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Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers (-4, 45)
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Denver’s game plan for the Super Bowl is simple: knock Cam Newton silly by sending him to the ground 20 or more times. What, wrong game? The Broncos are likely to find a completely different opponent from the wounded group of wildebeests that the New England Patriots imitated on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
While Carolina’s plans are not yet completely formed, it is rumored that unlike the Patriots, the Panthers actually plan to include some offensive linemen on their active roster when the game takes place on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
Books moved fast to set the line Sunday night, and while four seemed to be the consensus number, savvy line shoppers could find the number a half-point lower or a half-point higher, depending on where they wanted to place their money. Early money was down on the Panthers by a wide margin, bettors obviously impressed by their dominating 49-15 victory over the Cardinals in which Carolina jumped out early and then played with Arizona the way a cat would play with a dead mouse.
Peyton Manning was as good as he had to be against the Patriots, but will that be good enough against a young, strong and “running against the wind” Panthers team that has the best player in the league, a real offensive line and momentum that 31 other teams can only dream about?
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So it comes down to this: can the Broncos turn this into a field position game in which the teams give up first downs grudgingly? Or will the Panthers strike early like they did against both the Seahawks and Cardinals, put a few scores on the board in the early going and then dare Manning to start throwing the ball?
Manning was as good as could be expected against a pretty good New England defense, but against Carolina he may be forced to do what may be impossible given his age and the wear and tear on his body – namely, bring his game to an even higher level. The Broncos sent Brady to the turf 20 times in the AFC title game. If Carolina has its act together early and can let its defensive linemen loose, it might be Manning’s turn in the barrel.