New England last met Denver on this stage two seasons ago, and it was Denver winning 26-16. This is the 17th all-time meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning though they will both say it is just the Patriots against the Broncos, it is the fourth meeting in the championship game between the two legends with Peyton’s team winning twice. This game, like the NFC matchup, seemed destined all season though it looked like it would be played in Foxborough. But a season-ending two-game losing streak by New England, and some special Week 17 heroics from Manning, flipped their positions. The Patriots have become one-dimensional with all their injuries at running back, not good against the league’s best defense, even with Tom Brady. But the Pats will force Manning to beat them downfield, something none of us are at all sure he is capable of anymore. The home crowd will be huge in a stadium known for sound, it will need to be on Sunday.
Arizona last met Carolina in a Wild Card game in the 2014 season, a game played in a steady downpour between a Cardinals team on their third quarterback and a Panthers team with a losing record. How things have changed! A season later these are the two best teams in football and have been most of the season. This game marks the first time in playoff history, the two starting quarterbacks in the game each won the Heisman Trophy, Carson Palmer at Southern California in 2002 and Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010, they were also each #1-overall draft picks in 2003 and 2011, Palmer by the Bengals. Arizona has more weapons with the emergence of Northern Iowa RB David Johnson, not to mention Larry Fitzgerald who took over the game last week as much as a receiver ever can. Carolina’s defense would have a slight edge also. Games usually between two evenly-matched teams are decided by the one with the best player, for this season at least that would be Cam.
So in Super Bowl 50, February 7th in Santa Clara, California, I expect Denver and Carolina in the final game for Peyton Manning.