Two years ago, the Broncos were playing in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium because of Peyton Manning. Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, they will play in Super Bowl 50 despite him.
The 2015 version of Manning — perhaps the last version of the future Hall of Fame quarterback — has looked rather ordinary at best and poor at worst. Injuries and age have caught up to the 39-year-old, but he has played relatively mistake free during the postseason to help Denver reach the Super Bowl for the fourth time since their opponents, the Panthers, joined the NFL in 1995.
For the first time since his rookie season in 1998, Manning tossed more interceptions than touchdowns and completed less than 60% of his passes. He also missed six games — initially due to injury but was kept sidelined as backup Brock Osweiler performed well enough to keep the job. But Broncos coach Gary Kubiak went back to Manning during the regular season finale, ensuring a quarterback controversy would be put to rest before the playoffs.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has ascended to the elite status that long described Manning. Newton’s abilities as both a passer and runner helped the Panthers lead the league in scoring, with the quarterback accounting for 50 total touchdowns combined over the regular season and playoffs.
Although Newton’s season-long numbers through the air don’t jump off the page as much, his statistics over the past 10 games are more impressive. During this stretch, he’s completing 66.3% of his passes, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt and has a passing TD-INT ration of 24-2.
Plus, don’t forget about his game-changing ability as a runner and goalline back.
Stats only tell part of the tale of Newton’s growth into the likely league MVP this season. He makes better pre-snap reads than ever before, a key for any quarterback to find sustained success in the NFL. The fact that he’s performing as well as he has is more impressive when accounting for the loss of top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin during the summer.