Panthers, ‘Superman’ land, prepare for Super Bowl 50

nfl-camsupermanThe Carolina Panthers touched down in Arizona on Sunday to begin preparations for Super Bowl 50. With a week’s worth of hype ahead, here are three key talking points before the Panthers faces off with the Denver Broncos (besides Cam Newton’s zebra-stripped tights):

QB or not QB

The two central characters are unmistakably the opposing quarterbacks. Peyton Manning represents the old school and faces questions about whether this will be the last game of his illustrious 18-year NFL career. Newton is new school, drawing rave reviews for his MVP-esque season while angering haters for his excessive celebrations.

Manning will be a calming force for the Broncos in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, attracting most of the pre-game attention so his teammates can keep their focus on the field. Newton will try to keep his younger team loose, as evident by his photo bombing of teammates’ selfies on the tarmac Sunday while sporting those hideous pants.

It’s never a stretch to say that the quarterback who plays the best will lead his team to victory. But particularly in this case, the QB whose team responds best to his leadership style stands the best chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday.

Check mate

Panthers coach Ron Rivera compares defending Manning to a “chess match” and hopes he has all the pieces in place to check mate the future Hall of Famer.

Rivera wants his team to play “situational football” when facing Manning instead of getting caught up in the guessing game of his famous “Omaha!” audible calls.

“You have to make sure you’re disguising and you are holding your disguise,” Rivera told USA Today. “He wants to undress the defense as quick as possible and get a feel for where they are going and he will know where to attack. I think it really is a great chess match – and not necessarily coordinator against coordinator, but quarterback against defense.”

The Panthers’ defense plans to keep a simple approach against the veteran signalcaller and his frantic hand gestures, false snap counts and other trademark tricks of the trade. In other words, the Panthers won’t be trying to crack the “Manning Code.”

“For me, I try to really concentrate on what I’m doing. He’s so smart,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly told USA Today. “He’s so smart, he’s got all the checks, the movements and gestures. You can’t worry about that too much because that’s part of his game. That’s who Peyton is … It’s fun to watch.”

Licking their Wounds

The health of the Panthers defense will play a big role in how well they can contain Manning. All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis, who underwent surgery to repair a broken forearm last week, is among seven players currently listed as questionable.

Davis’ surgery included the installation of 12 screws and a metal plate, but he will probably wear either a splint or cast to protect the injury. Davis was injured in the second quarter of the NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and fullback Mike Tolbert (knee), defensive end Charles Johnson (knee), center Ryan Kalil (knee), defensive tackle Kawann Short (knee) and running back Fozzy Whittaker (ankle) are also questionable.

Three other players were listed as probable: Veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (not injury related), wide receiver Philly Brown (ankle) and cornerback Robert McClain (ankle). All three fully participated in Friday’s practice.

Defensive end Jared Allen (foot) was not listed on the injury report. Allen missed the NFC title game because of a fractured foot, but he has been a full participant in practice this week.

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