5 reasons the Denver Broncos will win the Super Bowl
Back in Week 12, the Brock Osweiler-led Broncos took down the Patriots, 30-24, in overtime. In the snow, no less. At the time, it was hard to envision this moment.
Peyton Manning, somewhat broken down and ineffective at the time, getting a fourth crack at a Super Bowl, seemed like a pipe dream. But in Week 17, head coach Gary Kubiak had seen enough of Osweiler's struggles to get points on the board against the Chargers so he threw Manning back into the fire after more than six weeks off.
Manning rallied the Broncos to a win over San Diego and got them home-field advantage, and has done enough game managing in the playoffs to have them in Super Bowl 50. Not surprisingly, if they manage to upend the favored Panthers at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, it will have a lot more to do with defense, running -- and superstition? -- than the strength of Manning's arm. Here's how they'll do it.
Orange Crush, Part II
The Panthers defense is getting a lot of pub, but the Broncos had the top-rated defense in the NFL in the regular season, allowing just 283.1 yards per game in the regular season. They're also playing their best ball of the year. Don't believe us? Just ask Tom Brady, who is probably still in an ice bath after getting hit 23 times in the AFC title game. The Broncos forced two crucial turnovers -- one that set up their second touchdown -- and then stopped the Patriots on two fourth-quarter, fourth-down attempts, and the potential overtime-forcing two-point conversion. They forced 27 turnovers this season, but were minus-four in turnover differential overall because of their offense. Their league-high 52 sacks, however, prove that they can get to the quarterback, and will need to if they want to slow down Cam Newton.
Pressure's off Peyton
That gives us a nice segue into talking about Manning, who is winning games in the playoffs the way his boss John Elway did in the 1997 and '98 seasons, when the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls to cap his career. Manning is staying out of the way, avoiding game-changing mistakes and getting his Alex Smith game manager on. The Broncos offense was relatively ineffective in the second half against the Patriots in the AFC title game, scoring just three second-half points as Denver hung on for the 20-18 win. Manning was 17 of 32 for just 176 yards and those two touchdowns against New England, but didn't throw a pick, either, which is probably the most important part. If he can just keep doing what Elway did -- and what he did against the Patriots -- he'll get his second Super Bowl ring.
C.J. Anderson and the running game
If you look at his stat line against the Pats, it's not terrible: 16 carries for 72 yards. But when you subtract a 30-yard run, it looks much less imposing. Ronnie Hillman, who had 117 yards on 15 carries in that Week 17 win over the Chargers, only had only 16 yards on 11 carries against the Patriots. Heck, for a good part of the game Manning was the Broncos' leading rusher, and Brady finished the game as the Patriots' leading rusher. For the Broncos, they need to stick with Anderson and the run game. The Broncos are 11-0 this season when Anderson gets at least 11 carries. Overall, the Broncos are 10-1 when they rush for at least 100 yards. If they had gotten one more yard against the Pats, they'd be 11-1. It will take the pressure of Manning even more, and let the vaunted defense do its thing.
Your clothes matter
Ah, yes. Don't think superstition doesn't have a role here. The Broncos have worn Orange jerseys four times in Super Bowls. The results in those games, all losses: 27-10, 42-10, 55-10, 43-8 (the last one an unseemly drubbing that Manning took part in two seasons ago). They're 1-1 in white jerseys, and 1-0 in the now-phased-out blue. Denver may be considered the home team, but it's bowing to some karma here.
History on their side?
We alluded to Elway earlier, but really, this is a similar model to how the Broncos won their only two championships. It'd be silly to completely ignore it. In '97 and '98, it was Terrell Davis who carried the load for Elway. In 2015, it's the vaunted Broncos defense that's doing it for Manning, and at times Osweiler. According to PFF, the Broncos had the second-best pass defense behind only the Dolphins. They also have the only secondary with every player grading out well, according to PFF. The Broncos have the ability to put Aqib Talib or Chris Harris Jr. on Greg Olson, and the other on Ted Ginn Jr. That's a dynamic the Panthers have not yet faced in the playoffs. What does it all mean? It means that Manning can ride that defense to his second Lombardi Trophy the way Elway rode his running game.