On December 9th, 2014, Cam Newton's life changed forever. The Carolina star QB was on his way to practice when his pick-up truck was hit by a car and toppled over. He pulled himself out of the brutal crash after only sustaining minor injuries. He later claimed that "Somebody is supposed to be dead" and "God has his hands on me." His run of good luck hasn't stopped since.
At the time of the crash, Newton's Panthers had won 4 of their 13 games that year and weren't likely to make the playoffs. They have since won 21 of their last 23 games. They ended last season winning their last 3 games and sneaking into the playoffs, where they upset the highly regarded Cardinals. They would lose their next game to the defending champion Seahawks, but bounced this year as the best team in the league. Only two teams in NFL history have finished the regular season without a loss; the 1972 Dolphins and 2007 Patriots. The Panthers came within inches of being the third. They started the season off with 14 straight wins. On December 27th, they visited the Atlanta Falcons, a team they beat 38-0 two weeks prior. The Panthers scored a touchdown on their first possession, an 8 yard run by Newton. However, the stingy Atlanta defense wouldn't let them back into the end zone, holding them to two field goals for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, the Falcons put up 20 points, just enough to end the Panther's undefeated season.
The Panthers would win their last game and go into the Playoffs as the top seeded team in the NFC. They avenged last year's match against the Seahawks with a 31-24 win that was never as close as it looked. The Panthers jumped out to a 31-0 lead at half time, and while the Seahawks slowly made up the deficit, they never truly had a chance to win the game. They would go on to blow out the Cardinals 49-15 to clinch their spot in the super bowl. The Denver Broncos took a very different path to the Super Bowl. After losing in the second round of the playoffs last year, head coach John Fox was replaced with Gary Kubiak. There were question of whether or not 39 year old QB Peyton Manning could stay healthy enough to be an elite QB for one more year. At first, it seemed unlikely.
The Broncos started their season out strong, with 7 straight wins, including a thriller against their rival Chiefs in week 2 that ended on a fumble returned for a touchdown. While on first glance it would seem like their offense had no problem putting up points, it was their suffocating defense that led the team to victory. In their first 7 games, Denver had 6 defensive scored while only giving up 16 points per game.
Everything would change over the next two weeks. After losing to the same Colts team that beat them in the playoffs last year, they were blown out by the Chiefs. They wouldn't score until late in the fourth quarter, and a hobbled Peyton Manning would be benched for promising young gun Brock Osweiler. With Osweiler starting, the Broncos ended the season 5-2. While their 12-4 record would be good enough to get the top seed in the AFC, Osweiler was injured in the last game of the season. The question remained - did legendary QB Peyton Manning have enough left in the tank to win one last Super Bowl?
Their playoff campaign started off against the Steelers. The game was a defensive slugfest, with both teams scoring only one touchdown. The Steelers scored a touchdown early, after which both teams could only manage field goals until the fourth quarter. With three minutes left in the game, CJ Anderson ran the ball in from the one yard line, and the Broncos would hold on for the win. The Broncos then played Tom Brady and the Patriots. Ever since coming into the league, Manning and Brady have been fierce rivals and have had many playoff showdowns. This one lived up to the hype. The Broncos and Patriots traded TDs in the first quarter, but the Patriots missed the extra point, making the score 7-6. With 5 minutes left in the game, the Broncos kicked a FG to make it 20-12. The Patriots would march down the field to score a touchdown with 13 seconds left, but because of the missed PAT, they needed a 2 point conversation to tie the game. Alas, their pass fell incomplete, and the Broncos would clinch their spot in the Super Bowl.
So now we have the big game. This might be legendary quarterback Peyton Manning's last game. This might be Cam Newton's chance to start his legacy. Can Von Miller and the defense that contained Tom Brady stop the soon to be MVP Cam Newton? Can Peyton Manning get past Luke Kuechly and Carolina's defense? We'll find out all the answers on Sunday!
Aditya Subramanian is a computer science and economics student at Carleton College. He is interested in data analysis, particularly as applied to sport. He spends his free time playing basketball and soccer, as well as writing for the Carleton sports magazine. He is a diehard Iowa Hawkeyes and Miami Dolphins fan.
Visuals by Gramener - https://gramener.com/playground/nfl/