After months of predictions, roster manipulation, injuries, controversies, suspensions, 256 regular season games, and now 10 playoff games, we have finally arrived at the Super Bowl.

At the beginning of the season, I’m pretty sure most people would not have picked Panthers vs. Broncos for the Super Bowl. But here we are, and no one can be too surprised that in the end two #1 seeds made it through to the Super Bowl. Let’s take a look at the games this past week and start to analyze the Super Bowl.

If you would like links to a game recap with statistics, click on the embedded link at the top of each recap.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos

For the 17th (and maybe the final time), Manning and Brady gave us a classic. We all knew it was going to be close and every point was going to be tough to come by. In the end, Roger Goodell’s new extra point rule, which was originally proposed by the Patriots, turned out to decide a Super Bowl finalist.

In the 5th meeting in the playoffs, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have now met five times with four of them being in the AFC Championship game. While Brady is 10-3 in all non-Championship games, Peyton has a 3-1 advantage in Championship games. In 7 of the last 10 games played by Brady and Manning, the game finished as a one-score game. While many of these games were blowouts earlier in their careers, the games have become much tighter as time has progressed. This game was no different, and was arguably the best game that these two teams played against each other.

This game was never more than a one possession game as both teams were still “in the game” throughout its entirety. After a first quarter touchdown by the Broncos, the Patriots went down the field to tie the game, but kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point in 6 years. While oftentimes a missed extra point will not decide a game, it had a huge impact on this game. At the onset of the second quarter, Brady threw a really bad interception deep in his own territory. It took less than a minute for Peyton Manning to throw his second touchdown pass of the game to Owen Daniels (WISCO!). Before the half ended, each team would add a field goal to leave Denver ahead 17-9 at halftime.

After a three-and-out to start the second half from the Broncos, New England would march down field for a field goal to make the score 17-12. It would be another 15 minutes of game time before the Broncos would kick a field goal to make the score 20-12 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots had three drives that ended in or around the red zone. After turning the ball over on downs twice, New England had one more shot. On their third possession, the Patriots had a fourth and 10 from midfield. All TB12 did was throw a strike to Rob Gonkowski for a 40 yard gain. On fourth and goal, Brady hit Gronk for the touchdown with 12 seconds to play. Unfortunately for Pats fans, the two point conversion was no good. With that, Manning defeated Brady for the third time in the playoffs.

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

The Cardinals and Panthers were hoping to put on a show as well. Unfortunately for Arizona, that was merely a hope. From the first possessions of the game, it was clear that the Panthers were going to dominate. The game started quite similarly to the Carolina vs. Seattle game as the Cardinals punted on their first three possessions, while the Panthers went field goal, touchdown, and another touchdown to take a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Cardinals would start out with their first of seven turnovers they would have in the game. A punt by Carolina on the ensuing possession led to a touchdown drive from the Cardinals to make it a manageable 17-7 score, which was the closest that Arizona would ever get in the game.

The Panthers scored a touchdown to go up 24-7 with 2:00 left in the half. On the first play of the next drive, Carson Plamer fumbled. Two plays later, Cam Newton threw an interception that was returned 70 yards to the Panthers 22 yard line. On the very next play, Carson Palmer threw an interception. This game was just plain wacky at the end of the half.

The second half was not nearly as entertaining as the blowout continued. Once the Panthers started the half with 10 points on their first two possessions, it was pretty clear that Carolina was not going to give this game up. While the Cardinals would score a touchdown on the first drive of the fourth quarter to make it 34-15, the game was over. Carson Palmer would finish the game by throwing three interceptions on the last three drives of the game. Of course, one of those picks was returned for a touchdown by, who else but Luke Kuechly. The game would end up as a 49-15 shellacking by the Carolina Panthers.

Super Bowl 50

This game between Denver and Carolina will be a slugfest. Both teams have rock solid defensive front seven’s that can completely dominate a game. While there are certainly a lot things that can happen in this game, I would be surprised to see a high scoring game. Injuries have a lot to do with predicting what might happen in the game, but I expect to see a game that is decided by about a touchdown with the score ending up around 20-13 or 23-16.

The question for the Broncos is whether or not Peyton Manning can make enough plays to make this team victorious. They will be playing a much tougher defense in the Panthers. Peyton having one or less turnovers is a key for this game. The Panthers are going to keep the same game plan for the 19th game that they have had all year. They will beat you by winning the turnover battle, running the ball, stopping the run, and winning time of possession.

I think field goal kickers are going to be a decisive factor in this game. Denver has shown all year that it can hold any offense down for 60 minute, so look for Graham Gano to be in the spotlight. 

Again, it’s too early for predictions. Thomas Davis’s status is up in the air for the big game, as are a number of other important players. As of right now, the Panthers seem to be the better team to me. I expect them to play a pretty good game and beat the Broncos without too much trouble.

My final score prediction: Carolina: 24 – Denver: 16.