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The path to the Super Bowl - 5 games that defined the Broncos' & Panthers' seasons

Wins, losses and the plays that gave us our finalists.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

1. W 27-23 @ Seattle Seahawks (5-0)

Panthers Seahawks Football Greg Olsen catches the game-winning touchdown. Source: Elaine Thompson/AP/Press Association Images

AFTER FACING ACCUSATIONS that they were the ‘worst 4-0 team’ in the NFL — because they had beaten, basically, nothing but back-up quarterbacks in their first four games — the Panthers knew they needed to have a statement win on their record before people began to take them seriously.

What better way to do it than by going on the road to a team that had made back-to-back Super Bowls? Cam Newton gave us the first glimpse of his MVP candidacy by leading his side to two touchdowns on their final two drives to come back from 23-14 down to win 27-23.

2. W 37-29 v Green Bay Packers (5-0)

Packers Panthers Football Cam Newton had himself a day against the Packers. Source: Chris Keane/AP/Press Association Images

Another devastating performance from Newton against a side that, at the time, were still very much in the hunt for the NFC Championship. The quarterback threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another in a comprehensive home victory that stretched his team’s regular season win streak to 12 games.

More importantly, the win put them two games clear of every other side in the race for the number one seed in the NFC playoffs.

3. W 38-35 @ New York Giants (14-0)

Panthers Giants Football Graham Gano's blocked field goal set up an exciting finish. Source: AP/PressKathy Willens/AP/Press Association Images Association Images

Carolina became just the fourth team in NFL history to reach 14-0 in the regular season but they didn’t make it easy on themselves. Newton again excelled, throwing five touchdowns to help his team into a 28-point lead but then the Panthers defence fell asleep, allowing the Giants to tie the game with less than two minute remaining.

However, the 26-year-old marched his team down the field in one of the drives of the season before Graham Gano — who earlier had a field goal blocked — kicked the game-winning score as time expired.

4. L 13-20 @ Atlanta Falcons (14-1)

Panthers Falcons Football Julio Jones makes the game's crucial play. Source: John Bazemore/AP/Press Association Images

The single blot on a otherwise perfect copybook for the Panthers in the 2015/16 season. An uncharacteristically poor game for the Carolina offence saw them score their lowest points total of the season — indeed the only time they failed to reach 20 points — against a divisional rival they had blown out 38-0 just two weeks earlier.

The game will be remembered for Julio Jones’ brilliant 70-yard touchdown but Newton still had a chance to lead a comeback, getting the ball with 90 seconds remaining. However, a lost fumble on first down two plays later would see his side fall to their only loss of the year. So far.

5. W 49-15 v Arizona Cardinals

NFC Championship Football Luke Kuechly's team-mates celebrate his pick six. Source: David J. Phillip/AP/Press Association Images

This was not just an NFC title-game winning performance. This was a rout, the best team in the conference destroying the next best — and one that many felt were their equal — on offence, defence, special teams and just about any facet of the game you can imagine.

Newton sealed the MVP race with four touchdowns — two on the ground and two through the air — while the defence had four interceptions, including a pick six, and two forced fumbles. Little wonder they go into Sunday as Super Bowl favourites.

DENVER BRONCOS

1. W 19-13 v Baltimore Ravens (1-0)

Ravens Broncos Football Darian Stewart after his crucial play against the Ravens. Source: Jack Dempsey/AP/Press Association Images

Joe Flacco drove the Baltimore Ravens all the way to the Denver 16-yard line in the final minute before cornerback Brady Roby got his hand in Steve Smith Sr.’s face, preventing what would have been the game-winning touchdown.

One play later, former Ravens safety Darian Stewart intercepted Flacco to end the game and we got our first glimpse of how good Denver’s defence could be.

2. W 31-24 @ Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)

Broncos Chiefs Football Roby returns the Charles fumble. Source: Ed Zurga/AP/Press Association Images

Knile Davis gave the Chiefs the lead with just 2.27 left to go in the fourth quarter before Denver staged one of the comebacks of the season.

First, Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders with 36 seconds left to tie the game, before Bradley Roby returned Jamaal Charles’ second fumble of the game 21-yards on the very next play from scrimmage to win the game.

3. L 13-29 v Kansas City Chiefs (7-2)

Chiefs Broncos Football Manning looks on after his benching. Source: Joe Mahoney/AP/Press Association Images

Coming off the back of their first loss of the season the week before, the Broncos hoped to bounce back by extending their winning streak over AFC West divisional rivals to ten in a game where Manning would set the NFL passing yardage record.

However, it would all go horribly wrong for Manning who was benched by Gary Kubiak after completing just five of 20 passes for 35 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions.

4. W 27-20 v San Diego Chargers (12-4)

Chargers Broncos Football Manning would make his comeback in week 17. Source: Jack Dempsey/AP/Press Association Images

Manning replaced Brock Osweiler in the third quarter and led the Broncos a 27-20 win over the San Diego Chargers in his first game since his benching against the Chiefs.

The win, combined with a shock loss for the New England Patriots against the Miami Dolphins, clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs for Denver.

5. W 20-18 v New England Patriots

AFC Championship Football Von Miller returns a Tom Brady interception. Source: Chris Carlson/AP/Press Association Images

Very few people gave the Broncos a chance against the defending Super Bowl champions but the Denver defence stepped up big time — hitting Tom Brady 23 times and forcing two interceptions — to secure a place in Super Bowl 50.

In what turned out to be a classic AFC Championship game, the Broncos survived a last-gasp two-point conversion attempt and an onside kick win a ticket to San Francisco and a shot at giving Manning a second Super Bowl ring in what could be his final ever game.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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