Carolina (15-1) vs. Denver (11-5), 6:38 p.m. on CBS. Newton vs. Manning. Separated by 13 years in age, 1,579 miles in distance. They meet in Super Bowl 50 (or Super Bowl L for those that are fans of Roman numbers), the final football game of the 2015 season. One has a Super Bowl ring, the other man wants one. When this one comes to an end, there will be no more football until the pre-season. It’s finality. It’s the end. It’s the Super Bowl.

SUPER CHAMPIONSHIP: Denver defeated New England 20-18 in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, earning a spot in Super Bowl 50. This is the Broncos eighth Super Bowl appearance, tying Dallas, New England and Pittsburgh for the most in NFL history.

​​The teams with the most Super Bowl appearances:

TEAM – SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES
Dallas – 8
Denver – 8
Pittsburgh – 8
New England – 8
San Francisco – 6

CAROLINA CRUISING: The CAROLINA PANTHERS defeated Arizona 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday to advance to Super Bowl 50.

The Panthers, who went 15-1 en route to the NFC South division title and the conference’s top seed, became the ninth team in NFL history to lose one or fewer regular season games and advance to the Super Bowl.

The teams with one or fewer regular season losses to reach the Super Bowl:

TEAM – SEASON (SUPER BOWL REACHED, REGULAR SEASON RECORD)
Oakland Raiders – 1967 (II, 13-1)
Baltimore Colts – 1968 (III, 13-1)
Miami Dolphins – 1972 (VII, 14-0)
Oakland Raiders – 1976 (XI, 13-1)
Washington Redskins – 1982 (XVII, 8-1)*
San Francisco 49ers – 1984 (XIX, 15-1)
Chicago Bears – 1985 (XX, 15-1)
New England Patriots – 2007 (XLII, 16-0)
Carolina Panthers – 2015 (50 or L, 15-1)
*Nine-game regular season

Two teams. One game. It all comes down to this.

On Sunday, February 7, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will meet in Super Bowl 50 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

For the third consecutive season, the game will feature the top seeds in each conference.

“It means so much to us to get to the Super Bowl,” says Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. “We put in so much work this whole offseason and during the season. I’m just so proud of our team. We stuck together all year. We stayed together as a team and that’s all that matters.”

Super Bowl 50 will pit the NFL’s top-scoring team – Carolina (500 points, 31.3 points per game) – against the league’s top defense – Denver (283.1 total net yards per game).

“We’re a complete team,” says Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown. “We play as a team. It’s not about one person. It’s not about two people. If one guy goes down, the next man steps up. We are a complete team.”

Denver advanced to the Super Bowl by defeating New England 20-18. Carolina defeated Arizona 49-15 to earn its second ever trip to the Super Bowl. The AFC and NFC Championship Games averaged 49.7 million viewers, up eight percent from last year and topping the 45 million mark for the third consecutive year.

The NFC Championship Game between Carolina and Arizona earned 45.7 million viewers and the AFC Championship Game between Denver and New England garnered 53.3 million viewers, the second-most watched AFC Championship Game ever (New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh, January 23, 2011, 54.8 million viewers).

The Panthers advanced to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2003 season) with a 49-15 win over Arizona at Bank of America Stadium. With the victory, Carolina capped off a perfect season at home, winning all eight regular-season games and both playoff contests.

“Our fans have been awesome all year,” says Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. “There’s a sense of community in the whole Charlotte area and throughout the Carolinas. Panthers fans have been awesome to us and I’m proud to be here and happy to be a Carolina Panther.”

Carolina led the NFL in scoring with 500 points during the regular season and has scored a league-best 80 points in the postseason. The team’s 49 points in the NFC Championship Game are the second-most by a team to gain a berth in the Super Bowl (Buffalo, 51 points, 1990 season).

“We came out and had a pretty successful game,” says Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. “But I know there are a lot of people who feel just like me – we’re not done yet.”

Newton passed for 335 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for two scores in the NFC Championship Game victory. He is the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for multiple touchdowns in a playoff game. Newton led the NFL during the regular season with 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing) and became the first player in league history to pass for at least 30 touchdowns and rush for at least 10 touchdowns in the same season.

“It’s been fun watching Cam because every year he’s improved,” Carolina center Ryan Kalil told the Charlotte Observer and USA Today. “We knew from the get-go when he got here and broke all those NFL rookie records that we had someone special. Watching him grow each and every year, it’s been incredible. This has been a big year for him.”

In the win over Arizona, the Panthers forced seven turnovers. During the regular season, Carolina led the NFL with 39 takeaways, 24 interceptions and a +20 turnover differential. That dominance has continued into the postseason as the Panthers lead the league with nine takeaways, six interceptions and a +8 turnover differential. Kuechly, one of Carolina’s Pro Bowl linebackers, has recorded an interception-return touchdown in each of the team’s playoff games this season and is the only player in NFL history to have an INT-TD in consecutive games in a single postseason.

“This was a great team performance and this is who we are,” says Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis. “This is what we’re capable of and we came out and played together as a group. We can truly dominate football games. We just have to be ready to play week in and week out.”

Carolina head coach Ron Rivera, who has guided the team to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, is aiming to become the fourth person to win a Super Bowl as both a player and a head coach (Mike Ditka, Tony Dungy and Tom Flores). Rivera was a linebacker for the 1985 Chicago Bears, which is the last team to win at least 15 regular-season games and also win the Super Bowl in the same season, something the Panthers hope to accomplish this year.

“We have talked a lot about what our goal is,” says Rivera. “We are a step away. We are going to have to play a very good football team. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback and a lot of playmakers. This is a team we will have to get ready and prepare for.” Carolina manhandled Arizona 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game in Charlotte. The Panthers led the Desert Angry Birds 24-7 at the intermission and never looked back, outscoring Arizona in the second half 25-8. Arizona was held to 60 yards on the ground at Bank of America Stadium, while Carolina picked off Carson Palmer four times, sacking him three. Newton threw for 335 yards with a pair of TD passes and used his feet to work his way into the end zone for two more TDs in the game as Carolina ran for 152 yards, with RB Jonathan Stewart leading all rushers with 83 yards. Carolina was 8 of 14 and 0 of 1 on third and fourth down tries, keeping the ball for 36:39, while Arizona was 3 of 10 on third down conversions but hit pay dirt on fourth down, going 2 of 2 and held the ball for 23:21.

That Hall of Fame quarterback – Peyton Manning – and that team – the Denver Broncos – will be waiting. The Broncos advanced to their eighth Super Bowl, tied for the most in NFL history (Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh), by defeating New England 20-18 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

“The victory in the AFC Championship Game was a great example of what this entire season has been like,” says Manning. “It hasn’t been easy. It’s been a lot of different people stepping up and doing their part at different times. That was a unique football game but everybody did their part and it truly was a team game.”

Manning threw two touchdown passes – both to tight end Owen Daniels – in the win. The veteran quarterback has now guided both the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos to multiple Super Bowls and Manning is the first quarterback in NFL history to lead two different franchises to multiple Super Bowls. Denver led 17-9 at the break before holding off New England in the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Denver outrushed New England 99-44, while Manning was out-passed by Tom Brady 310-176 (Manning was sacked three times, while Brady was sacked four) with Brady throwing his only TD pass to TE Rob Gronkowski with 12 seconds left. New England then went for two in hopes of tying the contest up but the conversion try failed. The Pats had one more trick up their sleeves as they went for the onside kick. That attempt failed as Denver recovered the ball and ran out the clock, ending New England’s reign as world champions. New England on third down tries went 2 of 15 and ruled the clock as they kept the ball for 30:12, while the Broncos were 6 of 17 on third down, holding the pigskin for 29:48 (New England was 2 of 4 on fourth down in the contest).

“I’ve tried to take it one week at a time all season long,” says Manning about returning to the Super Bowl. “I’ve tried to stay in the moment and take it one week at a time. I’m taking it one week at a time and trying to stay patient. Staying patient in these past two playoff games has served our team well and it’s definitely served me well.”

Manning, who won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, can become the first starting quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl with two different franchises. He has 13 career postseason victories and with a win in Super Bowl 50, he will tie Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway and Terry Bradshaw for the third-most playoff wins in NFL history by a starting quarterback.

“I’m so proud of him,” says Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak about Manning. “He worked really hard to get back. This football team believes he’s going to get the job done. He’s done a tremendous job leading this football team.”

Denver’s defense, which topped the NFL with 52 sacks during the regular season, recorded four sacks and two interceptions in the AFC Championship Game. Linebacker Von Miller had 2.5 sacks and an interception in the victory over New England, becoming the first player in more than 20 years to record at least 2.5 sacks and an interception in a playoff game.

“We’re back,” says Miller about the team’s second Super Bowl appearance in the past three seasons. “It feels great. I wanted to get back here.”

Kubiak became the first head coach to earn a Super Bowl berth in his first season with a team since Jim Caldwell accomplished the feat with Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in 2009. Kubiak is attempting to become only the fourth head coach to win a Super Bowl in his first season with a new club (Don McCaffery, George Seifert, Jon Gruden).

“One thing we’ve done all year long is we just grind as a football team,” Kubiak told KUSA-TV and the Rocky Mountain News. “We played our tails off all year long and we’ve found ways to win the close ones.”

Kubiak, who played for the Broncos (1983-1991), is the first person to appear in a Super Bowl with the same team as both a player and a head coach.

“It means the world to me to come back to my football home,” says Kubiak about advancing to the Super Bowl with the Broncos. “I’m just so proud to be part of this organization and this football team.”

All of their meetings have taken place in the regular season and Denver leads the overall series 3-1 and have outscored Carolina 100-61. Denver’s last win in the series came in 2012 in Charlotte by a final of 36-14 at Bank of America Stadium, while Carolina’s only win in the series also came in the Tar Heel State in 2008 by a 30-10 final.

For the Panthers, this will be their second trip to the Super Bowl, with their last time going to the big game in Super Bowl XXXVIII, known as the “Wardrobe Malfunction Bowl” in Houston. In that contest, they faced Brady and the New England Patriots and came away on the short end of a 32-29 final at what was then Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium). Tom Brady and the Pats treated the fans to another exciting finish that ended with a game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal with four seconds remaining in the contest. Brady completed 32 of 48 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns to become the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to start and win two title games before his 27th birthday.

Denver fans would like to somehow forget what happened to them the last time they were in the Super Bowl and for the Broncos and Manning, it was not a good day in the Meadowlands in Super Bowl XLVIII. Seattle trounced Denver 43-8 at Met Life Stadium and Seahawks LB Malcom Smith became the first defensive player to win the Pete Rozelle Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award since Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson earned the honor in Super Bowl XXXVII. Smith helped lead a Seahawks’ defense that forced four turnovers. Smith intercepted a Peyton Manning pass in the second quarter and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown to give Seattle a 22-0 advantage. Smith also recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter to stop a Broncos drive deep in Seahawks territory and finished with nine total tackles.

Cam Newton is trying to be the 7th player in the history of the National Football League to win MVP & SB MVP in same season and if he does it, he’ll be in some pretty good company: Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, Steve Young & Kurt Warner.

Both clubs did have opponents in common in 2015: Green Bay and Indianapolis. Carolina is 2-0 against the Packers and Colts, both winning in consecutive weeks and both wins coming in the Tar Heel State (29-26 win in week eight over the Colts, 37-29 win over the Packers in week nine. Denver split their two meetings (also in consecutive weeks), taking a 29-10 win over Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in week eight in the Mile High City, dropping a 27-24 decision at Indy to Andrew Luck and the Colts in week nine).

Carolina’s favored by 5 1/2 and the over/under is 45 1/2. Both numbers make a lot of sense. After all, it’s the last game of the season and there’s going to be no more football until the pre-season gets underway in July. With that being said, for this one to not be “DRILL WORTHY” would be like Bugs Bunny not liking carrots. With that, this is the final drill (For those of you that know what The Drill is, you are excused. Everyone else, pay attention. We don’t want any rookie mistakes here, k?) After you go to the 9:30 mass on Sunday (the 4:30 vigil mass on Saturday counts as a mass attended, people! Don’t make us send the nuns after you! If we do, it is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OVER!), head to your favorite store (a trip to Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart or Costco counts) and get the vittles and the beverages (soda, beer, wine, coffee, et al… if you live in a state that allows the purchase of the items in question) and invite the co-workers, the neighbors (including that really cute kindergarden teacher that knows what to do with a cover-2 defense) and your cousin Connie (remember her? She’s the one that’s been married twice that’s just turned 56 last June and dates a 41-year old ex-Marine, who’s now a football coach at the high school in your town. She’s also the one that ate an entire Oreo cheesecake, two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, two bacon cheeseburgers with blue cheese and chugged two 2-liter Cokes at your Super Bowl party last year and didn’t gain a pound. You look at her and say to yourself, “what the hell?”

When the dust settles, there will be a new Super Bowl champion. Someone will be holding the Lombardi Trophy and taking it home, while the losers will wonder why they fell short of their intended marks. Will it be Cam? Will it be Peyton? Carolina makes this one a good one to watch but Peyton prevails in what some are guessing is his final NFL contest. Denver covers the 5 1/2 and wins in Santa Clara.

BROADCAST INFORMATION: 6:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson, Evan Washburn (Field reporter). Westwood One: Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, Dan Fouts, James Lofton, Mark Malone (field reporters). SIRIUS: 88 (WestWood1), 83 (Carolina), 82 (Denver). XM: 88 (WestWood1), 226 (Carolina), 82 (Denver).

Injury Report
Carolina – No injuries to report.

Denver – No injuries to report.

Weather Outlook: Sunny and 71 degrees

Broadcast information and injury report courtesy the National Football League, odds courtesy Dons Best and USA Today, weather courtesy The Weather Channel.

 

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