Panthers set to finish what they started with Super Bowl triumph

The Carolina Panthers are going to win the Super Bowl today.

You may be wondering how I can say this with such certainty, how I can be so declarative without even the slightest qualifier. How the chance of another outcome is outside the realm of possibility.

The simple answer is that my prediction will have no bearing on the game’s outcome. So why not be bullish?

Most years, I’d probably find myself on the other side, going with Denver’s combination of experience and defense. If a team with an elite defense reaches the Super Bowl, it usually wins. (And for some reason, it’s usually an underdog.) We don’t have to look too far back to remember the last time the league’s No. 1 offense took on the No. 1 defense. Just two years ago, Seattle’s top-ranked defense dominated Peyton Manning and the Broncos from the first play of the game, finishing with a 43-8 rout.

But this time around feels a bit different. This seems to be the year of Cam Newton and anything other than him dabbing with the Lombardi Trophy wouldn’t fit the season’s narrative. The Panthers have been underrated all year, despite winning 17 of 18 games. The fact that lots of late Vegas money seems to be pouring in on Denver reinforces it.

I think people are hoping for Manning to somehow recapture a bit of his prime and ride off into the sunset with one more title, a la John Elway. But that’s probably more fairy tale than reality.

Manning was able to make some plays against New England in the AFC Championship Game, but it’s no longer a few subtle whispers about his lack of arm strength. It’s obvious to the naked eye that he just can’t zip his passes into his targets.

While Newton is the main character and the Panthers’ offense is the headliner, let’s not forget that Manning is also facing a top defense. Football Outsiders has Denver as the year’s most efficient defense, with Carolina taking the No. 2 spot. Even accounting for their somewhat easier schedule, Carolina only falls to fifth in the weighted rankings.

Josh Norman may be the league’s best cornerback and Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis form the league’s best linebacker unit, so the Panthers will have a lot to throw at Manning, who hasn’t exactly been perfect in his three previous Super Bowls.

Denver has been somewhat written off offensively despite still having Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. But they’ve fallen considerably in just a year, averaging 30.1 points in 2014, down to just 22.2 in 2015. I was one of many who didn’t think they could score enough to hang with the Patriots two weeks ago, but that defense proved us all wrong.

If they prove us wrong again, it seems like many fans and the so-called “football purists” will be smiling at the end of the day.

I may not understand the Cam hate, but it exists. He likes to dance? He’s confident? I think there’s some racial element to it, but people loved the Ickey Shuffle, so this is more personal than just race.

Newton really should be a fan favorite. Not only is he doing things on the field we’ve never seen before, but he interacts with his fans, makes kids smile and appears to enjoy his life as a football player and celebrity. He’s been committed to getting better each and every year and has lifted Carolina from a disappointment to a juggernaut.

And, oh yeah, he’s doing all this after rolling his truck and fracturing his back in two places only 14 months ago.

Cam is going to finish what he started today. He may not win the hearts and minds of every spectator, but he’s about to win the most prestigious event in sports.

There will be dabbing at the White House.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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