Manning versus Newton: Previewing the Super Bowl, 2016

sb_trophyWill the Broncos or Panthers win Super Bowl 50?

As usual in professional football, this question will get answered by the quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. Put bluntly, it’s the old man versus one of the most athletic human beings in the world. If you didn’t follow sports, you would never guess which one of these guys is being investigated for PED use.

However, both teams have excellent defenses as well. How do they match up against Manning and Newton? Let’s break it down.

Panthers offense versus Broncos defense

The real matchup in this game is the Broncos’ defense against Cam Newton. I would say the Panthers’ offense, but he’s the only above average skill-position player.

As noted in my conference title game preview, the Broncos have the top ranked defense by yards per pass attempt and sack rate, both adjusted for schedule. (They’re slacking against the run, ranking only 2nd best in the NFL.) However, Cam Newton presents an entirely new problem.

Not only is Newton bigger than most linebackers, he’s one of the fastest quarterbacks in the NFL. I have little doubt that Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and others can flush Newton from the pocket. However, can they then tackle him?

I thought the Cardinals had their chances to tackle Newton in the NFC championship game but were not able to bring him down (or tackle any one else on the Panthers offense).

I don’t foresee the Panthers’ wide receivers beating the best pass defense in the NFL on initial routes. However, they could make plays if Newton has or creates time to throw. Covering wide receivers may be the hardest job in the NFL. The longer corners are required to cover, the harder it becomes.

The Broncos must contain Newton and make him throw into coverage earlier than he would like.

Broncos offense versus Panthers defense

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers’ defense will not have the same worries. Peyton Manning is as immobile as they come and his arm strength has diminished.

To my surprise, the Broncos came out throwing the ball more than expected last week. Manning protected the ball well, took his sacks when pressured, and did just enough to win the game.

Though I’m still not a huge believer in the Panthers’ secondary, the front seven is solid. They will be able to sit on under routes and short crosses that Manning prefers these days.


Despite the Broncos’ shortcomings on offense, there is still value on their side in this game. Pinnacle opened with the Broncos as a 3.5 point underdog, but that number has moved as high as 6. It has settled at 5.5 on Tuesday before the game, while The Power Rank’s member numbers makes the Broncos a 1.1 point underdog.

The difference between the computer projection and the markets is the current state of the Broncos. They’re not as strong as earlier in the season. The recent play is determining the point spread more than season-long statistics.

The question becomes whether or not we should trust recency bias or season-long statistics. I’d prefer to look at the season as a whole, but I can see the case for expecting a blowout in favor of the Panthers.

Personally, I lined this game closer to the open (Broncos +4) and am willing to play it at the current number. With both defenses being very stout, I am expecting a closer game than the Panthers’ have seen lately. It would not surprise me to see the line get bumped back down towards +5 or +4.5 at sharper books. Not to mention, backing the opposite of the public favorites in the NFL has proven to be profitable.

Coming back from behind will prove difficult for the pedestrian Broncos’ offense. They will need to get ahead or keep the game close in the first half to have a chance in Super Bowl 50.

I’m willing to entertain both narratives of this game. Seeing Newton growing into a superstar with relatively no help on offense has been incredible. Manning likely has one foot out of the door, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the old man go out with a ring.

Unfortunately, if Manning does get his ring, it will be a similar story as the AFC championship game. We will credit Wade Phillips’ NFL best defense and incredible game plan to contain Newton. Otherwise, it’ll be another disappointing playoff scenario for Peyton and the near perfect season for the Panthers.


  1. Manning has enough in the tank to get the job done against a defense that contained “weak” opposition. Cam Newton’s run threat is the only real threat to this great Denver defense. Denver coaches and players are smart enough and skilled enough to know that shutting him down nullifies Carolina’s offense. That is the job and it will get done by a top defense that has been dissed by the media and bettors. Professional pride and skill will prevail.


    Denver- 21

    Carolina- 17

  2. Larry The Football Guy says

    Carolina 49
    Denver 28

    Yours and Feng’s anaylsis methods do not even take into account much less know what to do with what makes Carolina a great team… look forward to even more of their success again next year as your methods will yet again not even account for it much less know how to explain it.

    • What do you think makes Carolina so great?

      I agree, my methods do not do a great job with teams that have a high success rate at getting first downs even though they’re not explosive.

  3. If you look at your predictions over the year in college, & pro football, they’ve been a losing proposition, so basically “fade” material. Math equations don’t win football games, talent does, and there’s no such thing as ‘sharp” or “public” money when it comes to the Super Bowl. Do you think it was the public that’s moved the opening line in the first 30 minutes from 3.5 to 4, 4.5 & up? No, the initial move was sharp money, the public bets on game day. This is the highest bet game in the world & do you thing the public is all taking a plane to Vegas? Of course more sharps will come in today and take the contrarian point of view and Denver+ the points. Manning is horrible this year and ranks 32 in many categories, had the AFC Championship game been played in Foxboro, Manning would be golfing right now.

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