Before I get to some Super Bowl 50 thoughts, I’d like to offer a congratulations to all of our local student-athletes who signed at Wednesday’s National Signing Day ceremony.
Signing day is always among my very favorite things to cover. This was my ninth signing day as a sportswriter, first here in St. Charles Parish. Signing day is purely positive, as we watch so many move on to continue their education and playing careers. I know I enjoyed covering this crop of stars, and I wish them the best at the next level.
On to the big game …
Is everyone ready to see Peyton Manning beaten to a pulp this Sunday?
Seemingly so, at least based on what I’m seeing and hearing on the TV, on the radio, in the newspapers and on the internet. At the supermarket and on the street, everyone seems to have the same opinion: Carolina simply has Denver overmatched in Super Bowl 50.
(By the way … not going to lie, not having to look up the Roman numeral for this year’s Super Bowl is a nice side effect of the NFL’s unrelenting public image assault on our collective consciousness. Though I suppose I eventually … maybe even quickly … become used to “Super Bowl L.” And I’ve probably lost a joke or two in this column because of it. Strike this thought from the record.)
Carolina opened as a 3.5 point favorite and that number has moved as high at 6 as of Wednesday afternoon.
Without question, the Panthers have looked like a problem without a solution in each of their past two games, games against two of the NFL’s upper crust teams in Seattle and Arizona. A 31-24 win over the Seahawks — which was really a 31-0 first half blowout that Seattle rallied to make interesting. Against Arizona, it was a start to finish shellacking: a 49-15 win that saw Cardinals quarterback and MVP candidate Carson Palmer turn the ball over six times. Denver, meanwhile, put together a couple of close wins over New England and Pittsburgh en route to the win.
So hey, that’s a wrap, right? Not so fast, because …
*What goes up must come down. It’s human nature.
How many times do we see a team coming off a dominating, unbeatable performance lay an egg a week later? After a team’s best performance, you’ll often see its worst. Likewise, after a terrible performance, teams tend to bounce back and surprise a week later.
And again, that’s human nature. Once you feel on top of the world, maybe you don’t pay quite as much attention in team meetings. Maybe you hit one or two extra parties. Maybe you aren’t as concerned about a quarterback’s tendencies because you’ve just shut down what you believe to be a superior one. Only the most disciplined of us attack every single day with the same intensity as the one before. The mind tricks us into thinking we can relax.
Meanwhile, in Denver, they’re preparing to slay a giant. They feel disrespected. They have something to prove.
Keep in mind, this is the Super Bowl. Motivation won’t be a problem for Carolina, and these things likely factor more in the regular season than the postseason.
Still, they’re undoubtedly a confident bunch. But that can bleed over into overconfidence quite quickly.
*Things won’t come quite as easily this week for the Panthers.
Carolina blasted out to huge leads in each of the past two games. They took control early and never looked back, giving the Internet sideline celebrations galore to overanalyze and turn into GIFs.
Denver, however, has a defense that might well be all-time elite. Its pass rush is superior. Its defensive backs blanket even the league’s best wideouts. Denver allowed 4.4 yards per play in the regular season. Seattle had the next best mark at 4.9, a full half-yard better. This isn’t normal.
(By the way, the Saints allowed 6.6 yards per play—a full half-yard more than the league’s second worst defense. This, as well, isn’t normal … well, maybe in New Orleans.)
It’s not hard to imagine Cam Newton and the Panther offense getting a little impatient with having to work for the first time in the past month if this is a 3-0 type game in the middle of the second quarter, especially given the hype at their backs. Impatience leads to turnovers. And with the two defenses at play in this game, turnovers are almost certain to be a huge factor in the ultimate result.
I’m going against the grain this week. There are reasons to believe Denver’s at a distinct disadvantage — namely its subpar offense — but there are few things deadlier in football than a defense full of men possessed, and Denver’s defensive players will play with a chip on their shoulder after two weeks of being told they can’t win.
Three Carolina turnovers will nail the coffin shut, and Peyton Manning will go out a winner.
Prediction: Denver 23, Carolina 16.