Two weeks from now, the Denver Broncos will take on the in 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
How the Broncos Got There: In another classic duel between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, it was actually the defensive units that stole the spotlight. Manning got the Broncos off to a fast start, throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to TE Owen Daniels on their first offensive drive of the game. It was Denver's first opening-drive touchdown of the entire season.
And here's a look at that TD pass from Manning to Daniels. pic.twitter.com/htNYTbzyth— Rachel G. Bowers (@RachelGBowers) January 24, 2016
At the end of the first quarter, the Patriots capitalized on a Broncos turnover, but K Steven Gostkowski missed his first extra point in 523 attempts. People wondered if the new extra point rule would strike big in the postseason, and Gostkowski was the first victim of it.
After Denver added another short touchdown to Daniels at the beginning of the second quarter (to go up 14-6), the defense took over on both sides. The rest of the game was mostly filled with Manning and Brady being driven to the ground left and right with very little time to throw. Denver took a 17-9 lead into the half, and with 10 minutes to go in the game, Denver held a 20-12 game. The Patriots had a few opportunities to kick a field goal to draw closer, but opted to go for it on fourth down in fear they wouldn't get the ball back. They failed both times, but Manning and the Broncos kept punting right back to them, hanging on for dear life.
With 0:17 left in the game, Brady found TE Rob Gronkowski in double coverage on fourth down for a 4-yard touchdown to make it a 20-18 game. This is where the missed extra point from earlier came into play, because it forced the Patriots to go for two. They didn't convert, and the onside kick attempt was recovered by Denver. After one kneeldown, it became official: Manning is headed back to the Super Bowl, where he will have a shot at vengeance after his team was blown out 43-8 by the Seahawks two years ago.
The last two years have been a grind for Manning, especially this year, where his arm strength and general efficiency are significantly down. The fact is that he's headed back to the big dance one more time. Also, John Elway's decision to fire John Fox and replace him with Gary Kubiak because he thought the team was too soft seems to be paying major dividends. We're seeing a Broncos offense, including Manning, that is a shell of what they were in recent years. The defense is as good-as-they-come in the NFL, though, and will at the very least ensure Denver isn't decimated in this year's Super Bowl.
How the Panthers Got There: "By staring fast." In the divisional round of the playoffs, the Panthers jumped out to a 34-0 lead against the Seahawks in the first half. In the NFC Championship, before you could even blink, the Panthers led 17-0 in the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals.
QB Cam Newton continued his MVP-caliber season with an 86-yard touchdown strike to WR Corey Brown, which followed a 22-yard end-around-and-then-reverse-field touchdown run by WR Ted Ginn Jr. It was universally believed heading into the season that the Panthers had the worst receiving corp in the NFL, especially with WR Kelvin Benjamin out for the year. Newton proved how valuable he was, though, and a fierce defense didn't hurt either. The Panthers forced four first-half turnovers and led 24-7 at the half.
If you are the Cardinals, you want to get off to a fast start in the second half. The Panthers prevented that with a demoralizing draft to open the second half. They only got a field goal out of it, but in terms of time of possession, it took up half the quarter. Newton and the Panthers continued steamrolling the Cardinals all the way to victory. By the end of the game, Carolina had forced seven turnovers en route to a final score of 49-15. With how much the Panthers are rolling can anybody stop them, or are we going to see a repeat of the Super Bowl from two years ago (an NFC team dominating Manning)?
Seriously, Cam? https://t.co/WICek5qNLe— Josh Katzowitz (@joshkatzowitz) January 25, 2016
We've Got You Covered: The Super Bowl will be played Feb. 7, 2016, televised on CBS, with the game starting at 6:30 PM ET. There will be plenty of storylines leading up to the game, such as the whether this will be Peyton Manning's final game regardless of the result, whether Denver has the firepower to make a comeback if Carolina gets off to another hot start, and whether Carolina can thrive under the pressure after being the best team in the NFL up to this point. We'll have a ton of Super Bowl coverage here at Dawgs By Nature throughout the next two weeks, so stay tuned.
Here's all the information you need to know about the big game.
Date: Sunday, February 7, 2016
Time: 6:30 pm ET
Location: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
TV Channel: CBS
Online streaming: CBS Sports
Announcers: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Phil Simms (color analyst), Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn (sideline reporters)
Odds: SB Nation Odds Page
Halftime show: Coldplay, featuring Beyonce and Bruno Mars
Referee: Clete Blakeman