CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- New versus old. The Dab versus the Charleston. One last chance for Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning to put the cherry on top of his brilliant career. The first of what could be many chances for Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. The league's highest scoring team against its most fearsome defense. Super Bowl 50 has no shortage of potential storylines, and we've got two whole weeks to dig them out and pick them apart.
So let's officially kick off the most frenzied fortnight of hype in pro sports with five questions about Super Bowl 50.
Who's No. 1? This is the first Super Bowl in which both starting quarterbacks were No. 1 overall draft picks. Manning was picked first overall by the Colts in 1998, and Carolina made Newton the No. 1 overall pick 13 years later. Cam's arm looks at least 13 years younger than Peyton's, and he has lost only once this season. Manning, meanwhile, had to sit out six games because of a foot injury and come off the bench in another. There's little doubt which of these guys is the current face of the NFL, but Manning and the best defense he has ever had will get two weeks to rest. And the chance to ride off into the sunset the way John Elway did is major motivation for Manning. A win in this game would make chicken parm taste like burnt tofu by comparison.
And what about No. 2? Denver pass-rusher Von Miller was not a No. 1 overall pick, but he was taken right after Newton in 2011. Newton and Manning won't be on the field at the same time, but Newton and Miller sure will. And after going all Yahtzee on the stat sheet Sunday with 2.5 sacks, four QB hits and an interception, Miller looks primed to be a major factor in the Super Bowl. Denver averages 22 points per game to Carolina's 32, so the Broncos aren't likely to win a shootout. They win with defense and will have to pressure Newton better than the Cardinals did if they're to have a chance to keep this close. Tom Brady was 2-of-15 for three yards against Denver's pressure Sunday.
What will Denver's offensive game plan look like? Manning has now been to the Super Bowl with four different head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLI under Tony Dungy, lost Super Bowl XLIV under Jim Caldwell and lost Super Bowl XLVIII under John Fox. There are obvious ideological conflicts between the way Manning likes to play offense and the way Gary Kubiak does. But they have managed, in spite of those differences, to collaborate their way to Super Bowl 50. How much will they go run-heavy with Manning in the shotgun? How much will they put him in shotgun and let him survey his options in greater comfort? Again, as long as the defense does its thing, the Broncos don't need a ton of points to win. But Manning will need to show at least a little bit of what he and the offense showed in Sunday's first half before they just handed the game off to Miller & Co. to win on their own.
Will Thomas Davis play? Carolina's star linebacker left the NFC Championship Game in the first half because of an arm injury that surely will be tracked extensively for the next 14 days. Carolina is loaded with front-seven studs and could conceivably get by, but there would be a sad irony in Davis having to miss the Super Bowl because of an injury. His comeback from three ACL repairs on the same knee has been one of the more inspirational NFL stories of the past couple of years.
How much film will these teams need to watch? These are not two teams that are familiar to each other. Carolina is 1-3 all-time against Denver, and the teams haven't played since Nov. 11, 2012. That day, Manning and the Broncos beat Newton and the Panthers 36-14 with the help of a punt-return touchdown, an interception-return touchdown and a safety. The only way you remember that game is if you started the Broncos' defense/special teams in fantasy that week. Everyone has plenty of time to study, but this one has the feel of an old-school, interconference bowl game matchup between teams that don't think about each other very often.