Well it’s already February 2016 which means that Super Bowl 50, the Big Game, is upon us. This year the Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers will take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately it doesn’t start until 11:30pm London time but that certainly won’t stop me enjoying the spectacular spectacle that is the SB … not to mention the commercials, which in recent years haven’t lived up to the hype, but there’s always hope someone will put their millions of dollars for 30 seconds to good use.
Anyway I wanted to get right down to why I’m in my Carolina blue today and rooting on the Panthers to complete their season with only 1 loss, back in Week 16 to the Atlanta Falcons, on the books. I will certainly admit that I have a huge majority of my friends who will be at home rooting for the Broncos while only a handful are Panthers fans. So here’s my reasoning:
- The Coach – Ron Rivera, the head coach and recent recipient of Coach of the Year for the 2015-2106 season, has led the Panthers to their winningest season in their 20-year history. Now not only is it a nice story of going from literally worst to first but he’s got some great Chicago history which, as you know with me, is how a lot of my sports decisions are based. First off the Panthers were 2-14 in 2010 when John Fox’s contract expired (consequently he is now the head coach of the Bears) and in 2011 Rivera became the coach and they drafted Cam Newton as the #1 pick. They have steadily risen among the ranks and this season could be the ultimate culmination of hard work and game plan if they pull off the victory in SB50. His first 2 seasons were rough as they both ended up with high expectations and lowly outcomes of sub .500 records. However the last 3 years he has not only placed the Panthers 1st in their division but made it to the NFC Divisional Championship round, losing the first 2 years before finally making it to the SB this year. Now I also mentioned that Rivera has Chicago Bears ties … not only was he the defensive coordinator with them for a number of years in the mid-2000s but he was also a (fairly new) member of the SB20 Chicago Bears which had one of the most dominant seasons and SB wins in football history. They, like the Panthers of this year, had only 1 blemish on their regular season record in games both they and the 2015 Panthers probably should not have lost. However the Bears ended up getting to the SB with their incredible defense and rolled the New England Patriots by a score of 46-10 and did the Super Bowl Shuffle.
- The Tight End – Greg Olsen has been a huge reason on the offensive side of the ball as to why the Panthers are where they are. He has been a rock at the position and one of the best in the business since they acquired him in 2011 … remember that magical year they also brought in Rivera and drafted Newton to start their dynasty? And funny enough they got him, a former 1st round draft pick in 2007, for a 3rd round pick in the 2012 draft from who else but the Chicago Bears. Allegedly everyone but the Bears realized the raw talent there and didn’t feel as though they wanted to spend any more time developing him just as he was about to turn into an annual All-Pro TE. Also he’s got a pretty sweet beard going.
- The Linebackers – Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, to be exact, are the LBs I’m referring to. First up Kuechly was yet another cog in the dynasty wheel when he was drafted in the 1st round in 2012 draft. Kuechly handily won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award his 1st year in the league and followed up the next year by becoming the youngest ever Defensive Player of the Year recipient. Now if it hadn’t been for J.J. Watt’s freakishly amazing talent and play the last few years it would be tough to argue that Kuechly would have a few more trophies on his mantle. Thomas Davis on the other hand is absolutely going down as one the greatest Panthers to ever play. He was their 1st round draft pick in 2005 and has been with the team ever since although he has had some major bruises along the way. After a tremendous start to his career he torn his ACL in back-to-back-to-back years. He’s the first NFL player to come back from 3 ACL surgeries to play … and not only play but continue to play at a high level at the age of 32. He made his 1st ever First Team All-Pro this year after another outstanding performance (he was 2nd Team All Pro in 2013). Now the craziest thing is that 2 weeks ago, as the Panthers went on to beat the Arizona Cardinals, Davis actually broke his arm in the game. He went to make a play and afterwards immediately left the field of play but vowed that night and again the next morning that he would have surgery to repair it and be out there on the field for SB50. It will be interesting to see how much of a factor he is, if/how much he is limited by whatever cast or extra precautionary measures he will be undertaking will have on his game and ability to make plays. However this is his first SB since being in the league and he says he won’t miss it for the world.
- The Quarterback – No, not Cam Newton but rather the other QB Peyton Manning plays a part in my decision. Will he be a first ballot Hall of Fame QB? Absolutely. Will he go down as one of the best QBs to ever play the game? Of course. Is he the best regular season QB to ever play the game? Quite possibly. However there are a few things which I’m not too wild about. First, I’ll just get it out there … he and the Indianapolis Colts beat my Bears in the 2007 Super Bowl for his 1st and only SB Ring. That will always leave a bitter taste in my mouth since I was only 2 when the ’85 Bears won the only SB for our sports-crazed city so I don’t remember it that well. I also understand that everyone loves Peyton because he’s one of the best but he isn’t all that great in the clutch when it really counts, the playoffs. He’s had no problem getting there in almost all of the seasons he’s played. In fact here are some crazy stats since he was drafted in 1998. He’s only had 2 losing season (1998, his rookie season, and 2001). He’s played 266 regular season games and won 186 of them for an amazing 70% of his games. He’s thrown 539 TDs to 251 INTs in the regular season a remarkable 2.15-to-1 ratio. However things take a turn for the pedestrian once you start looking at his playoff record currently sitting at .500 with a 13-13 record. Now sure he’s played 26 game playoff games in 18 years in the league (technically 17 since he sat out the entire 2011 season after his neck surgery). Therefore he’s averaged 1.5 playoff games per year and has been to the playoffs in 15 of his professional seasons. Now that sounds good but here are some other stats. He’s been 1 and done in the playoffs 9 of those 15 trips. He’s won 1 Superbowl and this will now be his 3rd trip to the SB after he took the Broncos there in 2014 where they got literally embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks and routed 43-8. He’s thrown 40 TDs to 24 INTs in the postseason and his passer rating drops nearly 10 points from a regular season average of 96.5 to 87.9. Now sure this may (or may not) be his last year in the league and Cam Newton still has plenty of chances to win one but this is where I like to root for the underdog because everyone loves Peyton and is rooting for him to go out on top … I like to buck the populist opinion and go the other way so here’s hoping he has a performance similar to 2 years ago. I do have to end this by saying that there is 1 amazing thing Peyton has done in his career and you can check it out here.
So here’s hoping for a Panthers victory tonight but overall I’m truly interested in a good game that makes it worth staying up for, some classic LOL commercials peppered in there and a Bears SB win next year! We can dream ….