Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos
Previewing the Panthers: During the regular season, the Panthers finished with the top seed in the NFC with a 15-1 record. Quarterback Cam Newton is expected to win the league’s MVP award. He is the centerpiece of the Panthers’ multidimensional offense, which finished second in the league in rushing offense and 11th in passing during the regular season. The Panthers frequently use spread formations, which isolate tight end Greg Olsen and create mismatches with wide receivers and running backs. RB Jonathan Stewart has been very productive and notched his first Pro Bowl invite of his eight-year career.
The Panthers defense has forced turnovers all year. Cornerback Josh Norman locks down receivers on the perimeter and the front seven has disrupted opponents’ passing and rushing offenses. The special teams unit has been productive with kicker Graham Gano, punter Brad Nortman, and returner Ted Ginn Jr.
Previewing the Broncos: The Broncos have been able to win games with elite defensive play and a steady offensive attack. QB Peyton Manning, who will be the oldest signal caller to start a Super Bowl in NFL history, missed several games this season with an injury, but backup QB Brock Osweiler filled in and led the Broncos to a 5-2 record as a starter. The Broncos are very balanced with their passing and rushing offenses, which is spearheaded by RB’s CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman.
The Broncos finished first in the league during the regular season in total defense. With a dominant front seven led by outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos have pressured opposing quarterbacks at an unprecedented rate. CB’s Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib have been shutdown corners, and the entire unit has been nothing short of spectacular. During their 20-18 victory over the New England Patriots two weeks ago, the Broncos hit QB Tom Brady 20 times. If they can contain the Panthers’ top receiving targets, pressure Newton, win the turnover battle, and stay balanced on offense, they will be in great position to win.
Pick: Broncos, 20, Panthers, 17