For Peyton Manning, Super Bowl 50 is unlike any other Super Bowl he’s ever played in before. For the first time ever, the future Hall-of-Famer is actually the underdog.
That’s right. In his illustrious 18-year career, Peyton Manning has always entered whatever game he’s played in as the top dog, the one player on the field that should by all accounts dominate everyone else on the field.
But a funny thing happened en route to the Denver Broncos defeating the New England Patriots last week to make it the Super Bowl. Everyone bet against Peyton to win. Even now, according to Bleacher Report, Vegas has the Carolina Panthers as the odds on favorite to defeat the Denver Broncos by at least a touchdown.
“The Carolina Panthers are six-point favorites to best the Denver Broncos. The line opened at 3.5 and has risen all week, pointing to heavy action in the NFC champions’ favor.”
Their preview of the big game lends credence to what everyone believes will happen when Cam Newton squares off against Peyton in the big game.
“By most measures, the Panthers are simply a better team than the Broncos. A casual observer need look no further than the records, as Carolina has lost one game to Denver’s four.”
And therein lies the advantage Peyton Manning has never had as a quarterback in the NFL: everyone expects him to lose. All pundits feel Cam Newton and the punishing Carolina defense will lay waste to Peyton, whose performance during the 2015 season was so pedestrian at times that he was benched in favor of aspiring talent Brock Osweiler.
In fact, heading into the playoffs, many pundits felt Brock Osweiler and not the more accomplished Manning should start. NFL.com for example felt that despite a big rescue from Peyton in the final game of the regular season — which allowed the Broncos to capture the number one seed in the AFC — that Manning should return to the bench in favor of Brock, who had played well while Peyton was injured throughout the year.
“Yes, it was a great, needed win. But let’s not go nuts and become prisoners of the moment. Let’s not forget everything that has transpired this season. Osweiler handed the Patriots their first loss of the season in Week 12. Osweiler beat the Bengals with a great second half in Week 16. Those are the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the AFC playoffs. On the season, Osweiler has thrown 10 touchdown passes against six interceptions, with an 86.4 passer rating.”
Meanwhile, blogger Adam Schein pointed out Manning’s horrible regular season numbers that included just nine TD strikes against 17 picks, with a career-worst 67.9 passer rating.
With that kind of doubt around Peyton’s numbers, and more importantly his arm strength — another hot button issue in league circles — it’s a miracle Manning could even make it onto the field minus the wheel chair. At least, that’s how everyone feels about him. Which gives him the advantage for the first time of not having to meet anyone’s expectations about his greatness.
The knock on Peyton throughout his career is that he doesn’t play big in big games. In fact, to many, his lone Super Bowl victory had more to do with opposing quarterback Rex Grossman’s inability to complete a pass in the rain than Peyton Manning’s MVP performance in the game.
“The Colts prevailed over the Bears 29-17 on Sunday, but Manning would be wise to send a thank-you note to Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman,” ESPN wrote in its game recap.
And now, he doesn’t have to apologize or give excuses. Because no one expects him to win. And for the first time in his career he can step on the field for Super Bowl 50 and simply play football to the best of his ability without the word legacy hanging over his shoulders.
And that might just be enough for Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos to pull out the victory in the end.
[Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]