The thought of lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy isn’t the only source of motivation driving the Carolina Panthers in their bid to win the Super Bowl.
They’re also eager to prove the doubters wrong.
When star receiver Kelvin Benjamin suffered a season-ending ACL tear last August many ruled out the Panthers’ playoff chances. How would they win games with Cam Newton throwing to Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown and Ted Ginn?
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Tonight, Cotchery, Brown and Ginn have the chance to write their names in football folklore by winning the 50th edition of the sport’s biggest game.
Here are five reasons why they will get the job done.
Cam Newton was rewarded with the MVP trophy at the NFL Honors ceremony on Saturday after a truly spectacular season.
There could be no other winner. In a team filled with stars, the league’s biggest entertainer still managed to put the Panthers on his back and carry them to Santa Clara after a season that is likely to spark a new breed of powerful, athletic quarterbacks.
Newton’s combination of deadly speed and a rocket arm makes him so difficult to stop and, despite the Broncos’ talented defence, the 26-year-old proved his worth against solid defences by orchestrating dominant offensive displays against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the Divisional Round and NFC Championship game respectively.
Start fast and keep rolling
‘Keep pounding’ is the Panthers’ team motto and they’ve certainly lived up to it.
In that Divisional Round tie the Panthers stunned the Seahawks by scoring 31 points in the first half. A week later against the Cardinals, they had a 17-point lead after the first quarter.
The Panthers have a habit of starting fast and if they do so on Sunday, the Broncos can wave goodbye of any hope of winning a third Super Bowl title because Gary Kubiak’s team, with Peyton Manning’s ailing arm, isn’t built to win from behind.
Newton has received all the plaudits this season but he wouldn’t have made it to the season finale without the superb efforts of the Panthers defence.
Josh Norman, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis were all named in this season’s first-team All-Pro roster. Up front, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei’s constant wreckage would have been highlighted by Denver as a cause for concern.
The biggest gulf between the two teams is noticed when pitting the Panthers defence against the Broncos offence, which has sputtered all season.
The Cardinals scored 30.6 points per game in the regular season but were smothered two weeks ago by the Panthers, who held Bruce Arians’ team to 15 points and caused quarterback Carson Palmer to throw four interceptions and fumble the ball.
Just think what chaos they will unleash upon Manning.
Fazed by the occasion? Unlikely
The Super Bowl, the world’s grandest sport event, has caused even the best to choke.
Peyton Manning in Super Bowl 44. The 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42. Pete Carroll in the final moments of last year’s game.
But the Panthers do not look anything like a team with the potential to let the occasion get the best of them.
Anyone who has watched them this season will have noticed the swagger they carry around. From Newton’s dancing to the offence taking a group photo midway through a game, this is a team that has fully embraced its heroic campaign.
An estimated 189 million Americans will watch the game, but Newton probably sees that as 189 million he can enthral.
It’s his world, we’re just all living in it.
Peyton is crocked
Manning’s last hurrah has the potential to be a disaster.
The 39-year-old has limped through games this season thanks to the efforts of Denver’s defence but he is yet to face a unit as ferocious as Carolina’s.
Against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, the Broncos scored three points in the second half. Remarkably, they managed a total of 20 points from 15 drives.
If the Broncos defence is unable to stop Carolina then it’ll be on Manning to do something he hasn’t done all season and win the game himself. Against Norman and co, that’s unlikely to change tonight.
Will the Carolina Panthers end their terrific season by winning the Super Bowl? Have your say in the comments section below!