I hope Peyton Manning and the Broncos get the win come Super Bowl Sunday. For Manning to play beyond this year will affect his ability to function later. The long-term effects of multiple neck surgeries and other injuries related to the pounding one takes in the “not-for-long” league remain well past when Papa John’s spotlight has ceased to shine.
Cam Newton is the complete opposite of Manning at this point. His seemingly unparalleled physical skillset has Vegas wagerers betting heavily on him and the Panthers to win. I acknowledge that Newton has gotten progressively better in each of his seasons in the league so far, but he and the Panthers are vulnerable in the way that only youth and overconfidence can be.
History is a good teacher. Look back to the 1997 John Elway and Terrell Davis-led Broncos. There were some things in play similar to what we have now. Elway deferred much of the offensive output to Davis’ powerful legs. He also had a pretty stout defense working for him on the other side of the ball.
This isn’t about which defense is better—the ’98 Bowl Broncos or the 2016 version. What it is about is how the Denver defense in this year’s Broncos team will be the primary difference maker in Super Bowl 50’s (I don’t like Roman numerals) outcome. The in-Newton’s-face pressure that Broncos Defensive Ends DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller can bring are two reasons in particular Broncos fans should be cautiously optimistic this time.
The other behind-the-scenes psychological warfare that bears noting here is a potential strategy that Broncos Coach Gary Kubiak should and might have his Broncos employing this week.
In 1998, Brett Favre and the late ‘Minister of Defense’ Reggie White were comparable to Cam Newton with respect to indomitable stature. Accounts after the fact had then Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan advising his team, which was a distinct underdog (sound familiar?), to remain relatively conservative, if not outright silent in response to pre-game prognostications of a certain Packers victory.
Yes, it could be said the Packers were confident to the point of looking past the game and not taking the Broncos seriously enough. The media didn’t give the aging Elway and Broncos much of a chance then, either. Today, Superman Newton and Carolina All-world linebacker Luke Kuechly are eerily similar, modern-day versions of the type of dominance that everyone saw coming into the 1998 Bowl on the part of the Packers’ Favre and White.
Don’t get me wrong, this will not be an easy Broncos victory if they can manage one. They will have to keep the game close in the first half and avoid being blown out, having the game over before it even begins (like the Manning-led debacle against Seattle two years ago, or Elway’s Broncos 55-10 beat down at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1990 Bowl).
Manning also must play a mistake-free game and avoid turning the bowl over. Running backs CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are not Terrell Davis, but the 1998 Bowl was a close affair with both defenses denying the other team’s offenses. In that game, Elway’s “Helicopter” demonstrated the 37-year-old’s will to win his first championship at any cost to his future well-being. This signature moment combined with Davis’ (MVP) punishing ground game and the Broncos’ stout defense, eventually inspired to propel Denver over heavily favored Green Bay in an exciting game, 31-24.
An article like this can’t be put to bed without a prediction from the writer drawing past Super Bowl parallels to Sunday’s scheduled tilt. It says here that erratic play from Newton forced by Denver’s defense, combined with turnover-free football from Manning and the offense, a kicking game that makes the field goals and extra points it attempts, will be just enough to withstand the pre-game youth and bluster of a Carolina Panthers’ team whose time has not quite yet come: 31-24 Denver (just like 1998).
Unlike 1998, though, where Elway came back for one more run, Manning, “The Sheriff,” will (wisely) decide to ride off into the sunset with his second and final Super Bowl victory.