Ryan’s pick: Denver Broncos

In the most recent edition of the AFC Championship game, the biggest headline wasn’t the Denver Broncos’ narrow 20-18 escape from the New England Patriots, but possibly a final farewell from one legend to another. Shortly after the clock at Mile High struck zero, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning told longtime Patriots coach Bill Belichick that this may be his last season in the NFL.

During his 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning ingrained his name among the greatest quarterbacks of all time and revolutionized the NFL’s modern approach to offense. He won Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears and advanced to Super Bowl XLIV against the New Orleans Saints. During his four seasons with the Denver Broncos, he’s made his case as the best quarterback ever. During his tenure with the Denver Broncos from 2012 to 2015, Manning has set all-time records for single season passing yards (5,477), single season passing touchdowns (55), career passing yards (71,940) and career passing touchdowns (539).

In his second Super Bowl stint with the Broncos (they lost Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks after the 2013 season), Peyton Manning, an electric receiving corps and the most dominant defense in the league will face the Carolina Panthers. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, both 28 years old and in the primes of their careers, combined for 2,439 receiving yards this season, accounting for 58 percent of the team’s receiving yards.

Denver featured the most effective defense in the NFL this season, yielding a measly 283.1 yards per game (first in the NFL) and 18.5 points per game (fourth in the NFL). Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will have an intimidating front seven to evade, featuring linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, who combined for 18.5 sacks this season. Cornerback Aqib Talib, who intercepted Tom Brady’s two-point conversion attempt to Julian Edelman with 12 seconds left to seal the Broncos’ victory, will lead the NFL’s top passing defense.

Despite Carolina’s tear through the 2015 season and postseason, expect a contest that remains close for 60 minutes. Denver plays football in the most effective, quintessentially modern form that features a threatening passing attack and a brick wall of a defense. Super Bowl 50 will live up to its Mile High expectations, and in his last rodeo, the Lombardi Trophy will once again go to the legend who revolutionized offense in the NFL, by a score of 27-23.