Breaking down the matchups when Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos meet in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. PST. The NFL’s championship game will be broadcast on CBS.
Broncos pass offense
vs. Panthers pass defense
Peyton Manning doesn’t have a lot of velocity on his throws, but he was sharper in the championship game than against Pittsburgh the week before. Emmanuel Sanders can stretch the field, and Owen Daniels has been hot lately in two-tight-end sets. Carolina’s ultra-athletic Josh Norman is the Odell Beckham Jr. of cornerbacks, and safety Kurt Coleman is an interception machine. The Panthers haven’t gotten a lot of pass-rush production out of their defensive ends, but tackle Kawaan Short has had a phenomenal year.
Broncos run offense
vs. Panthers run defense
C.J. Anderson is a bowling ball, and Ronnie Hillman has the quickness to get around the corner and home-run speed. Broncos right tackle Michael Schofield is a liability in pass protection but he’s a great run blocker, as is rookie guard Max Garcia. The Panthers have a stifling run defense, mainly because of linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. They’re dominant. Kuechly is incredibly adept at sniffing out where a play’s going, seemingly before the snap. Carolina doesn’t do anything tricky, just lets its athletes be athletes.
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 Rob Gronkowski-like, and the speedy Ted Ginn Jr. is playing his best football (even if he has his drops). Denver’s pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware is a nightmare for quarterbacks, and they were on fire vs. Tom Brady. The Broncos have three of the best corners in the business in Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby, plus thumping safety T.J. Ward.
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 Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Denver’s big guys up front — especially Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams, and Antonio Smith — are solid at the point of attack. Inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are terrific sideline-to-sideline trackers.
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 Britton Colquitt and Carolina’s Brad Nortman, and reliable kickers in Denver’s Brandon McManus and Carolina’s Graham Gano. McManus had a remarkable performance in the divisional-round victory over Pittsburgh, nailing five field goals despite the 30 mph crosswinds coming off the mountains. The Broncos have a Swiss watch in long snapper Aaron Brewer.
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.
BRONCOS 28, PANTHERS 24