Super Bowl 50: Von Miller and Cam Newton are the frontmen in a rock and roll Super Bowl clash
It's an irresistable match-up.
The 2011 Draft is already destined to go down as one of the greatest in history of the NFL. The first-round alone has already contributed 14 Pro Bowlers, including defensive god JJ Watt, wide receivers AJ Green and Julio Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson, while Seahawks star Richard Sherman was a fifth-round gem.
The teams holding the top two picks in the draft that year were the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos and both were in the market for a quarterback in a class expected to be headlined by Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
Luck, though, went back to Stanford for another year and after the Panthers selected Newton, the Broncos went for defence and chose outside linebacker Von Miller second overall, finally resolving their need for a better signal caller than Tim Tebow by signing free agent Peyton Manning.
And while much of the media focus has deservedly been centred on Manning in what looks set to be his last NFL game this Sunday night, Super Bowl 50 is likely to be won and lost elsewhere, with Newton and Miller the focal points of the game's key match-up between the rock and roll forces of the Denver defence and the Carolina offence.
The Broncos literally rocked Tom Brady's world two weeks ago, hitting the Patriots passer more than 20 times in the AFC title game, the most a quarterback has gone down all season.
Miller led the way with four hits, 2.5 sacks and a further two tackles behind the line of scrimmage, while opposite number DeMarcus Ware and linemen Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe took turns in teeing off on Brady.
It was a team effort to be sure, but one led by Miller, the man with 60 career sacks in his five-season career who draws the most attention and allows others to flourish. In addition to his full range of pash rush moves, though, Miller also possesses the agility and speed to drop back in coverage, as evidenced when he picked off a Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski last week.
That display was a defensive masterclass drawn up by veteran coordinator Wade Phillips, one which worked to cut down Brady's options in the short passing game while hurrying him at the same time, but even Phillips has confessed that he has no idea if he can come up with a scheme to break down an unexpectedly productive offensive line and neutralise Newton.
"They asked me if I had seen a quarterback like Cam Newton. There isn’t one like him," Phillips told the media. "I haven’t seen one like him. None of us have."
Newton and the Panthers have reached the Super Bowl by rolling over two of the best defences in the sport, running up 31 and 27-point leads over the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals in the play-offs and the man former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh once described as 'plutonium-grade raw material' has been at the heart of Carolina's offensive dominance.
'Dual threat' quarterbacks were very much de rigeur a couple of years back as the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson threatened to take over the league, and while Kaepernick got to a Super Bowl and Wilson won another, it is Newton that now looks like the evolution of the position, not only for his play but for the joy with which he plays the game, an exuberance which has infected his team-mates.
He might infuriate cranky traditionalists with his 'Super-Cam' antics and endzone dances, but the tradition of handing touchdown ball to children in the stands that he started is among the coolest in sport right now.
On the field, in addition to the running ability and his much improved passing from the pocket, Newton stands 6ft 5in and 111kg and is built like a tight end, bigger than most of the linebackers and safeties attempting to bring him down in the open field.
Cam Newton rolls right...
Gets a convoy...
And SuperCams into the end zone. Not fair. #KeepPounding #AZvsCAR https://t.co/uUNXerDOn8
— NFL (@NFL) January 25, 2016
There is absolutely nobody else in the league that could make the two plays above, on successive snaps against the Cardinals, and that size makes him not only a threat to scramble on broken plays, but on designed runs too. According to NFL Films' Greg Cosell, Newton has gained more than 400 yards on planned quarterback runs this season, double that of second placed Wilson.
Newton adds another layer of complexity to a running game that also has an unusual level of success from passing formations, making it unlike anything the Broncos top-rated defensive unit will have faced all year.
Given Denver's own struggles on offence, their total of 43 points is only slightly more than half Carolina's in the play-offs, the Broncos know they have to keep Newton in check, especially early on, and that responsibility rests on Miller and company being able to execute whatever plan Phillips concocts.
Carolina started out as 3.5-point favourites but despite many sharp bettors favouring Denver, an overwhelming amount of the public have weighed in on the Panthers, pushing the line up to 5.5. As you can probably tell, we're a little sceptical of the Broncos ability to score more than 20 points, and while we'd certainly have preferred to be lumping on the Panthers at -3.5, we'll still give the slight edge to the favourites to cover the larger number.
(NB, if, like us, you like Carolina but are afraid of the spread, you could do worse than taking the 8/11 odds on Newton for MVP. For those and all the other weird and wacky Super Bowl 50 markets, check out our betting preview here).