The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers ended their regular season not only as the number one seed in their conferences, but also using home field advantage to propel themselves to the Super Bowl.
The Panthers are led by their young quarterback Cam Newton, who is poised to win his first MVP award. The Broncos are led by veteran Peyton Manning. Both teams have explosive offensive weapons that have helped them get to this point thus far. Yet overall, it has been their strong defensive ends that has helped sustain many wins for both teams throughout the year.
Both teams have traversed starkly different paths to get to Super Bowl 50. The Panthers began the year losing their best receiver, and many analysts wrote them off as a team who wouldn’t be very good this season. The Panthers were said not to have enough weapons around Cam Newton for them to succeed.
Newton quieted all of his detractors and threw for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions, leading the Panthers to 15 wins and one loss in the regular season.
The Panthers defense also played a major role in the team’s success this year, leading the NFL in takeaways this season. In the NFC championship game, the defense forced seven turnovers against the Cardinals in a dominating 49-15 win, a game many thought would go down to the wire.
Even the Broncos faced many challenges to overcome this season, but they haven’t stopped them from reaching Super Bowl 50. When Manning first arrived in Denver, it was all about the high-powered offense, but this year the defense helped lead the team to this point. After starting the year off with a struggling Manning, the Broncos decided to bench him in order for him to get back to being healthy.
The benching of a strong teammate begged many questions. Would they stick with Brock Osweiler, who did a decent job when stepping in for Manning, or go back with Manning, who struggled for much of the year?
The question was made simple when Manning was brought in to relieve a struggling Osweiler, and he helped bring the team back to defeat the San Diego Chargers. Manning, while not having his best season, has still been able to get the job done, relying mostly on a strong defense and keeping his turnovers to a minimum.
The Broncos defense has many playmakers at every position, which has helped them become number one in yards per game giving up only 283.1 yards per game. They haven’t had the ability to rely on a high-powered, point producing offense this year. They were able to hold Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to just 18 points, and it was the defense in the end that ultimately stopped Brady on a game-tying two-point conversion attempt. If they have any chance to win the Super Bowl, it will have to be the defense that stops Newton and the seemingly unstoppable Panthers.
On Feb. 7, whichever team comes out on top will be a deserving champion indeed.