Peyton Manning's return to the Super Bowl is a great feel-good story, but it looks like he's only going to Levi's Stadium to pass the baton to the choice of a new generation -- Panthers superstar Cam Newton.
Sure, the tenacious Denver Broncos "D" will be a challenge for Newton and the multi-faceted Carolina offense. You saw what it did to Tom Brady on Sunday, knocking him all over Sports Authority Field. But you also saw the Broncos win by just a couple of points, thanks to a missed PAT by Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski and an intercepted two-point conversion pass at the end.
The Broncos are not a scoring machine. They averaged 22 points per game during the regular season and have stuck almost exactly to that average (21.5) in two playoff games. The Panthers led the NFL with a 31-point scoring average over their 16 regular-season games and have turned their point production up a notch in the postseason -- scoring 31 against a pretty good Seahawks defense and scorching the Cardinals with an NFC title game record of 49 on Sunday.
They probably aren't going to cool off over the next two weeks.
The Panthers have opened as a 4 1/2-point favorite to finish this season tying the best record in the era of the 16-game schedule (Patriots, 2007). It'll be interesting to see whether that line increases as we get closer to the Super Bowl or if Manning's huge fan following pushes it down.
What is not open to debate -- regardless of the point spread -- is the terrific entertainment potential of this matchup.