Congratulations, Denver. Tom Brady and the Patriots were vanquished in the AFC championship game, and the hometown donkeys are on their way to Super Bowl 50.
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.
5. The Panthers are the hottest team in football
They finished the regular season 15-1, beat the Seahawks in the divisional round, and destroyed the Cardinals in the AFC Championship Game 49-15. They are playing out of their minds, scoring at will and coming up with big defensive stops. Cam Newton has probably been the most visible superstar in the league this year, and he’s thrived in the spotlight. He’s been waiting all season for this chance, and there’s no way the Panthers lay an egg in the biggest game of the season.
4. It’s been predicted
By Las Vegas sports books, which currently favor the Panthers by an average of 5 points. Almost all of the early money is on the Panthers, and it seems fans throughout the country (except in Denver) think the Panthers will prevail. More important, Tecmo Super Bowl ran a telling simulation of the game.
3. Manning’s out of gas…and HGH
Manning’s clock is ticking. There are minutes, not years, left in his storied career, and one big hit could knock him out of the game forever. His biggest assets used to be his arm and his accuracy; now it’s just guessing which way to run the football and trying to not turn it over. He’s likely being careful with his (alleged) steroid use after Al Jazeera blew his cover, at a time when he could really use some to keep up with Newton. The NFL and the US Anti-Doping Agency have teamed up to investigate Manning’s use of HGH, and in my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before asterisks appear next to his name.
2. Manning’s career in Super Bowls
Manning is mediocre at best in Super Bowls. He’s much more likely to throw the game-losing interception, as he did in Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints, than he is the game-winning touchdown. There is no doubt that Peyton Manning is the ultimate regular-season hero. Line the Jacksonville Jaguars up against him in the regular season and he’ll beat them 99 out of 100 times. Throw a hotter than hell 15-1 Carolina Panthers team at him for the biggest game of his life, and Manning will play pedestrian football at best. The bigger the moment, the more Manning sucks.
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1. Cam Newton
Cam Newton is the polar opposite of Tom Brady. Instead of taking a sack, Newton will scramble whenever he gets the chance. He ran for ten rushing touchdowns in the regular season to go with his 35 touchdown passes, and he’s likely to win the MVP award. With running back Stewart keeping the defense honest, Newton will be able to take over the game. He has shown that he belongs with the NFL elite, and he’ll rise to the challenge at the Super Bowl. He'll be dabbing on Denver all game long.