Underdog Manning seeks fairytale ending against new star Newton


On Sunday, the NFL season comes to its culmination at Levi's Stadium as the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

A shiny new jewel in the NFL's crown, the home of the San Francisco 49ers - built in the heart of Silicon Valley - is seen as the most high-tech stadium in the United States, making it the ideal venue for what many believe will be the coronation for the most dynamic quarterback in the league.

It has been a near-impeccable season for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who, by the time the kick-off is sent sailing into the northern California sky, will likely have been named as the league's MVP as an individual reward for a dominant campaign that has seen Carolina suffer just one defeat.

Newton ended the regular season with 3,837 passing yards and 45 total touchdowns before overseeing a playoff campaign in which the Panthers have played one bad half - as the Seattle Seahawks came close to pulling off an improbable comeback in the divisional round - while completely controlling matters for the other three.

His performances, combined with those of a brilliantly opportunistic defense that will feature both Jared Allen and Thomas Davis despite the pair suffering a broken foot and a fractured forearm respectively, have led many to install the Panthers as heavy favourites to lift the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in their history.

Should that scenario play out then Newton will become the first of the recent crop of dual-threat quarterbacks to reach the top of the mountain.

Standing in his way is Peyton Manning, the archetypal pocket quarterback who appears to be closing in on the swansong of an incredible record-setting career.

Immobile and hampered by waning arm strength and increasingly poor decision-making, Manning has been propped up by a magnificent defense that is without doubt the most fearsome obstacle blocking the Panthers' route to glory.

A well-crafted gameplan by coordinator Wade Phillips enabled the Broncos' gifted defensive unit to throttle the defending champions New England Patriots in the AFC title game, with their vaunted pass rush leaving the legendary Tom Brady battered and bruised.

Yet, while Denver can afford to have at least some hope of slowing Newton down, their issues on the other side of the ball may prove too much for Manning to overcome.

Manning's deficiencies figure to be even more of a problem against a defense boasting players willing to fight through significant injuries to banish the ghosts of the franchise's only previous Super Bowl appearance 12 years ago, which ended in a gut-wrenching 32-29 defeat to the New England Patriots.

Of course Manning has ghosts of his own to lay to rest. Despite already having a Super Bowl title to his name from his time with the Indianapolis Colts, his defeat to the New Orleans Saints and the hammering he took at the hands of the Seahawks, plus his apparent tendency to choke in the playoffs, are blots on an otherwise outstanding legacy.

After appearing to tell Patriots coach Bill Belichick this could be "his last rodeo" on the field after the conference championship, it seems certain this well be Manning's final chance to add another achievement to his Hall of Fame resume.

If Manning does enough to seal victory, it will lend more credence to the argument that he - and not Brady or Joe Montana - is the greatest quarterback of all time.

The problem, however, is that - in Newton and the Panthers - he is set to face a player and a team seemingly destined to join him in the realm of NFL greats.