With Super Bowl 50 almost upon us, we at Acme Packing Company have one final chance to try our hand at previewing and predicting an upcoming football game before the offseason hits in full force. Today, we have our picks for Sunday's big game between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.
Before we get to that, however, please give us your score predictions below as we join with the rest of SB Nation to try to pick the game.
Now, here are the picks from each of APC's writers, who are evenly split on the result of the game. We have five people picking the Panthers (with an average margin of victory of 6.4 points) and five in favor of the Broncos, averaging a three-point spread.
Panthers 23, Broncos 16
Of the four units taking the field this Sunday, three are elite. The Broncos' defense is one of them, but the Panthers' offense and defense both fit in that category. I simply cannot convince myself that Denver can score 20 points in this game, so for them to win I think they must hold Cam Newton and company to 14 points or less. Consider me skeptical, especially given the ease with which Carolina has scored on the elite Arizona and Seattle defenses during their playoff run.
Panthers 28, Broncos 20
While Denver owns the league's best defense, Carolina's doesn't trail far behind. The unit led the league in takeaways during the regular season and has forced an incredible nine turnovers during the postseason. With Peyton Manning's newfound penchant for giving the ball away, the Panthers defense could put points on the board for the third consecutive game.
Panthers 23, Broncos 17
This is the year of Cam Newton, not Peyton Manning. The Broncos' defense has carried Denver this far despite Manning's limitations, but in the end, I think the Panthers' underappreciated unit is what actually makes the difference in this matchup. Unfortunately, I see Manning committing multiple turnovers and causing the Broncos to lose this game and his NFL career to end on a discouraging note.
Broncos 21, Panthers 20
As much as I'd like to see another Denver shellacking along with three hours of intense, concentrated ManningFace, I think the Broncos are going to eke this one out. For one, their defense is balling right now. Tom Brady gets some of the best offensive line protection in the league and he left that game two weeks ago looking like DiCaprio post-bear attack in the Revenant.
And secondly - and I know there are stats that prove this doesn't always matter, but just calm down, okay? - Denver's been there recently. There's certainly something to be said about coming in with a kind of ignorant weightlessness - the Packers had it in 2010, the first year they made it - but I also think there's something about having experienced the magnitude of a game like this. So yeah, Manning's gonna make just enough plays, the Broncos are going to win and we're totally going to have to see horseface up on the podium again. I hope I'm blacked out by then.
Broncos 24, Panthers 21 (OT)
Yes that's right, the first overtime Super Bowl in league history! The game will start off with a defensive struggle as both the Broncos and Panthers will be hyped beyond belief as the game gets underway. Eventually both offenses get in rhythm around halfway into the second quarter.
Denver will take a late 21-14 lead until Cam Newton leads a last second drive to tie the game as time expires. Both defenses make stops in OT as Peyton Manning ends his career leading one final drive and Brandon McManus gives #18 a finale to remember, kicking the championship winning field goal.
Broncos 21, Panthers 17
I don't feel strongly about his pick, and picking Carolina to score a measly 17 points may seem foolhardy, but the Denver defense is playing gangbusters right now, and while Carolina's offense has been superb, they rely so much on Cam's playmaking that a great defense should be able to neutralize them. That said, Carolina's defense is nothing to sneeze at and it's also hard to imagine how Denver is going to do much scoring. I think this will be a difficult-to-predict defensive slugfest, and probably an "ugly" Super Bowl, but in the end I like Emmanuel Sanders ability to exploit one of Carolina's few weak spots, and I like Denver's ability to beat up quarterbacks. So my official pick is Denver in a close one.
All of that said, if Carolina can get up a few scores early, things could get ugly for the Broncos in a hurry.
Broncos 20, Panthers 17
I have been a huge believer in the Denver defense all year (or since they shut down Green Bay) and their performance against the Patriots was a huge statement. Yes, Cam and the rest of the Panthers are rolling and appear hard to stop, but the Broncos have the right playmakers at the right spots to lock them down. In my eyes, if you can stop Brady and Belichick, you have the ability to stop anyone. Manning doesn't have to be great, which works in his favor. He is smart enough to not make colossal mistakes, which should be all he is asked to do.
I am also a sucker for good storylines. It doesn't get any better than Manning walking away on top.
Panthers 24, Broncos 17
The Broncos defense is great, but overlooked is the 6th-ranked Panthers defense. The worst single unit on the field is the Broncos offense. Carolina's numbers are a bit inflated as they played a weaker regular season, but they looked great against Seattle and the Cardinals, both top-five scoring offenses. The only thing I see for Denver would be the realization that this team is getting blown up in the offseason and this is the last season before their window closes.
Broncos 24, Panthers 20
I don't feel real great either way in this game. Cam Newton has had an MVP season, as has the Bronco defense. I think Wade Phillips schemes to eliminate the Panthers' run game and short passing game (as much as possible), forcing Newton to beat them over the top. In reality, the team that gets the "easy" points via special teams or defensive takeaways will win this game. The Broncos defense can do just that.
Panthers 21, Broncos 17
This is definitely going to be a defensive showdown, meaning a key offensive play down the stretch will probably be your deciding factor. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have been able to make those plays all year, proving people wrong time and time again.
As much as I'd love to see "The Sheriff" ride off into the sunset with a championship for the story, I think they'll just be too much to overcome here. I've been one of those people picking against them all season, and I've finally come around for the big game.
Finally tally: Panthers 5, Broncos 5
Editor's note: Please welcome Zach Roethlisberger to the APC staff. We got his Super Bowl pick in before his first article, but we are very excited to welcome him on board!