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“Can Cam Newton transition from college to the pros?”

“Can a quarterback like Cam take a franchise to new heights?”

“Can Newton mature and grow up and play like a professional?”

“The Panthers are a seven win team in 2015.”

 

For years I have asked these questions and made these statements when I look at Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

In my years as a football fan, I have never seen such a dramatic turnaround by a franchise. The Panthers have gone from being a borderline playoff team (like they were a year ago) to being 60 minutes away from completing one of the greatest seasons of all time.

I was dead wrong on practically every aspect of the Carolina Panthers this season. Cam Newton was the league’s MVP – and he did it without his top wide receiver from training camp. He went from having a lack of talent on offense to making it as one of the league’s best. Cam Newton is the quintessential example of how a great player can make everyone else on the team – defense included – great.

Cam Newton is the type of player that can beat you in countless ways. He can operate under many types of pass and run plays, and can penetrate his receivers with the football. His release is unfairly quick if you ask me. He is just too good.

First, in terms of offense: the offensive line was tremendous. Two starting linemen were elected to the Pro Bowl team, which is a good indicator of how good Carolina’s offense was. Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton combined to run for over 1600 yards.

Then there’s the defense, oh my goodness… It’s pretty darn scary, if you ask me. Ask Josh Norman. Ask Luke Kuechly. Ask anybody. We knew this defense had potential, but the way everything came together was impressive.

Josh Norman’s confrontation with Giants superstar wide out Odell Beckham, Jr. in December is the most glaring specimen of toughness this team has encountered. The two superstars tussled endlessly, and Norman probably won the battle. Just think about where Norman came from.

He did not receive any athletic scholarships from any Division in school but was considered the greatest athlete his school in South Carolina ever had. He then went to Coastal Carolina, an FCS school, making the team as a walk-on. He eventually made all-conference teams in his junior and senior years. He was a Day 3 NFL Draft choice four years ago by Carolina.

To the best of my ability, I could not believe Carolina beat Seattle in the divisional round and then the well-disciplined Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game. I couldn’t believe how they started 14-0 given their preseason outlook and talent that they had on paper.

Flip the coin.

What is on the other side of the table?

The sheriff, of course!

And what about Peyton Manning? The greatest regular season quarterback did not have his “greatest regular season,” throwing 17 interceptions compared to only 9 touchdowns for a Denver Broncos offense. Although, he was back to his old self in Week 17 of the regular season when backup Brock Osweiler struggled mightily against an inept San Diego defense and took them to the winning drive that enabled them to clinch the top seed in the AFC.

After taking care of the Steelers in the divisional playoffs, he found himself in the 17th matchup between himself and Tom Brady. And boy, did he need the league’s number one defense to beat him.

The defense is simply amazing. They had to make three stops inside their own 30 yard line and they got them all, including the 2 point conversion stop at the end of the game against the Patriots last week. With 52 sacks, they have more than any other team, and they have elite talent with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in the trenches. They also have Aqib Talib in the secondary. This Denver defense will be tough to stop.

But, through my own lens, the Carolina Panthers have proved to be a team of destiny.

The league’s MVP this season was the best quarterback in the league, in its best team. The Carolina Panthers are one win away from sealing their place as one of the greatest teams ever to have existed, not that anybody expected them to be this great. But the defense will play a huge role, as will its wide receivers. Give me the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton, and everyone involved in its organization over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos any day. This is a game of mental toughness on both sides of the ball, and I think Carolina will show more of that.

I am also picking an unlikely MVP. I say that Corey Brown, who caught an 86-yard touchdown pass two weeks ago from Newton, will be the game’s key player. I say 10 receptions, 120 yards, and 2 touchdowns for Brown.

 

Panthers 33, Broncos 20

 

Game MVP: Corey Brown, WR, Carolina Panthers