USA TODAY Sports Weekly



USA TO­DAY Sports writ­ers and colum­nists pre­dict the Su­per Bowl re­sult: NANCY ARMOUR

I’m not sure which is scarier, Carolina’s of­fense or its de­fense — and given Cam New­ton’s MVP sea­son, that’s say­ing some­thing. The Ari­zona Car­di­nals de­fense was not ex­actly what you’d call slack­ers, yet that’s ex­actly what New­ton made it look like. He carved up the Car­di­nals with his arm and his feet; his size and speed will neu­tral­ize Den­ver’s suf­fo­cat­ing pass rush. Carolina forced Ari­zona into seven turnovers — four in­ter­cep­tions and three fum­bles. Pey­ton Man­ning won’t make the kind of mis­takes Car­son Palmer did, but his lack of mo­bil­ity will leave him vul­ner­a­ble to Carolina’s speed and power.

uThe pick: Pan­thers 35-17


Fu­eled by the magic of New­ton, no NFL team has been as hot for as long this sea­son as the in-your- face Pan­thers. Just think: If not for a phe­nom­e­nal touch­down by Julio Jones in Week 16, Carolina might be on the verge of a per­fect sea­son. In­stead, the Pan­thers will bring all of their swag­ger into Su­per Bowl 50. Den­ver packs the No. 1 de­fense and the mys­tique of Man­ning, but Carolina’s mo­men­tum will be tough to top.

uThe pick: Pan­thers 27-23


New­ton has be­come the league’s most dy­namic force, and he’ll de­servedly earn his first MVP the night be­fore the big game. But this all about Man­ning, the only five­time MVP in NFL his­tory. Backed by a de­fense that just sti­fled Tom Brady and can surely check all of New­ton’s weapons, look for Man­ning to take his scalpel to a Carolina unit be­set with in­juries. He might not be equipped any­more to beat the Pan­thers with his arm, but he can def­i­nitely de­feat them with his mind — ex­pect Den­ver WR Em­manuel San­ders to be a key mis­match — and get the sto- ry­book end­ing to his 18-year ca­reer and that se­cond ring he has been chas­ing for nine years.

uThe pick: Bron­cos 24-23


I picked the Carolina Pan­thers when the play­offs started, and noth­ing has hap­pened in their two play­off wins to con­vince me that they’re not still not the fa­vorite. The big­gest rea­son is New­ton and the unique threat he pro­vides as a dual-threat quar­ter­back. The Bron­cos de­fense has been spec­tac­u­lar in the post­sea­son, and it should give New­ton his big­gest chal­lenge of the sea­son. But if New­ton truly is the MVP, this is where he proves it.

uThe pick: Pan­thers 24-21


It’s hard to en­vi­sion a Pan­thers de­fense that has han­dled the league’s best hav­ing any trou­ble with a Bron­cos at­tack that has been pass­able at its peak. Luke Kuechly and the rest of the ball- hawk­ing unit could have op­por­tu­ni­ties against Man­ning if Den­ver’s run­ning game can’t break through. Carolina will have to find a way past the league’s No. 1 de­fense, but it shouldn’t need to match its re­cent run of pro­lific per­for­mances.

uThe pick: Pan­thers 21-0


Carolina has not faced a de­fense like Den­ver’s. But with a ro­bust rush­ing at­tack fea­tur­ing New­ton and Jonathan Ste­wart, and the con­sis­tent threat of tight end Greg Olsen, the Pan­thers will move the ball. And ex­pect the Pan­thers’ pass rush to give Man­ning fits.

uThe pick: Pan­thers 23-17


It was im­pres­sive to watch the Pan­thers of­fense in per­son Sun­day. It’s do­ing next-level stuff in the run­ning game, and New­ton can hurt you in a lot of ways. Now, the Bron­cos are more tal­ented than the Car­di­nals on de­fense, par­tic­u­larly up front. The Pan­thers run de­fense needs to be bet­ter than it was Sun­day, and the in­juries keep adding up on that side of the ball. But I’m done bet­ting against Carolina this sea­son.

uThe pick: Pan­thers 27-23


The Pan­thers have ev­ery­thing go­ing for them. The matchup ev­ery­one will want to watch is New­ton and Carolina’s league­lead­ing of­fense against Den­ver’s stingy de­fense that bat­tered Brady and the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game. The dif­fer­ence will come when the Bron­cos have the ball. Though Man­ning showed he could man­age the game and make enough plays to win in the post­sea­son, Carolina’s front four and pass rush should make things a lot more dif­fi­cult for Den­ver. And if the game is tight in the fourth quar­ter, New­ton is ca­pa­ble of mak­ing any play needed to win.

uThe pick: Pan­thers 27-23

 ?? TROY WAYRYNEN, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Quar­ter­back Cam New­ton has been the cat­a­lyst of a Pan­thers of­fense that has av­er­aged 40 points and 385.5 to­tal yards in two post­sea­son games.
TROY WAYRYNEN, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Quar­ter­back Cam New­ton has been the cat­a­lyst of a Pan­thers of­fense that has av­er­aged 40 points and 385.5 to­tal yards in two post­sea­son games.

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