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Super Bowl 50 predictions: Picks, scores and MVP forecast

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 3, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. © Mike McCarn/AP Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 3, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C.

USA TODAY Sports' NFL staff predicts the outcome of Super Bowl 50:

Jarrett Bell

For all the momentum that the Carolina Panthers bring into the Super Bowl, there's still the matter of getting the best of the NFL's best defense and Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos have thrived as underdogs all season and along the way have demonstrated quite the knack for winning the close ones. Sure, Cam Newton has been the NFL's MVP this season. But if there's any unit capable of slowing the Panthers' roll, well ... Wade Phillips, you're up. This is not the same Manning we saw before his six-week layoff to heal a foot injury. He's been more careful with the football, evidenced by a streak of 78 passes without a pick. That doesn't mean he'll win a shootout against Newton. But the ticket for Denver will be to keep the game close with the defense, then support Manning with a strong running game. The stage is set for another Super Sunday upset. And what a way that would be for Manning to ride off into the sunset.

The pick: Broncos 27-24 MVP: Manning

Nate Davis

Newton has become the league’s most dynamic force (50 total TDs, including postseason), and he’ll deservedly earn his first MVP the night before the big game. But this all about Manning, the only five-time MVP in NFL history. Backed by a defense that just stifled Tom Brady and can surely check all of Newton’s weapons, look for Manning to take his scalpel to a Carolina unit beset with injuries in the back end. Manning might not be equipped anymore to beat the Panthers with his arm, but he can definitely defeat them with his mind — expect Denver WR Emmanuel Sanders to be a key mismatch — and get the storybook ending to his 18-year career and that second ring he has been chasing for nearly a decade.

The pick: Broncos 24-23 MVP: Sanders

Lindsay H. Jones

Though it may be a mistake to once again pick against Manning -- and, even more so, the Broncos' No. 1 defense -- this whole season has set up to be Newton's coming-out party as one of the NFL's best players. And I think the unique element he gives the Panthers running game will ultimately be the difference, even against a defense that has proven so many times it can come up with the key stop in the game's final moments.

The pick: Panthers 24-21 MVP: Newton

Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz

It’s hard to envision a Panthers defense that has handled the league’s best having any trouble with a Broncos attack that has been passable at its peak. Luke Kuechly and the rest of the ball-hawking unit could have opportunities against Manning if Denver’s running game can’t break through. Carolina will have to find a way past the league’s No. 1 defense, but it shouldn’t need to match its recent run of prolific performances.

The pick: Panthers 21-10 MVP: Newton

Tom Pelissero

It was impressive to watch the Panthers offense during the NFC Championship Game. It’s doing next-level stuff in the running game, and Newton can hurt you in a lot of ways. The Broncos are more talented than the Arizona Cardinals on defense, particularly up front. Also, the Panthers run defense needs to be better even though injuries keep adding up on that side of the ball. But I’m done betting against Carolina this season.

The pick: Panthers 27-20 MVP: Newton

Eric Prisbell

Carolina has not faced a defense like Denver’s. But with a robust rushing attack featuring Newton and Jonathan Stewart, and the consistent threat of tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers will move the ball. And expect the Panthers’ pass rush to give Manning fits.

The pick: Panthers 23-17 MVP: Newton

Lorenzo Reyes

The Panthers have everything going for them. The matchup everyone will want to watch is Newton and Carolina’s high-scoring offense against Denver’s stingy defense that battered Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The difference will come when the Broncos have the ball. Though Manning showed he could manage the game and make enough plays to win in the postseason, Carolina’s front four should make things a lot more difficult for Denver. And if the game is tight in the fourth quarter, Newton is capable of making any play needed to win.

The pick: Panthers 27-23 MVP: Newton

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