This game was the first time in NFL history that two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks would face each other in the Super Bowl, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton, earning the game the nickname of the Heisman Bowl.
The second-seed Browns entered the playoffs with momentum behind them, having gone 11-5 and winning the final four games of their season. Johnny Manziel had been oft-mentioned as a candidate for MVP.
In the AFC Divisional Round, the Browns played the wild-card Oakland Raiders and regular season MVP, Derek Carr, who had come off an upset over the Miami Dolphins. In the first half, the Browns would score three touchdowns, two by the pass and one on the run, while Joe Haden would lead the Browns defense to hold the Raiders to one TD and a field-goal. The second half proved to be much more dismal for Oakland, as Carr would throw a third pick, while the raiders would again be limited to field-goal attempts, making just one out of two. The final score ended up 31-13.
The Browns would face the Houston Texans, after Houston's blowout over the wild-card Patriots. What followed would be a highly-competitive, highly-controversial affair.
Quarter 1 would end with both teams having thrown picks, Johnny Manziel to J.J. Watt and the Texans' quarterback to Joe Haden. The Browns were able to score a TD off of Haden's pick, going into the second quarter 10-3.
In the end of the fourth quarter, the Browns led the Texans 23-19 with thirty seconds remaining. The Texans were facing 3rd and 12 after a sack by Barkevious Mingo. Following the snap, Houston's quarterback passed the ball deep down the field, only for it to be intercepted by Haden in the end zone, the ball being intended for Wide Receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. The Browns would return to the field and kneel, in order the chew off the clock.
The controversy revolved around the referees' decision not to call the play defensive interference. Rumors persisted (especially among Texans fans) that the officials were bribed by Browns owner, Jimmy Haslam. These accusations would never be proven correct.
Carolina would finish the regular season as the first seed in the NFC and were considered front-runners for the Super Bowl.
The Panthers first opponent would be division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The first half would prove to be very lopsided, Cam Newton throwing three TD passes with only one pick, while Luke Kuechly would come away with two interceptions, one for a TD run, in addition to a field goal, while the Buccaneers would only score one TD by Running Back Mike James, who played well, in spite of his team's poor performance. The Buccaneers' second half would not prove to be much better, as two more turnovers would occur and the Panthers would win, 42-7.
Carolina was pitted against the L.A. Rams in the Conference Championship, L.A.'s second NFC Championship appearance since their reformation following the relocation from St. Louis.
The first half was a low scoring affair, due to both team's voracious defenses. An interception by rookie safety, TaSean Willis would lead to an early Panthers score. Case Keenum, meanwhile, would struggle markedly, his first TD pass coming in the third quarter. Despite an excellent performance by the Rams defense, the Panthers would win 23-11.
The majority of polls showed Americans generally supporting the Panthers in the coming Bowl. However, the Browns were able to find support in states with teams that held a rivalry with the Panthers and in California, as the Panthers had denied the Rams a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
|1||9:12||10||6:24||CLE||22-yard field goal by J. Cimorelli||CLE. 3-0|
|1||5:03||5||3:10||CLE||C. Smith 11-yard TD reception from J. Manziel, Cimorelli kick good||CLE. 10-0|
|2||11:17||11||4:05||CAR||G. Gano 32-yard field goal||CLE. 10-3|
|2||8:05||5||4:21||CLE||J. Kelly 3-yard TD reception from J. Manziel, Cimorelli kick good||CLE. 17-3|
|2||6:02||7||3:15||CAR||C. Newton 3-yard TD run, Gano kick good||CLE. 17-10|
|2||3:25||9||3:20||CAR||K. Benjamin 20-yard reception from C. Newton, Gano kick good||CLE. 17-17|
|3||9:08||7||5:03||CLE||R. Ellis 3-yard TD run Cimorelli kick good||CLE. 24-17|
|3||5:20||8||4:31||CAR||G. Gano 28-yard field goal||CLE. 24-20|
|4||10:12||11||5:38||CLE||J. Cimorelli 22-yard field goal||CLE. 28-20|
|4||4:02||8||2:05||CAR||K. Benjamin 12-yard reception from C. Newton||CLE. 28-26|
|4||3:51||1||0:09||CAR||R. Davis 5-yard reception from C. Newton||CLE. 28-28|
|4||1:05||5||2:14||CLE||C. Smith 25-yard reception from J. Manziel||CLE. 36-28|
|4||0:53||1||0:08||CLE||L. Taylor 3-yard reception from J. Manziel||CLE. 38-28|