Match Reports

Super Bowl 50 to Super Bowl LI

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Image: Arnie Papp

So, the Super Bowl has come and gone, and the Denver Broncos are the champions of the NFL. In what turned out to be a less than thrilling game, the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10 on the back of a phenomenal defensive performance led by the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player, Von Miller.

The Broncos sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton seven times and did not allow the league’s MVP to establish any kind of rhythm on offense. Newton was able to connect on a few long throws to wide receivers Corey Brown and Ted Ginn Jr., but the Panthers struggled to consistently string positive plays together and appeared to be relying almost exclusively on their superstar Newton to create big plays for his teammates, a strategy which was never going to work against the #1 ranked Denver defence with an underperforming star.

On the offensive side for the Broncos, Peyton Manning looked a shadow of his former self, throwing an early interception and failing to mount any prolonged drives deep into Panthers territory. In fact, the only offensive touchdown of the first half was scored by the Panthers, with running back Jonathan Stewart plowing his way into the end zone from one yard out. The Broncos entered halftime with a 13-7 lead, with their only touchdown coming courtesy of defender Malik Jackson, who jumped on the ball after Miller sacked Newton and forced a fumble that sent the ball careening into the end zone.

The second half was much of the same for both teams, with neither offence being able to truly threaten their opponent. With only four minutes remaining, Miller once again sacked Newton and forced another fumble, allowing the Broncos offence to take over at the Panthers’ nine yard line. Running back C.J. Anderson scored a minute later to seal the win for Denver.

It capped off an improbable run to the NFL title that started with the Broncos winning their first seven games, only to see their leader Manning go down with injury. Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler played well in the remaining regular season games, leading the team to a 12-4 record and a #1 seed in the AFC, but it was Manning who returned to lead his team to glory. Proving his doubters wrong, Manning was able to win the second Super Bowl title of his career in spite of nagging injuries and claims that he was too old to hold his own against younger and more athletic competition. Manning has written his own story book ending and, should he decide to retire, can now ride off into the sunset after cementing his legacy as of the NFL’s greatest ever players.

But now that the spectacle of Super Bowl 50 has come and gone, it is time to look forward to next year’s NFL campaign and the early discussion as to which team, and which players, will be taking home the Lombardi Trophy this time next year. First off, a prediction for who will play their way to the league’s MVP award. This year’s MVP Cam Newton is coming off the back of a season in which he led his Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record and a Super Bowl appearance, and arguably out of consequence has to be the favorite heading into next season.

However, winning back-to-back regular season MVP awards is almost impossible, perhaps instead – in a defiance of the age that has dwindled the performances of Peyton Manning’s career – this award will go to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Brady is always in the mix for MVP honors, having won the award twice before, and with a healthy receiving corps and a solid offensive line returning, he should be set for another spectacular season. In regards to who will make it to Super Bowl LI (no, not 51 as the half-centenary marketing gimmick might have suggested), the Patriots might just return to the big game after a one-year absence, where I shall stick my neck out to say they will face the Green Bay Packers of the NFC.

Both of these teams had tough losses in the playoffs this year but equally are extremely experienced, have tremendous quarterbacks in Brady and Packers signal caller Aaron Rodgers, and have rosters loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. If both of these teams stay healthy and play to their full potential, both could well be vying for the NFL title next season.

Having secured the fixture for the next Super Bowl, I have to give the edge to the Patriots who always seem to somehow find a way to win; the perfect example being last year’s last gasp interception by Malcolm Butler to steal the game from the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots appear to have a knack for producing when it matters, a characteristic which should serve them well next season, exempting their two Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants, who seem to share this characteristic to the extreme.

Now it’s time for some bold predictions. I think that this will be one of the most competitive NFL seasons in recent memory, with so many teams having rosters capable of challenging for the title. In the NFC alone, I could easily see any of the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, or even the Los Angeles Rams lifting the Lombardi Trophy next February, not to mention my own NFC pick of the Green Bay Packers.

On the AFC side, the defending champion Broncos will certainly be in the mix to repeat as champions, but first they will need to find a new quarterback as the general expectation is that Peyton Manning will retire, and Osweiler’s future is under question. The Patriots look set for another fantastic season, but don’t overlook the Indianapolis Colts, who have a talented roster and will have star quarterback Andrew Luck returning from injury.

For some surprise teams, look out for the Oakland Raiders in the AFC and the recently relocated Los Angeles Rams in the NFC. Neither of these teams made the playoffs this year, but both of them stand in good stead to secure playoff spots next season. The Raiders have a good young quarterback in Derek Carr and a stout defence which will help them win games, whereas all the Rams need is an upper-echelon quarterback to transform their roster into one of the most feared in the NFL.

These may all be predictions, but one thing is for sure; next year’s NFL season will surely prove to be an exciting and turbulent affair. For those wondering, it’s only seven months, or 202 days, until football returns, not that anyone is counting.

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