The Carolina Panthers are not only going to win the Super Bowl—they are going to win it going away. Football is a simple game. The team that wins the turnover margin generally wins. What’s more, in big games when teams are relatively even the pendulum swings to the team with the greater quarterback. The Panthers are far better than Denver in both categories. On both sides of the ball, Carolina has the advantage.
The Panthers led the NFL in turnovers forced in the regular season, and they’ve turned it up a notch in the post-season. In the NFC championship game Carson Palmer was never allowed to get comfortable on the throwing spot despite his quick release. Manning, who has a long and deliberate release with far less velocity on his ball, will be in trouble against the Panthers’ ball-hawking defence.
|Most Takeaways in a Playoff Game|
|2001 Rams||8 (Brett Favre)|
|2015 Panthers||7 (Carson Palmer)|
|1999 Jaguars||7 (Dan Marino)|
The Panthers are a heavy-zone team defensively. They count on their DBs to read QBs and drive on the ball. Manning still has the smarts to know where to go with the ball, but no longer has the arm strength to fit it into tight windows.
The biggest nemesis for Manning will be the man quarterbacking Carolina’s defence. Luke Kuechly is known for his sideline-to-sideline pursuit of ball carriers, and has 521 tackles since 2012—first in the NFL. However, the linebacker makes a living off of disrupting a quarterback’s passing game between the hashmarks. His 99.1 pass coverage grade (a stat created by Pro Football Focus) makes him the best coverage defender in the NFL.
|Luke Kuechly Pass Coverage, 2015|
|TD allowed||0 (T-1st)|
|Opponent passer rating||57.8 (1st)|
Even if Manning does muster up the strength to throw outside the numbers, he’ll be testing a secondary led by the most aggressive cover corner in the NFL. Josh Norman ranked No. 4 in the league in pass coverage grade. He’s not alone as the entire Panthers secondary graded out high.
|Panthers Secondary Coverage Grades, 2015|
All this coverage means the Panthers four-man pressure packages will have time to get home. Manning has never been fleet of foot. As the oldest QB to start in the Super Bowl he's going to be a sitting duck in the pocket.
|Oldest QBs to Start in the Super Bowl|
|Peyton Manning, 2015||39 years, 320 days|
|John Elway, 1998||38 years, 217 days|
|Peyton Manning, 2013||37 years, 315 days|
So far in the playoffs he’s yet to play a truly great defence, as that side of the ball was the Achilles heel this season for both Pittsburgh and New England. That isn’t the case for the NFC representatives. Their defence allowed less than 20 points nine times this season. Manning had just nine TDs and 17 interceptions in the regular season. That ratio should stay the same against an elite defence in the Super Bowl.
And don’t let the fact that Manning is one of the last two quarterbacks playing fool you. Out of the 12 signal callers to play in the post-season he has been among the worst. The Broncos got to February despite him—not because of him.
|Peyton Manning, 2015 Post-season|
|Completion percentage||55.1 (11th)|
|Yards per attempt||5.8 (10th)|
|Yards per game||199 (10th)|
This output is particularly troubling because Manning is going to have to keep up with the explosive Cam Newton and the Panthers offence. The Panthers' 49 points two Sundays ago were second-most in a conference championship game since the 1970 merger. Newton was the best offensive player in football this season, combining for 50 passing and rushing TDs, and Carolina led the NFL in scoring with 31.3 PPG. They are the first team with 500-plus points since Denver in 2013.
They run the lead up on you early. So far they’ve scored 55 points in the first half alone this post-season (against just seven given up). Carolina forces teams to come from behind and be one-dimensional with the pass. That’s not a good recipe for the Broncos to be successful.
|Points per game||1st|
|Yards per play||13th|
Carolina simply has more playmakers on both sides of the ball in the game than Denver does. The Panthers' six all-pros—Newton, Kuechly, Norman, Thomas Davis, Mike Tolbert and Ryan Kalil—are tied for third-most most all-time. Add Greg Olsen, Kawann Short, Jonathan Stewart and Trai Turner to the list and the team boasts 10 Pro Bowlers, the most in the league.
|Most First-team All-Pro selections in a season, since 1970|
Yes, this will be the Broncos' eighth Super Bowl appearance, but that experience doesn’t mean they are better situated to win. Denver has a history of getting destroyed in the big game. They have five losses in the Super Bowl by at least 17 points. This is the Panthers' second Super Bowl appearance, but given the talent they've assembled you can rest assured it won’t be their last.
Carolina is 6-0 vs playoff teams this year. They are about to be 7-0. You don’t need to take my word for it. The numbers and the match-up say so loud and clear.