Super Bowl 50: Expert picks & predictions

Super Bowl champion Joe Theismann joins the show to discuss to progression of Cam Newton and the key to the Broncos or the Panthers winning the big game.

After two weeks of hype, the Super Bowl is finally upon us.

With the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers preparing for Super Bowl 50, the expert panel at Sportsnet provided their predictions for how the final game of the NFL season will play out.

The panel includes NFL editor Craig Battle, Sportsnet deputy editor Jordan Heath-Rawlings, staff writers Mike Johnston and Jeff Simmons, and associate editor Geoff Lowe.

Who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy?

Jordan Heath-Rawlings, Deputy Editor
The Pick: Carolina Panthers
The Score: 27–13
Super Bowl MVP: Cam Newton

The Breakdown: Here is a thing I have never typed before: I am 10-0 in these playoffs. No, that's not against the spread—how good do you think I am?! But still, spread or no, an 11-0 playoffs would be huge for me, and also terribly unpleasant for the other so-called NFL experts in this piece. (I see you guys! How’d all those crazy upsets work out for you, huh?) So with all that on the line, I have to make the simple pick. I think a career-ending Super Bowl win for Peyton Manning would be the absolute perfect narrative. I’ve written lots and lots and lots about Manning during his Denver career, much of it reverential. I even wrote a piece earlier this week about how Denver can triumph on Sunday. And that’s true—they can triumph on Sunday if everything goes right. But will they? Oh hell, no.

As much as Peyton’s swan song is a lovely story, Cam Newton’s Panthers are faster, tougher and better in almost every facet of the game save for the pass rush, and they’re not far behind Denver on that score, either. But the bottom line here is offence. Newton has risen to every challenge this year, regardless of quality of competition, regardless of the weapons around him, regardless of the game plan.

Manning, meanwhile, has had to fight just to return to a fading semblance of his old glory, after looking like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL earlier this season. Both defences in this game are absolutely ferocious. But Newton has the strength and speed to survive a confrontation with such a unit. Manning? Well, I hope he does something special on Sunday, because it would be a sight to see. Realistically, I’ll be happy if he’s healthy enough to retire with dignity after the game.

Geoff Lowe, Associate Editor
The Pick: Denver Broncos
The Score: 20–17
Super Bowl MVP: Von Miller

The Breakdown: Like many of the Broncos' wins this season, it’s not going to be pretty, but they'll squeak out the victory in Super Bowl 50, and Peyton Manning will end his career on top.

But the Broncos aren’t going to defeat the Panthers on the shoulders of their 39-year-old quarterback; those days are long gone. It’ll be the Wade Phillips-led Denver defence that brings Denver its third NFL title. With a game plan to completely shut down Carolina’s vaunted run game paying dividends thanks to one of the NFL’s stoutest front sevens, the dynamic pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will wreak havoc on Cam Newton’s ability to be effective in the pass game. And Carolina simply won’t have an answer.

Now, I’m not saying the Broncos will shut down the Panthers’ top-ranked offence completely. That’s near-impossible. But Denver will make Cam and company mighty uncomfortable all game long, limiting Carolina to just a pair of touchdowns. The Broncos defence will even add a score of their own in the form of an Aqib Talib pick-six.

And in the end, it’ll come down to the right foot of kicker Brandon McManus in the dying minutes, because who doesn’t love Super Bowl drama?

In sum, I’m picking Denver for two reasons: 1) You should never underestimate the power of a well-oiled defence, and 2) It would be boring if everyone picked Carolina.

Mike Johnston, Staff Writer
The Pick: Carolina Panthers
The Score: 29–20
Super Bowl MVP: Luke Kuechly

The Breakdown: The Super Bowl 50 weather forecast should read, "73˚F, clear skies, a light northerly wind and 100 percent chance of dabbing."

The only teams the Panthers had any trouble with down the stretch were the Saints, Giants and the only team they lost to, the Falcons. These three teams were able to find success through the air against the Josh Norman-led Carolina secondary and that’s what the Broncos will have to do to come up victorious. And keep in mind, in two of those contests the Panthers were without Jonathan Stewart. The Broncos don’t have a potent passing attack and Stewart is healthy and running well with 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns in two post-season games. Talk all you want about how great the Denver defence is. If the Broncos win it would be a huge upset.

Craig Battle, NFL Editor
The Pick: Carolina Panthers
The Score: 30–16
Super Bowl MVP: Jonathan Stewart

The Breakdown: I’d love to be proven wrong here because it would make for a far better viewing experience, but I just don’t see this being all that close. Denver’s defence is great, but Seattle held its opponents this season to fewer points per game—and they gave up 31 points in the first half three weeks ago. If the game follows something similar to that script, Stewart could get the MVP simply because he could rack up rushes after this one’s in the bag. In the win over the Seahawks, he put up 106 yards and two TDs.

Jeff Simmons, Staff Writer
The Pick: Carolina Panthers
The Score: 24–16
Super Bowl MVP: Cam Newton

The Breakdown: This is tough. I want to pick Denver. I love Wade Phillips and I'm intrigued by what he’ll be able to scheme up during his two weeks of preparation, but my instincts point me back to the Carolina Panthers.

Denver is easily the most formidable opponent Carolina has faced in terms of generating pressure on the quarterback, but it’s Carolina's defence that ends up deciding the Super Bowl. The middle of the Panthers defence going up against a vulnerable Broncos interior is a huge mismatch. If the Denver front five can’t hold up, the pressure up the middle will force Peyton Manning into some crucial mistakes (either an interception or a fumble), which swings the game for Carolina.

If the Broncos get behind early, like Arizona and Seattle did, they aren’t built to come back. They need to keep the game close or else Panthers defenders such as Kawann Short and Luke Kuechly will be able to feast on that Broncos interior.

While I’m ultimately picking Newton to win MVP—because QBs almost always get too much credit—it’s Short, the Panthers’ quiet MVP this season, who makes the game-changing play in the fourth quarter.