Can the Panthers complete a magical and unexpected season?
When you think of the Carolina Panthers you think of youth, defense and Cam Newton. When I thought of the Panthers before the season I thought of Cam, that linebacking corps, and the best team in a weak division. The reason I say best team in a weak division is that even though these Panthers have won the division three years in a row now, the first two they owned records barely over 500. Most NFL experts called for this team to win the division again, and they were right, but no one thought that they would go 15-1 and be the best team in the NFL. I for one thought that this team was a fluke and a product of a weak division and easy schedule. As we found out in the playoffs, they are legit. Cam Newton may be the most exciting quarterback in the league currently and that defense is definitely elite. Now the other question for this team to answer is how will the youth of the team respond in the leagues biggest game.
Can Peyton and the Broncos end the season on a high note?
The Broncos season could be described in one word: rollercoaster. To start the season the Broncos looked good on defense and acceptable on offense. This was not the team of two years ago with the elite offense and passable defense, in fact that script was flipped. The key to this team was the excellent cornerback play, as well as above average front seven play. The three corners for the Broncos in Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and Bradley Roby were some of the best in league. All of that was almost for naught as the Broncos offense stuttered under Manning and eventually the Broncos switched to Brock Osweiler. With the change under center came news of Manning playing hurt as well as Manning using steroids rumors surfaced. The key of the year was that this defense won a lot of games for this team and kept them in a lot of those games they lost. The Broncos must answer the question of does Manning have enough left in the tank to win another ring?
Players to watch:
Cam Newton: He is the most athletic and exciting QB in the league, he plays the game the right way and loves to have fun. He is the engine that makes this offense run.
Luke Keuchely: The heart and soul of the Panthers defense, he is the best linebacker in the league with the power and size to cover tight ends as well as enough speed to jump recover routes. Keuchely also has the smarts to know where about any and every throw is going to go and where to be.
Unheralded Star: Greg Olsen: Olsen is one of the most consistent and best tight ends in the league. Olsen consistently catches anything thrown his way as well as finding the best places to sit and be unnoticed to make the easy catches.
Emmanuel Sanders: Sanders has been the Broncos best and most consistent pass catcher this year. Most of the time he is used as a distraction, but when he isn’t he is going down the field and making catches that he almost shouldn’t. Sanders catches nearly anything thrown his way as well as gives the Broncos a fast option for a reverse if they show choose.
Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams: I know three people instead of one but hear me out these guys are the key to this game on the Broncos defensive side. Yes I said that the corners are elite but they are not going to be a hug factor this game as the Panthers do not have a legit consistent receiving threat outside of Olsen. These three men will be responsible for stopping Cam, Von, and the run on the opposite side, Wolfe, and the run in the middle, Williams. If these three do not do their job look for a huge day from Cam and Johnathon Stewart.
Unheralded Star: C.J. Anderson/Ronnie Hillman: These guys will be the key to this game as every game that the Broncos have won and controlled are ones in which they have had a running game. Whichever of these backs, whether Anderson the straight line/one cut back, or, Hillman the fast scat back, comes out of the gate ready to contribute in both rushing and pass blocking will get the majority of the playing time.
Match-ups to watch:
Cam Newton versus Denver’s front seven
I alluded to this earlier but if the Broncos can stop Cam Newton from running they will have a better shot to win this game. Newton is really good at running but has been really efficient at passing this season as well. Cam has not faced a lot of great defenses with the caliber of corners that the Broncos have nor the pass rush ability of these Broncos. If the corners can hold the coverage for long enough and let the rushers do their thing it will be great for the Broncos.
Josh Norman vs. Demaryius Thomas/ Emmanuel Sanders
The reason I put both receivers here is that I honestly don’t know who Norman, the Panthers elite corner, will cover. If i were the coach I would put Norman on Sanders because he is more consistent, but Thomas is the bigger threat. It could also be based on situation and who is playing the best at a given time. I am just interested in how either of these matches will play out.
Whoever matches up against Greg Olsen
The Broncos really have two people to worry about on the receiving side of the ball, Ted Ginn Jr. and Greg Olsen. Ted Ginn is not consistent at catching the ball but is a speedster and a huge over the top threat. I could see Roby or Harris Jr. covering him as they are both smaller, quicker guys like Ginn. I like seeing Roby on him more just because Roby is quicker than Harris. Now with Olsen I could see the Broncos covering him two different ways, either with a linebacker zone and safety overtop or just with Aqib Talib covering him straight up. I will say that they will do a combo of both but leaning toward Talib covering more often then not.
Manning and the Tight Ends against Panthers linebackers
As I stated earlier Luke Kuechely is one of the best linebackers in the league, but what is not as well known is his running mates at line backer Shaq Thomas and Thomas Davis. They are both still young linebackers, as well as Kuechely, but they are some the most effective tacklers as well as good at being able to read the offense and play the field. The question here is who covers tight end Owen Daniels, who scored two touchdowns last week against the Patriots. Daniels is a quicker tight end but not top end speed, Daniels also knows this Kubiak offense like the back of his hand, mainly because he has played in it his whole career. Whoever covers Daniels is in for a long day.
Star stat predictions:
Newton: 19/41 250 yds 2 Passing TD’s 1 Rushing TD
Manning: 25/40 280 yds 2 TD’s
Sanders: 5 Catches 95 yds 1 TD
Olsen: 8 Catches 115 yds 1 TD
Ginn: 5 Catches 110 yds 1 TD
Daniels: 5 Catches 65 yds 1 TD
Although this game will be decided by the defenses the offense will be something great to watch. At half this game will be close at 14-17 in favor of the Panthers, with Newton tallying one TD of rushing and Passing each. But Manning and the Broncos will control the second half and end up winning 24-17 in a close game that will end with a interception by Roby in the last minute.