Friday was a busy day filled with household activities and paperwork.[1] That kept me from getting a Super Bowl prediction in. So, quickly, I’ll try to get something posted here Sunday morning so I am on record.

I’ve not paid too much attention to the pre-game coverage, or read many predictions for how the experts believe the game will play out. But of the general vibe I’ve picked up, it seems like most people want to pick Carolina to win big, but the strength of Denver’s defense has them thinking it will be a close Panthers win.

Of course hidden in that is no one believes that Peyton Manning and the Denver offense will be the deciding factor. Which is really a remarkable thing. Just two years ago the Denver offense was this juggernaut that seemingly no defense could stop. Until they ran into Seattle in the Super Bowl, that is. But the two years in between have brought a rapid decline in Manning’s health and level of play. He’s lost a few key weapons along the way. And in the process, an already stout Denver D has become even stronger. Peyton has turned into a game manager who takes shots in smart moments, but is content to play it safe most of the time.

That transition is even more remarkable given how bad he was the first half of the season. He was flat terrible and Denver was racking up wins in spite of his poor play.

But since returning from injury, he’s steadied his game. It’s as if in that time off, he looked at himself, came to terms with what he could and could not do anymore, and quickly made the transition to the guy who just keeps the engine chugging along instead of the generational difference maker he was most of his career. A little like John Elway late in his career. Hmmm…

That, along with the similarities to two years ago, when a game managing QB paired with a tremendous defense beat Manning’s offensive power for the title, makes me think perhaps I should rethink my approach to the game.

Because I really think Carolina is so good on offense right now, they should dominate this game, Denver’s defense be damned. It’s been scary how good the Panthers have been in the first half of games recently. They score quickly and often and take the life out of their opponents. And while their defense isn’t quite as good as the Broncos’, it’s still awfully good and has been taking opponents out of their games all season.

Can the Carolina offense keep chugging along against the Denver defense? Can Peyton hang in there and solve the Carolina defense? Those are the two questions whose answers will determine the outcome.

Now, who am I rooting for? I really don’t care. I’m not one of those Colts fans who is pulling hard for Peyton. I’m indifferent to whether he wins another Super Bowl before he’s done. Nice way to go out if he can get it, but I will also think it will be funny if he, once again, plays terribly in a season-ending loss. There are two Jayhawks on the Denver defense, so I like the Broncos on that side of the ball.

I really don’t have any strong feelings for Carolina either way. But all the Cam Newton hate makes me pull for him a little. I’m trying to figure out what he’s done that is any worse that two generations of athletes who have celebrated and played with joy in all the major sports. Sure, sometimes his celebrations feel more rehearsed and carefully considered than spontaneous displays of joy. And there is an element of “Hey, look at me!” to them. But I buy into his argument that he’s just a guy who loves to play the game, loves to win, and wants to share those emotions with people watching. Sports is entertainment, after all.

Besides, he’s on the verge of becoming the next great quarterback in the league. I think people get too hung up on his “antics” and fail to realize what a remarkable player he is. His game still needs some polish, for sure. But he’s still young enough where that will come. He’s delivering on some of the promise we saw in Colin Kaepernick before he fell apart.

So, who am I picking? I think it’s a tough one. I’ve gone back-and-forth and have never been terribly confident. I think it stays close most of the time. Cam makes some dazzling plays but also makes some mistakes. Peyton is never spectacular, at times looks lost, but keeps the Broncos in it. And then Denver’s defense makes a big play late.

Denver 24, Carolina 21

  1. I’ll bore you with an accounting of my paperwork efforts next week.  ↩