Nobody gave the Denver Broncos a chance to win Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night. Going up against a powerful opponent in the Carolina Panthers and newly announced league MVP Cam Newton, it almost felt as if the Broncos were never even supposed to show up in Santa Clara, Calif. at Levi’s Stadium. Former players, celebrities, and “expert” analysts all said the Panthers would run them out of the building.
Luckily for the Broncos and their loyal fan base, football games aren’t played on paper and aren’t determined by the opinions of the outside world. On the shoulders of one of the most dominant defenses the NFL has seen in recent memory (yes, we hear you Seahawks fans), Denver rolled to the franchise’s third Super Bowl title by a fairly surprising score of 24-10. As the week goes on and the league gets further into it’s offseason, people will dissect the Broncos’ victory in every way possible. For an early take though, here’s a few key things you should know about Denver’s championship.
The Broncos’ defense is among the greatest ever
Led by Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller, the Broncos proved that their defense — which has been superb all season long — deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best defenses in NFL history. Sure, this may sound like a bold statement, but when you break down the numbers, the truth about this unit comes out in full force. During the regular season, Denver’s defense led the league in total yards and sacks. They were also fourth in points allowed and seventh in takeaways. More important than their hard stats though was this unit’s ability to simply take over and win games for their team, even when Peyton Manning and the offense struggled mightily.
Their ability to score late in games and make game-altering plays was evidenced in the Broncos’ Week 1 victory against the Baltimore Ravens and continued throughout the season. With strength at every level, this defense had no weaknesses. That strength never gleamed brighter than in it did in the Broncos’ most important games of the season. In the AFC Championship, Miller and DeMarcus Ware shut down Tom Brady with help from lockdown play in the secondary by Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and Bradley Roby. Nobody thought they could do the same thing to Newton and the Panthers, but they forced Carolina to commit several turnovers and sacked Newton seven times.
If this unit can stay together, coupled with the presence of defense guru Wade Phillips, they give the Broncos a great chance to repeat in 2016-17. For this season, however, it’s tough not to think of this defense as one of the best ever. Of course, you have legendary units such as the ’85 Chicago Bears and the ’70s Pittsburgh Steelers, just to name a couple of the greats, but what the 2015-16 Broncos did — striking fear into their oppositions and dominating games — was a spectacle that NFL fans should not forget. No, they aren’t the best ever, but they sure deserve a lot of recognition.
Against the odds
With the odds heavily in the Panthers’ favor in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos’ win was certainly an upset. Carolina was favored by 5.5 points and in terms of Super Bowl history, it was one of several times that a team with a big point spread failed to capture the Lombardi trophy. The biggest upsets include the New York Jets’ historic win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, when they won by nine points despite being 18-point underdogs.
The next season in Super Bowl IV, the Kansas City Chiefs dominated the Minnesota Vikings to prove that 12.5-point spread false. Other big upsets in Super Bowl lore include the New York Giants’ win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV (7.5 in favor of the Bills), the Broncos’ win over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII (11 points in Green Bay’s favor), the Patriots’ win over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI (14 points in favor of the Rams), and the Giants’ win over the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII (Pats were favored by 12.5 in that one).
So while not the biggest upset ever, the Broncos’ win has to feel extra sweet for the team and their fans because they proved all of their doubters — and the oddsmakers — very wrong. Further, seeing Denver’s win and looking at the history of the game, it seems like being the underdog is almost an advantage on the biggest stage at this point.
Manning goes out on top
Manning didn’t explicitly state that he was going to retire following this long-awaited and much-deserved second Super Bowl ring. Should he retire though, it would be a storybook ending to one of the great career’s in NFL history. The debate on whether Manning deserves to be mentioned as potentially the greatest quarterback ever has been going on for several seasons now.
One thing that people always brought up was the glaring fact that No. 18 lacked a second championship. Now that he has that under his belt, what can people say to discount his status among the best positions ever? Manning has rewritten the record books in his 18 NFL seasons. He’s thrown the most passing yards ever, thrown the most passing touchdowns, and led the most career game-winning drives. He’s also won five MVP awards and has been named to countless Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams.
On Sunday, aside from adding a second Super Bowl ring, Manning also became the QB with the most combined regular season and postseason victories in the history of the game, winning No. 200 in potentially his final game. Regardless of what you think of his past failures in big moments, there’s no doubt that Manning is a top-five, maybe even top-three quarterback of all-time. The stats hold up and the multiple championships gives those numbers credibility (he’s also the only QB to ever win a Super Bowl with two different franchises).
It’s a game of opinions in determining who the best of all-time is, but if Sunday truly was his last game, we should marvel at the career Manning had and at the way he changed the game of football. For that, it’s time to say, “thank you, Mr. Manning.”