I admit not seeing that coming. Yes, I'm the guy who wrote a prediction piece titled "Tom Brady, Patriots Will Kick Broncos' Ass, and Here's Why."
Things worked out differently than I (and most other NFL experts) thought. Brady was pressured, picked and pummeled all day by a fiendish Von Miller and a motivated Denver defense.
Brady and the Patriots will be back. Bill Belichick already completed a scouting trip to the Senior Bowl in Alabama, and the Patriots, along with the Seahawks and Steelers, are favored to win next year with 8-1 odds. The Broncos are sitting at 20-1 odds to win next year, likely because Manning is expected to retire.
This is almost certainly the last year for Manning and Elway to win a Super Bowl together. Unfortunately for Broncos Country, the Panthers are just too damn good — and while I was wrong before, I'm confident this time that the season will end in disappointment (again) for Denver.
Here are ten reasons why.
10. This superfan
Panthers fans are passionate, and this fan wrote a song to get Panthers nation amped up for the Super Bowl. His roar sounds like it comes from a wild animal, and if every Panthers fan can do that, it’ll be a long day for Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense. The chorus of this song is extremely catchy: "Lightning fast, big black cats, Panthers kicking ass."
9. Luke Kuechly
The Broncos might have the number-one defense in the league, but the Panthers have the best defensive player in linebacker Luke Kuechly. He's the leader of the Panther defense, he's smart, and he’s a big time playmaker. He had a pick-six against the Seahawks in the divisional round and another in last week's NFC Championship game. Manning had better not float any passes over the middle or he’ll pay.
8. Carolina is hungrier
Manning would love to put one more ring on his finger, but the Panthers are playing for their first championship in franchise history. Regardless of how badly Manning would like to end his career on top, Cam Newton and the Panthers are driven to bring a title to North Carolina. The last time they were in the big game, in 2004, they lost to the Patriots, 32-29. Newton is the face of the future in the NFL, and it’s only a matter of time before he wins a Super Bowl. He’ll get his first this year, with help from a great supporting cast of players.
7. No home-field advantage
The Broncos won’t be able to manipulate the crowd like they did last week at Sports Authority Field, refusing to sell tickets to anyone outside of the Rocky Mountain region. The crowd at Levi’s Stadium will be hostile in comparison, making it a much more difficult place to play. The Panthers owned one of the best home-field advantages in the league this year at Bank of America Stadium, and many of their fans will make the trip to California for the Super Bowl.
6. The Panthers' offensive line
The Carolina O-line is one of the best in football and has helped Jonathan Stewart become among the top running backs in the league. The biggest reason the Broncos won the AFC Championship last week was because the Patriots offensive line forgot they had to block the guys in orange. That won’t happen with the Panthers. The Broncos will have to stop the Panthers running attack to have a prayer of winning this game. The Panthers line also boasts Michael Oher, the subject of the 2009 movie The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock. When the Panthers win, they'll have to make a sequel.