LITTLE ROCK — Quarterback Peyton Manning is to Super Bowl 50 as actor Robert De Niro is to the award-winning movie, "Silver Linings Playbook."

LITTLE ROCK — Quarterback Peyton Manning is to Super Bowl 50 as actor Robert De Niro is to the award-winning movie, "Silver Linings Playbook."

Arguably, once the best in their craft, both are now relegated to secondary roles. Manning can’t carry a team like he could when he won five MVP awards and De Niro’s latest starring role is in something called "Dirty Grandpa," which I’m guessing is a cut below his work that earned seven Academy Award nominations.

Although some insist on couching the Super Bowl as the aging Manning in his likely swan song vs. up-and-coming superstar Cam Newton, the match-up at quarterback plays second fiddle to Newton vs. the all-star cast that makes up the Denver defense.

No matter what Manning does, the Broncos cannot win unless the defense figures a way to slow Newton. I agree with conventional wisdom that says Denver does not have the firepower to win a high-scoring contest, but anybody who paid attention to the Republican caucuses in Iowa has the ammo to challenge such a perspective. A big turnout equals a huge victory for Donald Trump, pundits said; residents voted in record numbers and the billionaire barely held off Sen. Marco Rubio for second.

Illustrated by postseason awards, there is a parallel between the Broncos and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Both are much better on one side of the ball — Denver on defense and Arkansas on offense — than on the other side.

Six weeks ago, The Associated Press All-SEC team included five Razorbacks — guard Sebastian Tretola and tight end Hunter Henry on the first team; wide receiver Drew Morgan, tackle Dan Skipper, and running back Alex Collins on the second team. All are on offense.

When the Pro Bowl players were announced, Denver was represented by Chris Harris Jr., Von Miller, Aqib Talib, and DeMarcus Ware, all from the defense. Pro Bowl alternates included four other Broncos, two from the defense.

Weaned on Southwest Conference football decades ago, I still believe a team can win without a flashy offense. Even in today’s game, with receivers spread out all over the field and quarterbacks throwing dozens of times per game, defense, turnover-free offense, and solid kicking goes a long way.

That said, Newton is a special athlete, capable of overwhelming Denver’s defense. However, what he did against Arizona in the NFC championship game — 335 yards passing and 47 rushing — only illustrates the capabilities of the former Auburn quarterback and is not a precursor of his performance vs. the Broncos.

By the same token, Arkansas’ Dusty Hannahs will not always catch and shoot and beat the shot clock with a critical, falling away 3 as he did in the upset of Texas A&M last week.

Denver’s winning recipe starts with frustrating the Panthers early on. In two playoff games, Carolina outscored Arizona and Seattle 55-7 in the first half. A 10-10 score at the half might provoke some anxiety in the dressing room while Beyonce and Coldplay are in the spotlight.

In that scenario, give the edge to Denver. That is not to disparage Newton’s skills or his decision-making, only to say that Manning might have a flashback to his "been there, done that" days in a game reduced to 30 minutes.

Newton’s end-zone celebrations rankle some, but that’s nothing new. The second time Houston’s Billy "White Shoes" Johnson did the "Funky Chicken" about 40 years ago was one time too many. The preference of a curmudgeon is Lou Holtz’s admonition to "act like you’ve been there."

In 27 of the 49 Super Bowl games, the winning quarterback has been selected MVP and Newton is less than even money to win the award. In a game that might be downright weird, how about Denver’s Brandon McManus becoming the first kicker to be Super Bowl MVP? Undrafted, the third-year man from Temple made 30-of-35 field goals during the season and all seven in the postseason. Add five more on Sunday.


Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: