Story highlights

Super Bowl 50 could be the final game of Peyton Manning's career

"Superman" Cam Newton has become a superstar

It's a dream matchup: No. 1 defense vs. No. 1 offense

San Francisco CNN  — 

Super Bowl 50 and the hoopla surrounding it is upon us. Yes, many will look forward to the commercials, the halftime show and the watch parties. But there’s a big thing that Super Bowl 50 viewers shouldn’t overlook: THE GAME!

This matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers has some incredibly compelling story lines. Below are five reasons why this Super Bowl could be the best one ever.

A storybook ending for Peyton Manning?

This is must-see TV: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning could be playing the final game of his storied career. He even alluded to it after beating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. NFL Films picked up the audio of Manning telling Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, “This might be my last rodeo.”

But we’ll have to wait to see if Manning is riding off into the sunset.

“Yeah, I haven’t made up my mind, but I don’t see myself knowing that until after the season,” Manning said. “Whatever cliché you want to use, but I kind of stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand and just deal with this week. That’s what I’ve done all season.”

According to and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Manning has told close friends he expects Sunday’s game to be his last. However, Manning’s family members previously have said the contrary publicly.

“He’s not said anything to me about it,” brother and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning said January 27. “I think I kind of think like everybody else where you see this as possibly being the last game. I don’t know if he knows himself or if he’s thought about it. … It’d be a good way to go out. I don’t know if it is, but because of that possibility, I hope that he can win this game and if he decides to hang it up, go out on top.”

Manning’s dad, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, echoed Eli’s thoughts.

“It’s been a good rodeo, been 18 good years,” Archie Manning said after the AFC Championship Game. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I promise you he hasn’t talked about it. Has not even brought it up.”

Manning turns 40 in March, and there has been wide speculation that this season could be his last. A product of age and previous neck surgeries, Manning’s numbers this season are a far cry from his Hall-of-Fame-worthy career stats. In fact, Manning had the worst season of any quarterback heading into the Super Bowl, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Manning threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 10 games during the regular season. His health and arm strength have been concerns. He missed six games this season with a partially torn plantar fascia in his left heel.

But Manning showed in the AFC Championship Game that he has something left, throwing two touchdown passes. Before that game, he had only thrown for one score at Sports Authority Field at Mile High all season.

The time off may have helped Manning, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week.

“As we approach the time before he took the break off with his foot, and I watched him play, he wasn’t playing healthy,” Kubiak said. “I think getting back totally healthy (and) feeling really good physically and mentally has really helped him over the course of this past month.”

Passing the torch?

In many ways, this feels like one era is ending and another is underway.

This is the largest age gap in Super Bowl history between the starting quarterbacks. Manning is 39 and is the oldest quarterback to start in the Super Bowl. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, in his first Super Bowl, is 26.

Their playing styles are very different, also a sign that they’re from different generations. Manning is a classic drop-back pocket passer. Newton, meanwhile, is nicknamed “Superman” for a reason, and he’s become a superstar this season. In the NFC Championship Game, Newton showed his ability as a dual threat, going 19 of 28 passing for 335 yards. He was responsible for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).

“He is one of those guys who is an awesome quarterback and he plays really well,” Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “He sits back there in the pocket, orchestrates his offense and he keeps the chains moving with his legs and also making big plays. We have things in place to slow him down, but sometimes, you can’t slow the train down – you have to let it keep rolling. Just with Cam, you have to figure out a way to stop him, because he is very active.”

Newton led the regular season with 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing) and became the first player in NFL history with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing scores in a single season.

No one has more combined rush and passing yards than Newton in a player’s first five seasons. He’s the only player in NFL history to have five seasons with 3,000 or more passing yards and 500 or more rushing yards at any point in a career.

Simply put, the Broncos haven’t faced a quarterback like Newton this season.

“He’s one of a kind,” Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. “You can’t find another guy like him on tape. He could take off at any moment and score a touchdown with his legs. He can throw the ball 70 yards, score a touchdown with his arm. So, you know, one of a kind man. One of a kind.”

There’s another sign that times have changed. African-American quarterbacks will have started in four consecutive Super Bowls once Newton takes the field (Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII and Russell Wilson the last two years). The first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Doug Williams in Super Bowl XXII on January 31, 1988.

Cam Newton could do something incredibly rare

With a win on Sunday, Newton would join some rare company.

Should Newton and the Panthers come out on top of Super Bowl 50, Newton could end up with the “grand slam” of college football and NFL hardware: the Heisman Trophy, a national championship, an NFL Most Valuable Player Award (he’s all but a lock to win; the announcement will be Saturday) and a Super Bowl ring.

Newton won the Heisman as well as the national championship in his one season at Auburn in 2010.

The only other player to accomplish all those feats? Marcus Allen, who played for the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Raiders. Allen won the national championship in 1978 when he was a freshman and won the Heisman in 1981. He was the NFL MVP in 1985. Allen was part of the Raiders’ team that won Super Bowl XVIII in the 1983 season, winning MVP honors in that game as well.

But perhaps Newton’s feats would be even more impressive, with his college accolades coming in the same season and his NFL honors also happening in the same year.

Actually, there’s more: Before he arrived at Auburn, while in junior college Newton and his team won the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship.

Should Newton accomplish all this Sunday, perhaps the feat should be called, as CBS Sports dubbed it, a Cam Slam.

“His confidence is through the roof right now,” Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert said. “He’s playing extremely well.”

No. 1 vs. No. 1

This is a fan’s dream. The Broncos are the top seed from the AFC; the Panthers were No. 1 in the NFC. Carolina has the best offense; Denver has the best defense. This is as No. 1 vs. No. 1 as you can get for a Super Bowl matchup.

Additionally, there will be some history on Sunday. This is the first Super Bowl pitting quarterbacks who were No. 1 overall NFL draft picks against each other. Manning was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998, when Newton was 8 years old. After his Heisman and national championship campaign at Auburn, Newton was the top pick of the 2011 NFL draft.

An aging Manning hasn’t carried the Broncos this season. The defense unquestionably has. This probably is the best defense Manning has ever had, and this will be Carolina’s stiffest challenge yet.

Denver led the NFL in total defense, pass defense and sacks. The good news: With a unit like this, the Broncos don’t need to score a ton of points on offense.