quarterback will play the clock better, and keep the opposing defense on the field longer? Who will remain patient if it plays tight?
8. The +1
We can thank Urban Meyer for putting this philosophy into words. It’s simple schematics. Generally, Cam Newton accounts for the +1 in every game because of his ability to run, and run exceptionally well. That’s why Urban recruited Cam at Florida. Will Carolina scheme to run Cam more than usual? Possibly, but Denver has proven to be the league’s best defense when it comes to playing in big games. If the Broncos can rush effectively with three, and cover well with five, that leaves a spy for Cam on short yardage run scenarios, or a better lock down defender on Greg Olsen in 3rd and medium to long situations. This makes for a very even match-up. If Denver has to rush four, or send an extra rusher to deliver pressure, that gives Carolina a +1 or potentially a +2 in both the running and passing games.
7. DeMarcus Ware/Von Miller vs. Michael Oher
We’ll consider the names DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller interchangeable here, because they may switch sides, and see what they find against a solid Carolina O-line. Specifically Michael Oher, whom we all know about from his story in the film, The Blind Side. The fact remains, he has enjoyed a career resurgence blocking for Cam Newton. Big Mike will be the key to Carolina’s offensive success. If he can manage two of the most talented pass rushers in the league, he’ll allow for any help to go to the other side, or pick up any exotic blitz scheme Denver runs at Cam. If Ware and Miller have their way like they did against New England in the AFC Championship game, Cam Newton may run for a lot of yards, but he will be gassed come 4th quarter. And when Cam gets gassed, his throws have a tendency to sail.
6. Ted Ginn Jr.
What is Ted Ginn Jr. going to do? Ted is a ghost in some games, and he looks all-world in others. His NFL career has been highlighted with some big plays, yet inconsistent offensive production. He is a special teams difference maker, and when healthy, he is one of the fastest players in the league. One would expect Denver will do whatever is necessary to keep him from running deep routes—think Patrick Peterson’s play for Arizona. And if he does get loose, don’t be surprised to see a Broncos defender tackle him for a pass interference, as opposed to letting him score over the top. If Carolina looks to get him involved early with some quick screens, reverse runs, slants and shorter patterns, it will work heavily in their favor. If he struggles to get open, it could be a long afternoon and evening for Cam Newton.
5. The Tight Ends
Greg Olsen is obviously Cam Newton’s favorite target, and he has a receiver skill set that still remains underrated, regardless of the impressive numbers he put up in 2015-16. But he must be more than targeted for Carolina to enjoy success in Super Bowl 50. On the other side, Peyton Manning has Owen Daniels, and the somewhat recent addition of Vernon Davis. Peyton is so savvy, he doesn’t really care who he throws to, but if his top two WR targets have been taken away, he knows who he can easily find Dallas Clark, Julius Thomas or Owen Daniels…it has never really mattered. He’s going to TE #1. This amounted to a couple touchdowns in the AFC Championship. If tight ends for both teams are effective, this will be a dandy. If one becomes a ghost, the scales will tip.
4. The Turnovers
Turnovers are always an X-factor. Frankly, let’s hope there are no turnovers in this game. Well, unless you’re a loyal fan of a team, or you’re playing one of the defenses in a DFS competition. For the sake of the game being as awesome as it possibly can, the fewer the turnovers/more even the turnover ratio, the tighter the play. Do we imagine a game with no turnovers? No. When is the last time a Super Bowl had zero turnovers? We’re not gonna research it, but…definitely not last season. And boy, was it costly. Peyton is looking more like his old self in regards to keeping the ball away from defenders, and Cam has taken few unnecessary shots when playing in tight games this season—he opts to tuck and run. As it stands, the weather forecast suggests a nice day in Santa Clara on Super Bowl Sunday.
3. The Denver Defensive Backs
Now we’re getting to the nitty gritty; the things that will determine what happens in the game, and its eventual outcome. The Denver Broncos defensive backs will paint the broad brushstrokes of the Super Bowl picture. If the DBs are playing out of their mind, and glued to Carolina receivers, the Panthers are in trouble. If Carolina throws a few tricks at the Denver DBs, and they get caught sleeping, Denver is in big trouble. If the battle plays like a tug-of-war, and Denver bends but doesn’t break, they may coax Cam into taking some unnecessary risks. It’s not hard to imagine Bad Cam showing up if the game is tight going into the last 20 minutes. That’s what Denver is hoping for. Cam won’t be stopped…containing him would be a victory. That begins in neutralizing the Carolina passing attack. If they can’t, Carolina wins.
2. Special Teams
Britton Colquit punting to Ted Ginn Jr. Oh, the possibilities. One of the best at placing the ball inside the 10 yard line, and one of the most exciting punt returners in the game of football. But we’ve already addressed Ted Ginn’s importance to a Carolina victory, so let’s move on to the rest of the special teams. For both squads, there are two critical components to keeping it all together: 1) They can’t miss tackles, and lose the field position battle. 2) They must avoid costly penalties like blocks in the back, holds, etc. that could kill a game changing play. The kickers? Graham Gano was 30/36 on the season and Brandon McManus was 30/35. Both hit big kicks in big moments. Both have big legs and can hit consistently beyond 50 yards. Vegas continues to add to the spread, but something about this match-up is suggests it’ll come down to a FG for the win.
1. C.J. Anderson
Here he is, Mr. X-Factor; a key part of Gary Kubiak, Rick Dennison and Peyton Manning’s offensive game planning. Give them a dose of Ronnie Hillman, then change ’em up with a stronger back in C.J. Anderson. C.J. Anderson has a panache for playing big in big games, and he has emerged to be the lead back for the Broncos in terms of productivity. Arizona proved a running back can be effective vs. Carolina, and C.J. is riding a high right now, after Tom Brady offered him a little mojo in the form of a post-AFC Championship compliment. Lesser teams have been able to run effectively for scores against the Carolina Panthers, and Peyton will do everything in his power to make the run effective. To be bold in completing this breakdown: if C.J. Anderson goes over 80 yards rushing, Denver wins.