Denver Broncos (20) vs. New England Patriots (18)
Box Score from ESPN
Tom Brady had another MVP-caliber season. 36 TDs, only 7 INTs. Brady’s 4,770 passing yards are his most in a season since 2012. The New England Patriots, thanks in large part to Tom Brady, found themselves here again, in the AFC Championship. But it’s Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, this time, who get to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
This game was filled with mistakes, something that Tom Brady is not known for. Usually a precision-based quarterback, Brady only completed 48% of his passes against the Broncos. A late touchdown to Rob Gronkowski helped, but before that, Brady’s two interceptions stood out as the difference in this game.
Manning was able to navigate through a stout Patriots defense, combining short passes and occasional deep-chances, guiding the Broncos to their second Super Bowl appearance in four years since Manning arrived in Denver. Manning only passed for 176 yards, but his two touchdown passes to Owen Daniels provided the Broncos enough firepower to outscore the Patriots.
This game, in dramatic fashion, was not decided until the waning seconds. Brady completed a touchdown to Gronkowski with only 12 seconds remaining in the game, to trim Denver’s lead to 20-18. The resulting two-point conversion was unsuccessful, and the Broncos recovered the onside-kick attempt to close out the victory.
Von Miller, the Broncos’ star linebacker, was the game-changer. Constantly harassing Brady, Miller was able to knock Brady down four times, and sack him another two-and-a-half times. The key play for Miller though was his interception, which he ripped out of the air on a short pass by Brady, and lead to a Broncos touchdown on the next drive.
Play of the game: Broncos’ Bradley Roby intercepts Brady’s 2-point conversion attempt to seal the Broncos win
MVP of the game: Von Miller – 5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 QB knockdowns, and an INT
Carolina Panthers (49) vs. Arizona Cardinals (15)
Box Score from ESPN
In what has become their signature, the Carolina Panthers dominated this game in the first half. The Arizona Cardinals never found their footing, turning the ball over SEVEN TIMES to the merciless Panthers defense. Cam Newton, the likely league MVP, played a typical stellar game, tossing two touchdowns and running in another two himself.
This win doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The Panthers held the best record in the NFL, 15-1. They defeated the Seattle Seahawks last week in the Divisional Round, a team that had made it to the last two Super Bowls. Carolina, behind Cam Newton, had become a juggernaut before this game even began. That’s why the Panthers had a reasonable chance heading into this game.
However, the Cardinals are not just any team. Arizona finished with the second-best record in football, and were coming off an impressive win of their own last week against the Green Bay Packers. Carson Palmer had been revitalized in Arizona, having arguably the best season of his career this season. But the Panthers were just too relentless, too hungry, and too good to lose.
The Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, and the Cardinals never came within ten points after that. Palmer was atrocious, tossing a whopping four interceptions and losing two fumbles. Larry Fitzgerald, the hero of last week’s overtime win, only caught four passes for 30 yards. The Panthers were the better team, and they proved that fact in every way.
Like 2014, the Super Bowl will be played by the number-one seed in each conference. The Panthers, NFC Champions, take an MVP-caliber quarterback in Newton, to face the Broncos’ vaunted suffocating defense. No matter the result, this Super Bowl figures to be a good one.
Play of the game: Patrick Peterson fumbles the punt, Panthers recover
MVP of the game: Cam Newton. 335 passing yards. 47 rushing yards. 4 total touchdowns.
Super Bowl 50 will be played February 7th, 2016
Denver Broncos (12-4) vs. Carolina Panthers (15-1)
Statistics provided by: ESPN.com and pro-football-reference.com
Images from Intice, Washington Times, Fox Sports, Sports Blog, The Source, USA Today and Rukkus