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With only two days remaining before Super Bowl 50, let’s prep for the Big Game by playing a little game of our own.
Fill in the blank: The 2015 Denver Broncos have been a nice little story, winning 11 of their 14 close games and playing some strong defense, but they simply don’t _____________ well enough to have a shot at beating the almighty Carolina Panthers.
A number of folks no doubt immediately jumped on passing the ball for a quick answer as the Broncos ranked 14th in the league in aerial yards per game (248.1 overall and 224.9 under Peyton Manning) and 28th with only 19 regular-season scoring passes.
Or how about taking care of the ball as the Orange & Blue’s 31 turnovers were fewer than only the 3-13 Titans and 4-12 Cowboys (33 apiece) this season, and their minus-4 turnover differential easily was the worst among the 12 playoff qualifiers?
And then there is the simple matter of scoring enough points as Denver ranked 19th with 355 and finished with a pedestrian plus-59 point differential.
Yeah, sure, the Broncos certainly didn’t have the most productive of offensive seasons, but don’t go saying it’s a no-doubt reason they’re about to lose their NFL-record sixth Super Bowl.
The Broncos can win Sunday, and for undisputable proof, a list of the past 49 Super Bowl champs is all that’s required. Just start running a finger down the compilation, and you won’t have to go very far to get to the …
The fourth-seeded Ravens didn’t have a remarkable regular-season offense or defense – ranking a middle-of-the pack 16th in both in terms of total yards – but like the 2015 Broncos, they had a suspect offensive line that played better as the season went on and displayed an undeniable year-long knack for winning tight games, finishing 8-4 in contests decided by a touchdown or less. QB Joe Flacco got hot in the postseason, Baltimore did just enough to survive a pair of field-goal games in their toughest post-season tests – my apologies for dredging this up Broncos Country – and rallied around a future Hall of Famer riding in his last rodeo to snare the Lombardi Trophy.
See if this sounds somewhat familiar: That season’s Pittsburgh edition scored only 347 points, had the league’s 22nd-ranked total offense (311.9 yards per game) but owned the league’s top-ranked defense in terms of total (237.2 yards) and passing (156.9) yards allowed per game. They then got a clutch post-season performance from a quarterback who had previously won a Super Bowl and wound up winning it all.
The similarities here are even more eerie: A plus-22-point point differential, a negative-9 turnover ratio, a scoring and total offense which ranked 14th and 16th, respectively, a ferocious pass rush which paced the league in sacks and a Big Game-win out west over the league’s highest-scoring team as a decided underdog. And, oh yeah, a starting quarterback by the name of Manning.
These Bucs, of course, owned the league’s best defense, but their quarterback was Brad Johnson, a 30-something ultimate game manager who missed three regular-season starts, who guided an offense which ranked 18th in scoring and 24th in yards per game during the regular season. That D, however, allowed only 37 points in three playoff games and whip-sawed the high-scoring Raiders in the Super Bowl.
New England’s first winning Super Bowl run was led by Tom Brady – only before he was Tom Brady. The Patriots averaged only 193.1 passing yards per game, had all of 21 TD passes and finished with a plus-54 regular-season point differential, but the team banded together in the playoffs and concluded their title march with back-to-back victories over two heavily-favored opponents, including a 20-17 Super Bowl win over the St. Louis Rams, who led the league that season with 503 points.
That’s it — just a quick history lesson for all those pundits picking the Panthers this Sunday without nary a second thought.
And what was it about failing to study history? Think there was something along the lines of being doomed to repeat it …