Super Bowl 50 Matchup Observations: Panthers Have More Sustainable Success


There are seemingly hundreds of storylines for Sunday’s Super Bowl, ranging from whether the NFL is entering the Cam Newton era of dominance to Peyton Manning’s “last rodeo.”  Here is an observation about how the teams got here and if they can return.

Panthers Success Is More Sustainable

Win or lose on Sunday, there’s a much greater chance that we’ll see the Carolina Panthers back competing for a title than we will the Denver Broncos.  It doesn’t mean that Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is better at his job than John Elway.  It’s just the way the teams are built.

The Panthers began by taking their franchise quarterback and then built their defense in subsequent drafts.  It’s a leap of faith that a No. 1 overall pick is going to blossom the way you hope he will, but it happened for Carolina.

“Just look at Carolina,” Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said to Football Insiders in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.  “First they got the quarterback and then they were able to build up the defense.”

Jacksonville is trying to follow the Panthers lead.

“The Panthers started with Cam (Newton), and then they got (Luke) Kuechly and Star Loteleilei and Shaq (Thompson).  We can do the same thing,” Bradley explained.

The reason why Jacksonville and other teams are trying to follow that lead is because you can win any game with an elite quarterback.  Denver is trying to build their team 1990’s style, with a stifling defense and just enough offense to get by.

We saw that happen with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but not really since.

The problem with playing the way the Broncos do is that you have to be pretty much perfect to win.  No special teams slip-ups or turnovers.  The perfect example was the AFC Championship Game a few weeks ago.  Denver seemingly dominated the Patriots on the field and played perfectly, but were a two-point conversion away from going to overtime.

Building a elite defense is difficult in today’s football with most of the rules slated toward passing.  If the officials call defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference closely, that great defense can be quickly nullified.

Another issue with building defensively instead of at the quarterback position is that as difficult as it is to find a franchise quarterback, it’s easier than finding eight or nine great players at once.  Denver has done a great job of capitalizing on their defense, but how sustainable is it?  DeMarcus Ware is in the twilight of his career, as is T.J. Ward.  Aqib Talib, Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe are all free agents.  Not all of them will return.  When you peer into the future, that devastating defense doesn’t have much staying power.

As we look at the other sideline, does anyone expect Cam Newton to have a significant drop off at 26 years old?  What about his weapons?  They can’t possibly put lesser offensive players around him at the skill positions.

It’s highly conceivable that the 17-1 Panthers will be much better next season.  Even if they aren’t, as long as Newton is there and in his prime (which he hasn’t even hit yet), they will be legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

That’s why other teams are building their rosters following the Panthers model.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.