Super Bowl 50: Cam Newton vs Peyton Manning – who will win?
Newton's Panthers are favourites to beat the Broncos, but a win for Manning would be a fairytale end to his career
Sunday's Super Bowl 50 has been billed the ultimate clash between "offense" and "defense", as the free-wheeling Carolina Panthers, led by quarterback Cam Newton, take on the parsimonious Denver Broncos, who have the best defence in the game.
But while Newton has stolen the show this season and is a shoo-in for the NFL's most valuable player award, the match could also hinge on the fortunes of his opposite number - Denver's iconic quarterback Peyton Manning, now 39 and playing in his fourth, and presumably final, Super Bowl.
So how do the two match up?
The charismatic 26-year-old Panthers quarterback has come good in spectacular fashion this season, leading his side to 17 victories in 18 games on their march to the Super Bowl. Most people expect it to become 18 victories at Levi's Stadium in San Francisco on Sunday.
Newton has had a stellar season, throwing 35 touchdowns and even scoring ten himself. He is, says the Daily Telegraph, "a machine".
He is also more than happy to soak up the limelight. Indeed, he has also become so famous that even his footwear has become newsworthy, notes the Washington Post.
"Every single Cam Newton take has been written," says the paper. "He’s egotistical! He’s great! Very few people actually hate him! He’s a black quarterback and that’s important! There’s nothing left of Cam to talk about. Except that he wears socks and sandals to news conferences."
But this season he has done most of his talking in cleats, rather than Crocs, accounting for an extraordinary 76 per cent of his team's overall yardage.
"Up to this point, his supersized projections of his own value have seemed obnoxiously premature," says Sally Jenkins, also of the Washington Post. But this season "he has morphed from a pretender into a player of monstrous substance and superiority".
Even in Denver, Newton is the main attraction. "For many, Newton represents football's evolution, both as sports and entertainment," writes Patrick Sunader of the Denver Post. "[He] is a chiseled 6ft 5in, 250-pound man who throws lasers and plows over defenders. He dances and dabs in the end zone. He speaks his mind. He named his infant son Chosen. He's a lightning rod of attention."
If Newton is the future, then 39-year-old Manning must be the past.
The Denver quarterback is widely expected to be playing in his last ever game and is no longer the player who guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2014, scoring an average of 37.9 points per game during the regular season. Instead, the Broncos' strength is now in defense, while Manning even lost his place as starting quarterback.
Indeed, it has been "the worst season of his career, in which he threw nearly twice as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (nine)", notes Paolo Bandini in The Guardian. But he came up trumps as he masterminded victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC play-off game, yet "there is no escaping the fact that Manning, even fully healthy, does not generate the same velocity on his passes as he once did".
Unlike Newton, Manning "is from the old-school, a more introverted leader of his team", says former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora in the London Evening Standard. And his experience and superior game management may prove critical.
"If the game is within a score going into the final quarter, I think the Broncos will sneak it and complete the fairytale ending for Manning that many in America are rooting for," he says.
After 18 seasons in the NFL, Manning is looking the 201st win of his career and it would "cement his legacy", writes Nick Groke of the Denver Post.
"Manning is lucky. Rarely do the greats get a chance to walk off with such drama."