Well, that was fun. A season that started with high hopes, low expectations, and chaos in Cleveland has ended with crushed dreams, defied expectations, and, of course, chaos in Cleveland. So much has happened between the Opening Kickoff of the 2015 season and the last whistle of Super Bowl 50.
The 2015 NFL season began with high hopes for many teams who struggled in 2014. In Philadelphia, head coach Chip Kelly had completely revamped the roster, and the offense looked as potent as could be. Newly acquired quarterback Sam Bradford and running back DeMarco Murray were reunited in Philly and were poised to lead the Eagles to a place Philadelphia had never been: hoisting the Lombardi trophy in the air. Well, Kelly fell flat on his face, and the Eagles looked hopeless all year leading them to a 7-9 record. In Miami, a defense led by newly signed Ndamukong Suh was the new ‘85 Bears. Head Coach Joe Philbin only lasted 5 games and the Dolphins finished with an abysmal record of 6-10. The Indianapolis Colts, coming off a run to the AFC Championship in 2014, seemed poised for an even bigger year after adding key free agents led by veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson. Yet, the Colts were unable to win the easiest division in football, and finished a mediocre 8-8. The Dallas Cowboys, coming off a 12-4 record in 2014, inverted their record after being marred by injuries and finished 4-12. The Baltimore Ravens also caught the injury bug, and finished 5-11 on the year.
On the other hand, there were many teams who defied expectations in 2015. The Washington Redskins, who appeared to be a hopeless cause, won the NFC East. The ‘Skins were led by quarterback Kirk Cousins to a 9-7 record, but did lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers. In Houston, the Texans also appeared to be a bad football team, but managed to win the AFC South with a record of 9-7. They, too, lost in the first round of the playoffs, but notwithstanding were impressive. The Minnesota Vikings not only made the playoffs, but they were able to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau to win the NFC North. The biggest surprise of all is the Carolina Panthers, who did not even break .500 in 2014, yet managed to coast to the Super Bowl with a 15-1 regular season record. Cam Newton‘s magical season rewarded him with the MVP honors.
And then, of course, there were the normalcies. The New England Patriots were a field goal away from making it to the Super Bowl. The Arizona Cardinals dominated the opposition up until the NFC Championship. The Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cincinnati Bengals all found their way into the playoffs. On the other side, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans stayed in the basement of the league. And, the aforementioned Browns had a year filled with drama involving quarterback Johnny Manziel, who seems to be on his way out of Cleveland (and possibly the NFL).
The playoffs were as exciting as they have ever been. In the Wild Card round, two games were decided in the last two minutes of the game, and both ended with drama and horror. In Cincinnati, the Bengals appeared to have the game sealed against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, a late fumble followed by two consecutive personal fouls allowed the Steelers to kick a game-winning field goal. In Minnesota, Blair Walsh was set up to hit the game-winning field goal for the Vikings, but missed wide left, handing the Seahawks the victory. As mentioned before, the Redskins lost to the Green Bay Packers and the Texans were dominated by Alex Smith and the Chiefs.
In the divisional round, there were again some very exciting games. In Arizona, Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to a late game comeback and sent the game into overtime. However, Carson Palmer sealed the game with a quick touchdown drive in overtime. In Charlotte, Cam Newton and the fiery Carolina defense cruised by Russ Wilson and the Seahawks. In New England, the Patriots won a close one against the Chiefs. In Denver, the injury ridden Steelers fell to the defensive minded Broncos.
Next came the Championship games. The Panthers, again, coasted by an otherwise tough opponent. Cam Newton accounted for 4 total touchdowns, and the Cardinals coughed up the ball 7 times. In Denver, the Broncos shocked the Patriots in a 20-18 victory. Peyton Manning played the game manager role very well, and the Broncos defensive line got to Tom Brady and a weak offensive line from the start.
After two weeks of preparation, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers met in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50. It was an intriguing matchup: both had very good defenses who forced turnovers and got to the quarterback. However, while the Panthers had one of the, if not the best offense in the NFL, the Broncos had an inconsistent offense led by 39-year old quarterback Peyton Manning. Naturally, a majority of analysts and fans alike predicted that the Panthers would dominate against the Denver Broncos. However, what happened was quite the opposite. In a game almost as ugly as its halftime performance (sorry, Coldplay), the Broncos defense stifled Cam Newton and the fiery Panthers offense. Newton was sacked 7 times, threw an interception, and fumbled the ball twice. The Broncos two touchdowns were both as a result of turnover and thus won the game, 24-10. Although Peyton Manning did not have a good game, he was able to win his second Super Bowl, and he became the oldest starting quarterback to ever do so. Cam Newton was heavily criticized for not going after a fumble late in the fourth quarter and leaving a postgame press conference early. A season full of exciting, cocky play from Cam Newton had ended with an embarrassing, ego destroying loss to the Denver Broncos.
This season sure was a blast. It was filled with shockers, heartbreakers, and a true delight for only one team, the Denver Broncos.
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