Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Jared Funk-Breay at Jared.firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @jaredfunkbreay
Well, this is it. The hopes and dreams of Broncos fans lie in the balance this Sunday when Denver takes on the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Just like two weeks ago against New England, Denver finds itself as an underdog, this time by five and a half. To break down the game, Jared Funk-Breay lists three things each team can do to come out on top.
The Broncos will win if…
- They rush for more than 120 yards
- It’s no secret Peyton Manning is a shadow of his former self. If Denver has to end up relying on Peyton’s arm to generate offense, the Broncos might as well forget about it. Manning still might have a game-winning drive in him, but he won’t be able to be the biggest threat on offense consistently against this elite Panthers defense. C.J. Anderson has been good for 4.6 yards per carry this postseason — compared to Ronnie Hillman’s 2.0 — so look to Anderson to get a lot of touches. A big game from him or Hillman could carry this team over the top.
- Denver wins the turnover battle
- One of Denver’s most improved areas this postseason is its turnover margin. During the regular season, the Broncos had 31 giveaways, and finished the season at minus-four in turnover differential. Carolina finished at a league-best plus-20. The Broncos have done enough on offense so far in the playoffs and have limited themselves to just one fluke turnover in two games. They have generally won the field position battle, setting up the other side of the ball to defend a long field. Denver doesn’t need to put up a bunch of points, and if it is able to flip the field with a turnover or two like it did against the Patriots, it would set the Broncos up for success. The Panthers have relied on causing fumbles and interceptions — if Denver wants to become Super Bowl champions it has to protect the football.
- They sack Cam Newton five times
- Denver has the best pass rush in the NFL and it’s not really even close. Even when they don’t get sacks, the line is able to generate pressure on the quarterback. This is all well and great when facing an immobile quarterback like Tom Brady, but Cam Newton is quite simply a beast the Denver D has yet to see this season. He is more than capable of escaping the pocket and making plays with his arm and legs. For that reason, the Broncos will have to bring down Newton. Pressuring him won’t be good enough.
The Panthers will in if…
- Carolina receivers make plays against Denver’s elite secondary
- Despite having a below average receiving corps, Cam Newton has lead the Panthers to be the NFL’s highest scoring offense. Ted Ginn Jr. is as fast as they come, but he has 10 drops this year and just 44 catches as the Panther’s top receiver. At tight end, Greg Olson presents Carolina’s most dynamic threat. With over 1,100 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in the regular season, Olson has caused matchup problems for linebackers covering him. Denver of course played the best tight end in the game two weeks ago, Rob Gronkowski, and he rattled off eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. Olson isn’t nearly as physically gifted as Gronk, but still, look for the Panthers to feed him the ball more than any other receiver. Past him and Ginn Jr., the Carolina receiving corps is fairly weak. With the likes of Chris Harris Jr., Aquib Talib and Darian Stewart, the Denver secondary should hold its own as long as the defensive line can get a decent amount of pressure on Newton. But if the Carolina receivers do makes plays and find holes in the defense, that spells trouble for Denver, who has counted on its defensive backs to make plays all year.
- They average more than four yards per carry
- Teams haven’t been able to solve Denver’s run defense for the most part this season, but if Carolina can, it’ll open up the entire playbook. The past two games, the Broncos have been able to pin their ears back and focus on just the pass, seeing 37 passes from Ben Roethlisburger and a whopping 56 from Tom Brady. Earlier in the year the Broncos faced an elite running back in Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles. He was able to run for 121 yards and a touchdown—so it is theoretically possible to run on this defense. Jonathan Stewart is no Charles, but he’s the best back Denver has seen in a while. The Broncos have only given up an average of 64.5 rushing yards in the playoffs, an extremely low number. Carolina doesn’t have to run it a lot to get the offense going, but having the threat of running will change everything the Broncos scheme for on defense, potentially leaving holes in the passing game.
- The defense gets to Manning’s head
- Peyton doesn’t have to have the game of his life to bring Denver the title. Want to know a secret most Mile High faithful won’t tell you about? John Elway played like garbage in the Broncos’ first Super Bowl victory against Green Bay. He threw no touchdowns, an interception and for only 122 yards. That being said, Manning is still going to have to take his team down the field and put up significant points. We all know Peyton was rattled in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and if that happens again early, it’s going to be bad news for the Broncos. Early in their playoff games, the Panthers were able to get to Russell Wilson, who actually rebounded in the second half but it wasn’t enough, and Carson Palmer, who never recovered in an NFC Championship Game blowout. The Broncos won’t have much of a chance if the Carolina defense causes turnovers and shuts down the offense in the early going. Peyton needs to stay composed and limit his mistakes in order to give the rest of his teammates opportunities to make plays themselves.
What a Denver win would mean
Doesn’t it get you excited just thinking about it? Sending Peyton off into the sunset…talk of one of the greatest defenses of all-time…ending the 17-year Super Bowl drought…THIS ONE’S FOR PAT. Don’t get me started. It would be one of the greatest team accomplishments in quite some time. Every position has seen multiple players step up at crucial moments this season, from defensive line, to safety and even quarterback. The Broncos are unquestionably the heart and soul of Colorado, and a Super Bowl title would make everyone party like it’s 1999.
What a Carolina win would mean
Denver will be sad.
Prediction: Broncos 17, Panthers 13
If you think this homer isn’t going to pick Denver you’re crazy. It’ll be the same old story: the defense comes up huge with big stops and timely turnovers and the offense does just enough. It’s either that or the Broncos get blown out of the water, which I just don’t see happening. If it is close, no team is better in these types of games—Denver has won 11 games by a touchdown or less this season including the playoffs. Here’s to making that number twelve and ending a legendary season with a bang.