The regular season is over, we’ve had the trials and tribulations of the post-season games, and now it’s just two weeks till Super Bowl 50.
Following Sunday night’s Conference Championship games, we now know the two teams who will go head-to-head at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California (home of the San Francisco 49ers) on February 7th.
In the first game of the evening, we witnessed another chapter added to the long-standing rivalry between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, as the two greatest quarterbacks of this generation squared up in Colorado. In an incredibly intense game, Broncos QB Peyton Manning defied his age and injuries and, alongside the stellar defence, pushed his team to take the AFC Championship.
Meanwhile, over in Charlotte, things were only just getting started as the Carolina Panthers took on the Arizona Cardinals. QB Cam Newton led the Panthers to an early lead, and despite their best efforts, the Cardinals never recovered. Carolina easily took the NFC Championship title, with the final score 49 to just 15.
#SB50 is set. @Broncos vs @Panthers 🗓 Sunday 7 February 🏟 Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara What a game it will be. pic.twitter.com/5izyrTICfw— NFL UK (@NFLUK) January 25, 2016
So with defending champions New England now out of the picture – who will lift the Lombardi Trophy?
Carolina go 15-1
Perhaps the most obvious choice are Carolina. Going virtually unbeaten in the season so far (with the exception of the loss to Atlanta in Week 16) they have a pretty impressive track record. What makes that even more impressive, is that almost everyone was writing them off in the off-season. They lost their top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, to injury during practice last summer. Yet despite that, they still managed to go 15-1.
Cam Newton has been unstoppable this season. He set a new NFL record by scoring 45 combined touchdowns in the regular season, as well as leading all the quarterbacks in the league on rushing yards with a total of 636. Unsurprisingly, he’s the runaway choice for MVP.
But the Panthers haven’t won a Super Bowl yet. They lost their only other Super Bowl appearance in the 2003-2004 season to the Patriots.
Will the Broncos manage to keep them from their first win?
It could be a close game. Carolina have SuperCam, but Denver has the league’s best defense. Depending how things play out, this could definitely make for an interesting game!
Manning's last chance
However, it’s no surprise that Denver’s most important factor is number 18. Peyton Manning is widely recognised as one of the all-time great quarterbacks – some even hail him as the best QB in NFL history. He’s one of the NFL’s most prolific passers, he’s won MVP a record 5 times… but he’s only got one Super Bowl ring (with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007). When you compare that to Patriots QB Tom Brady’s four rings, it’s no surprise that Manning’s after his second.
But this season hasn’t been plain sailing for Manning. At 39, he was the oldest starting QB in the league this year, and with every passing year more and more people are questioning how long he can maintain the high level of health and physical fitness required to stay in the NFL.
At the start of the season things didn’t look good for him. Manning struggled early on in the year, and got benched after breaking the all-time passing yards record (previously held by former Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre). After a takeover by back-up QB Brock Osweiler, Manning returned in Week 17, and hasn’t looked back since.
This season is likely to be Manning’s last – but will he manage to end his career on a high and get that one last Super Bowl ring?
Who do you think will win? Let me know in the comments below!