Overall Season Record 167-96
Amidst an unprecedented season of explosive offenses two teams with different identities reign supreme. In a world filled with high-flying passing games and reliance on that game plan, both the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos hang their hats on tough defense.
The old adage “defense wins championships” is no more true than this year. Most years we see a defensive team against an offensive team, and yet this year the teams with strong defensive units have been able to make enough big plays to get to the promised land. But it’s the offenses that will be what separates them in the end. Yet who has the better one?
The same question can be begged referring to their defenses but for arguments’ sake, let’s do one at a time. Denver isn’t the same as two years ago with Peyton Manning at the helm. His arm strength got a little loopy towards the end of the last season and many said he was throwing with a “noodle arm”. Manning’s accuracy took a huge hit and he relied on his excellent duo of wide receivers (Emmanuel Sanders and Demauryius Thomas) to get extra separation. CJ Anderson was also way more effective last season and this year he needed more patience, both in game and overall, to find that level again.
While it doesn’t appear as though the Broncos have found previous seasons’ levels of offensive firepower, they have begun to pick up the proficiency that they had at the beginning of the season with Brock Osweiler. Gary Kubiak’s scheme is running much smoother and the all-out aerial attack that Manning traditionally thrives on has been quelled for now (except in late-game situations). Owen Daniels has seen more targets and it’s likely Vernon Davis maybe get a surprise cameo or two on the biggest stage in sports if the offensive is to perform at its best.
A great pass-rusher in Von Miller and a pair of cover-corners having very good seasons in Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, provide a great foundation on a defense that has been very good all season long. Let’s not mistake this unit for some of the better ones of the past. In fact, they weren’t at the top of every meaningful statistical ranking this season (only 4th in points yielded). So we know there’s a weakness somewhere in the defense. But with athletic linebackers, there’s not going to be many open spots on the field. The defensive line has plenty of potential, but will they play to that level?
Carolina has had one identity the entire season. Much like the Baltimore Ravens of 2000, the Panthers depend on strong quarterback play and a reliable defense. While they have been prone to late-game slip-ups, big plays were made throughout the season when need be. Even with injuries slowing down Thomas Davis Jr. and Jared Allen, there will be plenty of firepower with Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short along with a stacked defensive secondary with ball-hawking players including Josh Norman, Courtland Finnegan, and Roman Harper.
Cam Newton has been a little better than Trent Dilfer was for that Baltimore team though. He’s had over 3800 yards passing and account for 10 rushing touchdowns. He’s a dual threat in every sense of the word and needs to be that dynamic to take attention away from the guys essentially blocking for him every year (i.e. everyone).
Ted Ginn is a big-play guy after a few quiet seasons (like 5 or 6, actually). There’s a few receivers with the ability to get free aside from him but the real target through the air is Greg Olsen. Expect to see him early and often. Jonathan Stewart has been a revelation after several seasons of injuries amidst a platoon at running back with DeAngelo Williams.
The methodical game-play of the Panthers’ offense is likely to penetrate the Broncos defense over time. The Denver offense will likely jump on top early with a big play or two to surprise us only to have Cam Newton reel in the momentum and game in what will likely be a wild ending.
Don’t expect fireworks or a hail-mary to end the game. But every time two powerful defenses get together it either seems to be a matchup of who can get into the end zone at least once and then hold firm on D, or who can make a stop at the end. Just as we saw the kickers play a part in a few of the games leading up to the big one, it’s gonna happen again this time.
Panthers 30, Broncos 27