There's only one question this Super Bowl, and it's not which coach is smarter, who handled Super Bowl week's attention better or even something tactical like how Carolina will block Denver's pass rush.
Does Peyton Manning have one day's magic left?
That's the question. Because everything tilts Carolina's way. Every football number you roll out, from offensive output to roster balance, favors Carolina winning.
But all that can be overdone this final, football Sunday of the season, because the Super Bowl always has been a quarterback's game. Joe Namath predicted victory. Terry Bradshaw couldn't spell C-A-T. Joe Montana looked at the crowd before the winning drive and asked teammates in the huddle, "Isn't that [actor] John Candy?"
There have been great quarterback matchups and historic showdowns in Super Bowls, but never one like Carolina's Cam Newton versus Manning. Never has the best quarterback in a regular season like Newton played one who is statistically the worst in a Super Bowl in Manning.
Never has a young, charismatic one overflowing with fun energy tried to ascend the national stage against another quarterback trying for one final, surprising win before retiring and heading to the Hall of Fame.
"How many people picked us to beat New England [in the AFC Championship]," Manning asked reporters this past week.
Some, not many.
"Humph," he said.
Any Denver win Sunday starts with those ideas. But Brady is 38, immobile and played behind a weak line. Carolina's line is among the best in football. And Newton, at 6 foot 5 and 245pounds, is the first quarterback to pass for more than 30 touchdowns and run for another 10.
He also is 26, an age where tomorrows seem limitless and confidence can lead to complacency, right? Ask Dan Marino. He was 23 during the 1984 season when he lost the Super Bowl and shrugged afterward saying, "We'll be back."
He never was.
So maybe age can work against Carolina in this game as much as it's worked for it all season? Maybe Carolina having never played in a Super Bowl becomes Denver's advantage?
Denver was in the Super Bowl just two years ago, and a snap from a too-nervous center went over Manning's head into the end zone for a safety early in the game. Manning ended the day with a Super Bowl-record 34 completions, but Denver lost by five touchdowns.
So much for statistics.
That's what Denver keeps saying this Sunday, too. Manning threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in the regular season for a career-worst 67.9 quarterback rating.
That makes him the worst statistical quarterback from a season to enter a Super Bowl. Even the Dolphins' David Woodley (69.8) and Baltimore's Trent Dilfer (76.6) were numerically better.
That tells why Manning will retire after Sunday's game. He's spent two weeks dodging the question, but does anyone really think otherwise? Does anyone also think Manning's legacy would suffer with another Super Bowl loss?
He's 39. He returned from neck surgery a few years ago. He's one of the great comeback stories in football just to be playing at this point. If Denver somehow wins this game, he'll have scripted one of the great exits to any career.
"He looked pretty good the last game he played that's all I know," Newton said of Manning against New England.
Can the old Manning look like Manning of old for a few hours of the final Sunday of the season?
That's the question of the day. Your heart says he can. Your head says Newton is ready.
Your heart says Manning has one final rodeo in him. Your head says it's Newton's time.
Your heart says Denver has a chance.
Your head knows better.
Carolina 31, Denver 17.