Carolina Panthers (1) v Denver Broncos (1)
Start-time: Sunday 7 February, 23:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports and the BBC
Who saw this coming a month ago? Peyton Manning was under pressure after a documentary linked him to HGH use, he'd missed five weeks with injury, and there were suggestions that he refused to be Brock Osweiler's back-up. Many talking heads were saying he was done and would never play football again. Yet, Manning will lead his team to Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50.
This will be the storyline of what is fully expected to be the most watched event in American TV history. Can the 39-year-old surefire first ballot Hall of Famer - one of the greatest to have ever played the game - win just one more game?
The truth is that, although he is the story that will dominate the column inches, Manning isn't even close to being the most important factor in deciding who will lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Betfair opened the line at Carolina -3.5pts and for me that is about right. I predicted last night it would open at -4.5 and wouldn't be stunned if the line moved there by kick-off. For while Carolina tore Arizona apart in the NFC Championship Game, no-one saw what Denver's defense did to Tom Brady and the fully healthy receiver corps of the New England Patriots coming.
Nearly every single talking head on both US and UK TV, coupled with nearly all the columnists in the US picked New England to win. Yet Denver did just enough on offense and relied on the defense to hold up its end of the bargain. Tom Brady was hit 20 times in 56 dropbacks. That is insane. Denver were even able to bring three and drop eight and still get to Brady. It was as impressive a defensive display as we've seen since Super Bowl XLVIII, when it was Denver on the receiving end of Seattle's fearsome D.
That performance will live long in the memory of both New England, but also more importantly us punters. On paper Carolina are vastly superior on the offensive side of the ball. Cam Newton is trending upwards towards being one of the true superstars of the NFL. He can run the ball as well as throw lasers deep down the field. The D is, while not Denver calibre, only a notch behind. All logic says that Carolina should have opened up at -6.5 or -7.5 on the spread, yet that Denver defensive display on Sunday evening has spooked the markets.
Super Bowl 50 is likely to be one of two things, a Carolina blow-out or a closely fought, low-scoring titanic affair. If it is the latter then Denver will be right in it. Manning will not be asked to win the Super Bowl as he has been on all three of the previous occasions he's graced the game. This time he'll just be asked to do enough and let the D go out and play lights out. After the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night, I know I'm not writing off the Broncos and that chance for #18 to walk off into the sunset as a winner.
Last year's Super Bowl was one for the ages. I have a funny feeling that this year's will be just as great. The headline acts will be the up-and-coming star and the faded shell of one. The last time we saw a true clash of the generations, with an ageing great and a young star in the big game was in Super Bowl XXXII, in that year it was Denver's veteran John Elway beating the young and coming Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Will history repeat itself for Denver? We'll find out at Super Bowl 50.
The NFL writers here at betting.betfair will be busy over the next fortnight to set up the big game and I'll be back here early next week with our full Super Bowl 50 betting preview.