SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Analyze this game any way you like. Peyton Manning vs. Cam Newton. Carolina’s defense vs. Denver’s offense. The Broncos’ defense against the Panthers’ offense.
For Von Miller, it’s a much simpler equation, and his conclusion is just about as foolproof as any heading into Super Bowl 50. “Whoever’s dancing the most will likely win the game on Sunday,” Miller said.
Miller’s breakdown is as good a barometer as you’ll find: If the Broncos’ linebacker, who celebrates sacks with wild gyrations, finds himself dancing more than usual, then look for Denver to pull off the upset. If it’s Newton, who does the “Dab” after scoring touchdowns, is the one with the bigger choreographic display, then it’s Carolina’s game.
“I like to show emotion to my teammates, and Cam’s the same way,” said Miller, who was drafted second overall out of Texas A&M in 2011, just one spot behind Newton. “I love it. I think it’s great for the game. That’s the future of the sport.”
The emotional temperatures of both teams are most easily measured by how Miller and Newton respond, especially when things are going well.
Miller has inspired Denver’s No. 1-ranked defense all season, and his brilliant pass rushing has been a central part of the march to the Super Bowl. In the 20-18 win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Miller had a franchise-record 2½ sacks and was instrumental in keeping Tom Brady on the run.
Newton has been dominant all season, and is expected to win his first Most Valuable Player award Saturday. He had a career year with 35 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions, along with three touchdown passes and one interception in two playoff games.
There is a growing consensus that the Panthers will win Sunday, because they have a major advantage at quarterback with Manning’s career winding down. Carolina’s defense is also among the NFL’s best, with a league-leading 39 takeaways.
But if Denver is going to have a chance, it almost certainly will be the result of another superb defensive effort, and Miller is the focal point for whether that happens. He may be the best pass rusher in the league now, and with DeMarcus Ware coming from the right side, the Broncos’ pass rush is nearly unstoppable. Key word: nearly. If any team is capable of shutting down the Broncos, it’s Carolina, whose rebuilt offensive line features tackles Michael Oher, who has enjoyed a career renaissance this season, and Mike Remmers, who used to be on the Rams’ practice squad.
Miller knows he has his work cut out containing Newton.
“He’s tough, and from a physical standpoint, he is smart, strong and athletic,” Miller said. “You put all of those together and it is extremely tough to take him down.”
But if anyone is capable of getting to Newton, it’s Miller, who has a tremendous burst and can get to the edge faster than anyone in the league. Miller came into the league as one of the best pass-rushing prospects to come along in years, and he’s about to strike it rich on a new contract after four ever-improving seasons.
At the very least, the Broncos will designate Miller as their franchise player, which would keep him in Denver for at least the 2016 season. But they would like to sign him to a long-term deal, which likely would be the richest ever for a defensive player.
Miller can thank himself for setting the stage for that, and not just because of his prolific talent. Even before he came into the league, Miller took the bold step of adding his name to a lawsuit against the NFL after the NFL Players Association temporarily dissolved itself after talks with the league about a new collective bargaining agreement broke down in the spring of 2011. The league and the players eventually agreed on a 10-year collective bargaining agreement.
“I had an opportunity to help players that came before me and help the players in the NFL now and all the players who would come after me,” said Miller, who was the only rookie to join the lawsuit. “I wanted to put my name on the lawsuit with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and all these great players to help guys out. It was worth it to me.”
It was a calculated risk by Miller.
“It was difficult because I hadn’t even stepped foot into the league,” he said. “We hadn’t even started talking about the draft. I was fresh out of college. But I was doing something that was bigger than myself.”
It is all about the Super Bowl now. Miller, who missed the Super Bowl two years ago after tearing an ACL, gives Denver at least a fighting chance against what appears to be a superior Carolina team. He hopes the mantra that has driven the Broncos all season will work one more time.
“Just play with fanatical effort and relentless pursuit to the ball,” he said. “That’s what has won games for us. That’s got to be our mentality.”
Von Miller has been a double-digit sack man in four of his five NFL seasons. The only year he didn’t reach double digits was 2013, when he was suspended for the first six games for violating the NFL’s drug policy: