I must admit: my football knowledge has mostly been gleaned from Sundays spent within earshot of my brother and the Pats game. This season, I finally felt like I had a handle on the rules—until my boyfriend sheepishly admitted he’d rather watch Super Bowl 50 with someone who didn’t ask so many questions (and whose celebration of a good play didn’t come until five minutes after the whistle). OK, so maybe I don’t know as much about the NFL as I thought I did.

In advance of the big game on Sunday, I decided it was time to consult the experts. Here’s what sports writers have to say about the Broncos’ chances of returning to Denver as champions.

First, no one expected a Broncos vs. Panthers Super Bowl.

Adam Stites reports on Sports Nation that only three of the 64 experts polled before the start of the regular NFL season predicted that the Broncos would make it this far. Of those who thought we’d get to the big show, all three expected them to lose. “The moral of the story is that the only safe prediction in the NFL is that it is always unpredictable,” Stites wrote. But this shouldn’t deter Broncos fans—not one expert predicted that the Panthers would make it.

Everyone agrees we wouldn’t be here without the defense.

Like many commentators, Mark Maske of the Washington Post credits the Broncos defense for their success against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship: “[Peyton Manning] prevailed…aided greatly by an often-overpowering, resilient-when-needed Denver defense that carried the Broncos to a 20–18 triumph over the Patriots.”

Greg Easterbrook of the New York Times seconded this: “When offense meets defense in a football title game, defense hold the high card.”

Are the Broncos hopeless underdogs or a Cinderella story in waiting?

On January 29, Troy E. Renck and Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post asked the question on the minds of even the most fiery and loyal Broncos fans: “Are the Broncos hopeless underdogs in Super Bowl 50?”

“The underdog in the Super Bowl has hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy in five of the past eight seasons, dating to the New York Giants’ stunning upset of the undefeated New England Patriots,” Kiszla writes. And they believe the Broncos will follow suit.

“The Broncos excel at winning ugly,” writes Renck. “They want to soak up the clock, run the ball just enough to make their fans go mad, and terrorize opponents with a pressure defense. The Super Bowl sets up as a close game because every game the Broncos play is close.”

So what will be the outcome? Big surprise here—Kiszla and Renck think the orange-and-blue have a good chance of winning. “Here is what gives me hope for the Broncos: No other NFL team has won more big games this season than Denver, and that includes Carolina,” writes Kiszla.

Renck continues: “The Broncos can win this Super Bowl. Just as they have won their past four games. Keep the score in the 20s, score late, and let the defense make one last stand.”

But what about the team’s running game?

Despite recent victories, the Broncos rushing game has struggled. Bucky Brooks, NFL Media analyst suggests that the team use C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman to gain yardage early and often.

“The Broncos’ shift to a ‘complementary football’ approach has keyed the team’s renewed emphasis on the running game,” Brooks writes. “During their last nine games, the Broncos have averaged 29.9 rushing attempts and 128.0 rushing yards (with eight touchdowns). While those numbers speak volumes about their commitment to the ground attack, the Broncos’ unbeaten record when notching at least 30 rushing attempts and 130-plus rushing yards makes it a worthwhile endeavor in big games.”

How does Peyton Manning match up to Carolina QB Cam Newton?

Bill Pennington of the New York Times thinks the matchup between Manning and Newton will be the most compelling story line of Super Bowl 50.

“On one side will be Manning, the old-style pocket passer and scion of a college and pro football icon. He plays for an established franchise, the Broncos, who played their first game in 1960. His athletic skills do not seem boundless, but instead appear to be football – or even quarterback–centric.

“On the opposite sideline will be Newton, whose style of play is ever evolving and transforming, like a start-up tech company finding new ways to expand…Newton is a hybrid of abilities —pocket passer, scrambling improviser, and halfback. He is big, strong, and fast, and probably good enough to be a pro athlete in multiple sports.”

This is the fourth time Manning has made it to the big show, but Newton’s first. It’s hard to know who has the advantage, but everyone agrees it will be one heck of a matchup.

“The comparison is simply too appealing and absorbing. It is old versus young, venerable versus untested, circumspect versus flamboyant…If only the game can live up to the billing.”