We’re finally here!

Before your Super Bowl day begins (which hopefully features plenty of great beer, food, and friends), let’s take a look at Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, the two quarterbacks who are leading their respective offenses into the biggest game of the year, Super Bowl 50.

The quarterbacks

Peyton Manning

Want an entertaining drinking game for today? Drink every time you hear the word ‘legacy’.

The 39-year-old Denver Broncos quarterback will today be competing in his fourth and last Super Bowl. He has previously won one, Super Bowl XLI, with the Indianapolis Colts. Strangely, though, Super Bowl 50 might not have that much significance when it comes to evaluating Peyton’s career. The Broncos made it here on the back of their outstanding defensive efforts and not because of a Peyton Manning’s quarterback play. Peyton has reportedly announced his plans to retire after the Super Bowl to close friends, a seemingly obvious conclusion after he told Bill Belichick that “this might be my last rodeo”.

It’s easy to understand why the public can be quick to dismiss Peyton Manning, especially when he has just finished one of his worst regular seasons of his career. Against the Kansas City Chiefs in November, Peyton somehow managed to throw four interceptions from only five pass attempts, leading to him watching the rest of the game from the bench. Afterward, Peyton missed games due to a foot injury and lost his starting position to Brock Osweiler. For a moment there, it looked as though Peyton might be retiring on the sidelines, forgotten because of his disappointing performances early in the season. But, to his credit, in what is an astonishing final chapter to Peyton’s career, he worked his way back into the starting quarterback position for the Broncos.

Peyton’s season resembles that of a movie script, and a win today would be a fitting end to his spectacular career. He has faced significant challenges and the public mostly wrote off his chances of making a return. Underrating ‘The Sheriff’ seems to be a recent trend, and Peyton has always proved his doubters wrong. He was mostly expected to fade away in the 2013 season and beyond but he went on to post what is possibly the best season of any quarterback ever – 5477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013.

Manning gained his nickname, ‘The Sheriff’, from ESPN’s Jon Gruden, who explained how Peyton “laws down the law” for opposition teams. Peyton’s ability to read defenses and make slight adjustments to his offense is the primary reason he has enjoyed such a long and successful career. The Broncos have won games this season by controlling both sides of the game, and in particular, their slow-paced and gritty run-first offense is an exceptional fit for Manning, who is obviously in decline. The offense allows Peyton to stand behind the line for the entirety of the play clock, shouting the forever-unknown ‘OMAHA’, as he makes required formation changes. Actually, back to drinking games, if you want to play ‘hard mode’ today, you could try and drink every time you hear Peyton yell ‘OMAHA’.

To win today, the Broncos will be relying on their defense to limit the impacts of Cam Newton, the high-octane dual-threat quarterback of the Panthers, and establishing their rushing game against the Panthers defense. But, I realise by writing that, like many people currently are, and have done before, I’m underrating Peyton’s significance, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Peyton’s career, it’s that he thrives as an underdog. For Peyton’s sake, I’d love to see him end his career with a compelling performance against the Panthers today.

Cam Newton

While Peyton Manning’s career is being celebrated as we come to the end of a prolific 18 years in the NFL, Newton, on the other hand, is being glorified in a way that this could be the first of many dominant seasons from the 26-year-old Panthers quarterback.

Cam Newton was announced as the NFL MVP for the 2015 season, making him the first MVP in the history of the Carolina Panthers. Drafted with the #1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton has always been considered an elite talent, the only question, however, was whether could he pull it all together and be successful as a truly unique and non-traditional quarterback.

Like Peyton, Newton was widely underrated or disregarded before the season began. Experts cited the lack of wide receiver talent at the Panthers and claimed that the Panthers would be no threat to the Seahawks in the NFC. Did we all forget about Newton’s combination of freakish athleticism, unrelenting determination, and abundance of natural talent? Well, Newton and the Panthers sure proved the doubters wrong as they possessed possibly the most explosive offense in the NFL this season.

Newton’s quarterbacking style couldn’t be more contrary to Peyton Manning’s. While Peyton relies heavily on slowing the game down and making accurate reads, Newton, instead, who stands at 6’5″ and 245 pounds, relies on his physical abilities to make plays. This season, he was the first player to combine for both 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns, showcasing just how difficult it is for teams to gameplan for him.

Initially, you’d think it makes sense for the opposition to try and hit Cam Newton as much as they can and disrupt his flow, whether that’s his passing game or his running game. But the Panthers make it tough for defenses to get close to Newton, who is protected by a vast wall of offensive linemen. The Panthers often use seven blockers, a form of maximum protection, to defend Cam Newton, allowing him to stay upright while fast receivers like Ted Ginn and Philly Brown create space down the field. It’s a unique offense and one that will prove to be genuinely exciting, especially in this matchup against the exceptional Broncos defense.

There’s no question that this is going to be the first of many outstanding seasons from the young Panthers quarterback, and if the Panthers are to win today, I can see it being because of a spectacular quarterback performance against the usually stingy defense. To do so, he’s going to have to avoid the frightening Broncos pass rush and make consistently accurate throws downfield to his receivers. Ultimately, it might just come down to whether Cam Newton can handle all of the pressure that comes with playing football on the grandest stage of them all, a place where Peyton has been many times before.