Breaking down the matchups when
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. PST. The
Broncos pass offense
vs. Panthers pass defense
Broncos run offense
vs. Panthers run defense
C.J. Anderson is a bowling ball, and
Panthers pass offense
vs. Broncos pass defense
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula has done an incredible job of getting the most out of Panthers receivers — and after losing star Kelvin Benjamin. Tight end Greg Olsen is
Panthers run offense
vs. Broncos run defense
The power and elusiveness of Cam Newton sends shudders through opposing defensive coordinators. He can do major damage with his feet — sweeps, counters, draws, and just improvisation. Otherwise, the Panthers run a lot of traditional two-back stuff with
Not everything is top-notch with these teams. For instance, the Panthers were ranked last in kickoff returns (18.5-yard average) and the Broncos were 23rd (21.8). Otherwise, they both have solid punters in Denver's
Carolina's Ron Rivera has done a remarkable job this season, leading his team to a 17-1 record despite losing star receiver Benjamin in training camp. The Panthers have cleaned up on takeaways (tops in NFL with 39, six more than second-place Arizona), limited turnovers, and — thanks in part to offensive coordinator Shula — have gotten the most out of Newton. Denver's Gary Kubiak has done a good job with Manning, but that's not an ideal quarterback for that offense. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has turned that unit into an undeniable beast.
With all the talk about Cam Newton and Peyton Manning this week, there's been a tendency to overlook the Broncos defense. Those guys got after Tom Brady and, even though Newton is a completely different quarterback — and can trigger a hiccup of hesitation from those outside linebackers with his ability to run — Denver can put a spy on him and force him into mistakes. If Manning can protect the football and get the running game going to set up the play-action pass, the Broncos will pull off the upset. Carolina is not a great second-half team, so the key for Denver will be to hang tough for the first two quarters, then pull off the upset down the stretch.