Super Bowl Bound
When the final four teams in the National Football League teed it up today to determine the two surviving participants in their sport’s Fiftieth Super Bowl, it was pretty likely that the teams that won would be led by a “top player in the draft,” franchise quarterback. That’s because each of the four quarterbacks of the four teams playing were led by just such a player.
For when you look at those quarterbacks, you see the number one pick in the 1998 draft, Peyton Manning, the number one pick in the 2003 draft, Carson Palmer, the number one pick in the 2011 draft Cam Newton, and you see Tom Brady. Tom was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Knowing what we know now about how his career would unfold, there is ZERO doubt that Brady would have been the first pick in 2000.
(By the way, the number one pick in that 2000 draft was defensive lineman Courtney Brown of Penn State, taken by the Cleveland Browns with that pick. Yeah, he turned out to be a “bust” as a number one pick in the draft. Yeah, you can fill in your “this is why the Cleveland Browns suck” comments.)
More and more, you can see that a superior quarterback is needed to get teams to the final four of the NFL playoffs. It is absolutely essential to get that elite level of quarterback play from the position for a team to win a Super Bowl in THIS passing oriented era of pro football. All you need to know about how this season played out is that this year’s final four teams had three “Number One in the Draft quarterbacks” and the other one had Tom Brady.
They played the two championship games and sorted out the winners and we now know we will have a Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers Super Bowl.
New England at Denver
The Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning knocked off the Patriots and Tom Brady 20 to 18 in a close, hard fought game that was so close, it could have been tied up with a two point conversion with just a few seconds left. Though the final score made it seem close, it also seemed like the home team Denver was in control most of this game.
The Broncos defense, especially their defensive line, outplayed the Patriots offensive line so thoroughly, the score should have been far more one-sided. On nearly every play, the Bronco defensive ends/outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware blew past the Patriot offensive tackles and harrassed Tom Brady every time he went back to pass. The rest of the Bronco defense stopped the Patriot running game cold. No running game, and a passing game that was under siege all day. What did they have left?
They had Brady and they had Gronk. And everyone else on offense was just an average NFL player. Their line couldn’t block (either for pass plays or runs), their backs could barely do anything, and their receivers could barely shake free of the blanket coverage from the Bronco defense. And yet they still played the Broncos even enough that they scored a touchdown in the last few seconds and had that final conversion that could have tied it.
But again, the Bronco pass rush made Brady hurry on his two point conversion and caused an early, errant throw that was picked off to preserve the win.
The Broncos have a defense that gives them a chance to win any game they play. Excellent defensive backs, quick, athletic linebackers, and of course, those pass rushing demons Miller and Ware. They have an obviously past his prime Peyton Manning (who was so ineffective earlier this year he was benched) back leading a Denver team that has some very good wide receivers, a ball control running game with simply league average running backs and a conservative offensive philosophy that will only work if their defense plays flawlessly.
Like it pretty much did in the AFC Championship game. Denver was barely good enough to win the AFC Championship at home against the Patriots. They won’t be at home for the Super Bowl. And the team they play will be BETTER than the Patriots.
Arizona at Carolina
Carolina stomped the Arizona Cardinals 49 to 15. Arizona’s Carson Palmer threw four interceptions (one for a pick six touchdown) and fumbled twice in the pocket as the Cardinals turned the ball over SEVEN times.
Carolina had enough great defense to turn Carson Palmer into a lousy quarterback on this day. The same way Carolina got a huge lead against Seattle and almost gave it back, the Panther team showed what they were capable of when they kept the pedal on the metal and DIDN’T let up and allow the opposition to rally.
The Carolina Panthers played like they were not only the best team in the NFC, they played like they were the best team in all of football.
They are led of course by quarterback Cam Newton, who will probably win this year’s MVP award. That does not tell the whole story, however. Newton is playing like a dual threat weapon at quarterback that is unlike anything the league has ever seen.
Defensive teams can crowd the line of scrimmage and plan on stopping the run of a running back. They can keep their safeties back and plan on stopping the wide receivers and tight ends of the passing game. But they usually can’t effectively game plan to stop both at the same time without at least one or the other being allowed to flourish if the offense has their act together. Usually the defense can try to account for the players it has to defend in both the running game and the passing game.
But Cam Newton adds to the equation the concept of the running quarterback that is not accounted for by the defense. He is as good of a runner as most of the good running backs. He is as good of a passer as the best of the quarterbacks. A defense cannot stop the Panther passing game with double teams because they will leave the running game wide open. They crowd the line of scrimmage and Newton play action fakes and carves up pass defenses.
Or, if the defense plays to stop the Carolina passing game, both running back James Stewart AND running quarterback Cam Newton will carve the defense up by running the ball against an out-manned defense.
The one thing that allows the Panthers to do all these things on offense is their offensive line. They give Cam Newton the time he needs to do whatever he wants. The game is going to be advertised as old school Peyton Manning (and the old school style of offense), possibly playing in his final game, against Cam Newton, the new age, dual threat quarterback of the new millenium style of offense. Both number one pick in the draft, FRANCHISE quarterbacks.
And that will be the whole matchup in Super Bowl 50. Two different styles of football. Can Denver’s pass rush manhandle the excellent Carolina offensive line and can the Denver defense stop a Carolina offense that is playing as if it is unstoppable? If they can’t, it’s probably going to be a long day for Denver.