Fresh Faces and Familiar Foes

The quarterback still reigns supreme in the NFL, and on Sunday four of the most recognized quarterbacks will try to stake their claim in Super Bowl 50.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet for the 17th time in their illustrious careers. Manning and Brady have been almost as synonymous as peanut butter and jelly. This will be the fifth time that they have met in the playoffs and the fourth in the AFC Conference Championship game.

This year is different.

No longer is Peyton Manning a surgical engineer for an air strike offense while a putrid defense holds him back. Manning was statistically the worst quarterback in the NFL this year. He threw at least one interception in every game he started this year, save for his lone playoff game. He somehow finished second in interceptions despite missing the final seven games of the year. He has lost any resemblance of mobility he may have had and has become a sitting duck in many instances when he is unable to find an initial look down the field.

With all that being said, Manning has done the most important thing in his last 1.5 games: he has won.

Manning engineered two straight late comeback wins against the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburg Steelers.

If he can protect the ball, then he can lean on a stout and suffocating defense.

Tom Brady was on his way to having the best year of his career at the ripe age of 38 until his offensive skill players started getting hurt at a rate of once a week.

He lost his starting wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, starting tight end Rob Gronkowski and starting running back LeGarette Blount all in consecutive weeks. There were tough times in Foxborough that saw the Patriots somehow lose four out of its final six games.

However, it looks like the skies are beginning to open for the Patriots as they welcomed back Edelman and Gronkowski for its opening match up against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Gronkowski picked up over 80 yards and two touchdowns in his sleep, and all Edelman did was catch 10 balls for 100 yards and seven first downs.

The quarterbacks of these teams are 2-2 against each other in the Conference Championship, and this will probably be the last time we see these two titans square against each other.

On the other side of the bracket, two quarterbacks who had only won one playoff game combined prior to this past weekend will play in both of their first conference championships. Cam Newton who is expected to win his first NFL Most Valuable Player award for his superb year will face off against Carson Palmer, who has had a career renaissance thanks to Bruce Arians’ air raid attack.

Palmer had a career year for the Arizona Cardinals, winning 14 games in the regular season.

On his way to throwing for the most passing yards of his career, Palmer also throw the least amount of interceptions he has ever thrown in a year where he started at least seven games. Just four and a half years ago, it seemed as if Palmer’s career was left for dead when he all but retired from Cincinnati because he just did not want to play. He then had two forgettable years with the Oakland Raiders.

Then, Arians came calling and since, when he has been healthy, he has been on a tear. He has been given a disposal of weapons including three 800-yard receivers (Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown) and two 1,000 yard receivers (Fitzgerald, Brown), as well as third round draft pick rookie running back out of University of Northern Iowa, David Johnson.

The likely MVP Cam Newton is fresh off of his second career playoff win, and it looks as if this is only the beginning for Mr. Dab. Newton took his games to new heights this year behind an infectious swagger and exuberant joy as he rifled touchdown passes to wide receivers you would expect to see on a team that is not 15-1.

Newton played the entire year without his number one option from last year Kelvin Benjamin who tore his ACL in training camp. Benjamin was a 1,000 yard receiver his rookie year.

Instead, Newton threw 10 touchdowns to Ted Ginn, which is all the more improbable when you consider that Ginn had 11 career receiving touchdowns at the end of August. He threw five more to rookie receiver Devin Funchess and four to undrafted free agent Corey Brown.

Newton’s prowess in the running game hasn’t even been discussed as he orchestrated the number two rushing attack in the NFL and ran for 630 yards and 10 touchdowns. The defense that plays behind him is pretty good as well as they had three All-Pro defenders.

Two quarterbacks in each of their first conference championship games and two quarterbacks in their 10th (Brady) and 6th (Manning) conference championships.

A perfect unison between old and new.

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