Santa Clara, California, the site of this weekend’s Super Bowl 50, has already filled with legions of reporters and both teams. This year’s showdown will be remembered as the old style offense against the new age. Both defenses are stout and this game could end up being very competitive despite many thinking it will be a blowout. Here’s our take.

Panthers

Steve Smith, Julius Peppers, Kevin Greene, De’Angelo Williams, Kerry Collins; these are some of the names that long time Carolina Panther fans know helped build the franchise. With their second chance at a Championship since 2003, this band of Panther greats hopes to bring home the Lombardi Trophy after working for almost twenty years since their inaugural season in 1995.

In the 2014 season, Cam Newton endured an injury plagued season that ended on a surprisingly high note. The Panthers became the first team to not only win the NFC South division, but also a Wild-card game with a losing record of 7-9. Not exactly the kind of records that you want to break, but the season revealed the mental and physical toughness of a team in the making. Ron Rivera’s defensive mindedness teamed with Newton’s potential gave them just enough to make an impact on the season, and confidence, that is fueling this season’s team.

In the off-season, they acquired Jerricho Cotchery in hopes of giving Newton a weapon in the passing game. Big targets Kelvin Benjamin and Cotchery’s injury left Newton to fend for himself and find his passing game. Which he did, becoming a highly efficient pocket passer in 2016, completing almost 60 percent of his passes.

The story line has now become how Newton’s race as more of a controversy than the explosiveness he brings the game. He is backed by an impeccable defense that is firing on all cylinders, ready to match wits with the defense on the other side of the ball.

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Broncos

In the 2012 off season, Peyton Manning was cut by the only team he ever knew. And almost as quickly as the Colts cut Manning, the euphoria of the rest of the league kicked in, bidding to reel in the record breaking QB. It was the allure of working with another legendary QB in John Elway that ultimately brought Manning to Denver, with hopes of ending his career like Elway did; with a championship win.

Three years, and one embarrassing Super Bowl loss, later Manning and the Denver Broncos sit on the precipice of infamy. The success of the Manning experiment weighs on the outcome of Super Bowl 50, while many will claim that it was a success regardless of the outcome due to the records Manning broke with the team. However, the only outcome fans care about is winning. Without a win, Manning will be remembered as the greatest regular season QB who just couldn’t get it finished when it counted.

2016 will long be remembered as Manning’s worst season at any level. The Denver Broncos transformed their team from an offensive juggernaut, into a stingy defensive team who scraped out wins by the skin of their teeth and big plays on the defensive end. Manning, a shadow of his former self, is now measured next to his own greatness, and this version pales in comparison. If Manning hopes to hold that Lombardi trophy above his head one last time, he will need one one final performance for the ages to match the offense of the future against Carolina.

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Here’s how they stack up

Offense – It’s odd to think that a Manning led offense is the one lacking, but reality is cold. Newton’s offense is spectacular, anchored by a tough running game, and with the threat of multiple option plays. The same style that many said would never work in the NFL, is now one win away from changing the face of the league. Cam has become a dual threat to both pass from the pocket and run if he sees the opportunity. Remember it was similar offense that defeated the Broncos just two years ago. The glaring weakness for the Panthers is their lack of receiver depth, with virtually no experience at the position in a game of this magnitude, someone will have to step up to the challenge. Edge: Carolina

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Defense – Although Denver has the #1 ranked defense in the league, the gap between them and the panthers has become smaller. Carolina’s defensive unit is playing better than ever and has depth. Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman have come into their own, and their coverage skills will give Denver’s offense fits. However Denver is stacked at every level, and aside from superstars Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, they may have the deepest linebackers in the league, even rookie Shane Ray poses a threat to get to the QB. The corners provide great coverage which will make Newton pull it down and run, or force it into coverage. That is Denver’s best chance of causing havoc and getting much needed turnovers.
Edge: Denver

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Special Teams – Kickers Graham Gano and Brandon McManus are sure to have an impact on the game. While Gano seems the more accurate kicker, his long for the season is 52 yards. McManus definitely has the stronger leg, even outside the confines of the thin air of Invesco Field.
Edge: Broncos

Pick – Carolina is sure to start fast and give Denver’s defense some early problems, but as we have seen, they don’t stay hot all game. Denver will go into the half down by a couple touchdowns, until Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips makes proper adjustments. Denver’s D will tighten up, and with some late game heroics by Manning, the Broncos will win with a late game drive and another last minute stop.
Denver 34 – Carolina 31
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