Well, the NFL managed to get what they wanted. Instead of deflated balls, or deer antlers, or terrible calls from the one yard line, the NFL was able to get a warm feel-good story to make headlines. It was the cliche theme of too good to be true happy ending that players dream of, and their poster boy, the Sheriff who’s game was in peril all season long, managed to make it to the big dance and take home the winning prize. In NFL folklore, the goofy and lovable Peyton Manning will be remembered for winning it with a robotic neck, an insensate arm, and the worst stats for any Super Bowl Winning QB in NFL history. But despite Peyton’s historically bad play, their defense was the real story.
A key characteristic of a great winner is they learn from their mistakes. A couple years ago Elway & company thought they could get it done with a prolific offense and a mediocre defense. Well they were greatly mistaken after a shellacking at the hands of a historic Seattle defense. Embarrassed and humbled, this team knew what direction they had to go in. Their new mantra “Defense Wins Championships”. Through the draft and through free agency Denver assembled and grew into a very talented and experienced defense, but the most important piece, the so called proverbial cherry on top, was bringing on Wade Phillips. You give Wade talent and he’ll give you a hellacious defense that wreaks havoc on quarterbacks.
Wade turned this defense from a great defense into a historic defense where they rank top 12 all time. In a day where teams throw the ball 40-50 times per game, this defense did a hell of a job limiting the leagues best offenses. The 3rd ranked rushing defense & number 1 pass defense helped creep the 32nd ranked offense past the number four offense of Pittsburgh (Sad Face), and the number three offense of New England in the playoffs to reach Super Bowl 50 where they’d face a young up and coming Panthers squad that unsurprisingly was the number one offense. All season Denver’s defense allowed an average of 22.8 ppg in the regular season, and kicked it to high gear to allow a stout 14.7 ppg during the playoffs including the Super Bowl, very remarkable.
Now, this Panthers team led by Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly exceeded everyone’s expectations as they opened the season with 40-1 Super Bowl odds. Questions lingered such as how they’ll fare without their top receiving threat in Benjamin, can their defense get back to being dominant without Hardy, or will Superman be healthy enough to last a whole season after being blessed enough to survive a horrific looking car crash. Well, they proved all the haters and naysayers wrong by streaking to a 15-1 regular season record, and blowing by Seattle & Arizona in the playoffs to make it to Super Bowl 50. This group had to face adversity and overcame it. I also lost a lot of money on them this season, so I tip my hat to them.
Super Bowl 50 was headlined by Cam and Peyton. The NFL’s Future vs The NFL’s Godfather. Because of how hot the Panthers were and how unstable Peyton was, Panthers were 5 point favorites with over 60 percent of the bets coming in on them. I was fine with it because the one facet that got Denver to this point wasn’t Peyton, it was their defense. Not a lot of attention was focused on their defense, so a prideful Denver defense probably took it as disrespect. If you mix that with the fact that Peyton and Ware gave motivational speeches, well then you get 7 sacks, 3 turnovers with one returned for a touchdown, and a 24-10 victory in the biggest game of the season.
Many were describing this game as boring and uneventful, but as someone who was raised in Western PA, we salivate over hard nosed, blue collar games. Give me a 10-9 game over a 38-35 game any day. It’s easy to score on an average defense, but good luck putting up 20 against a great defense. And great Denver played as they made the leagues MVP regress to his old ways of over passing receivers and giving up turnovers. Denver’s relentless pursuit of Cam disrupted their offensive flow and made it difficult to progress the football, which allowed Denver to control field position most of the game. Denver’s harassment got to Cam psychologically and on the big stage him and the Panthers were stymied.
So now that football season is over and out, what comes next? Free Agency and the NFL draft should help ease us football fanatics through the offseason. We should also expect to see Peyton retire. Now for those of you getting your panties up in a bunch saying it’s Peyton’s decision, if he wants to play until he’s 45 then let him. And to that all I have to say is no team is going to pay money for Peyton, his body is as broken as broken gets. He needs to retire and go enjoy other things in life like raising a family, drinking a lot of Budweisers, hang out with Papa, or I don’t know maybe become GM and face for the Tennessee Titans. The world is your oyster Peyton. As for Denver’s defense, they are going to have a hard time retaining all their players, but the first thing they need to do is sign Von Miller, he is their dude. After that all the other pieces will fall into place.
As for this young Carolina team, they will learn from this. There shouldn’t be too many concerns this offseason other than getting Josh Norman signed. They are young with core pieces in place, they get back their top receiver, and get to add more depth through the draft and free agency. As long as Cam has this chip on his shoulder, Panthers should be contenders for years to come.
As for the other 30 NFL teams check out our blog to view each teams offseason reviews. Also stay tuned for our mock drafts coming in April.
By: David Duhaim