Before I even try to convince you that the Broncos will win, I want to make one thing clear. The team that got crushed by the Seahawks two years ago in Super Bowl 48 no longer exists. Peyton Manning is old and the Broncos don’t have the highest scoring offence like they did back then. This team relies on its stellar defence which has stars in the front seven and in the secondary.
The Broncos have already done what many thought was unthinkable and managed to stop Tom Brady while tearing him apart with 20 hits during the game, which is the most times any quarterback was hit this season.
If the Broncos pass rush can hit Cam Newton that many times the wear and tear should slow him down regardless of how physical he is himself. The strongest aspect of the Broncos pass rush is the depth of the line. The group of Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson consistently pressured Brady while also tipping any passes he did get off.
Miller on his own should have the Panthers concerned, as the former second overall pick in 2011 has consistently been a star in his last five years in the league. Miller is the third fastest player in history to reach 50 sacks, in 58 games.
If the front seven for the Broncos can hold the line and get penetration the Panthers physical running game could be severely limited. If Newton, running back Jonathan Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert aren’t able to get a running start they may not be able to run over the Broncos the way they did the rest of the NFL.
After limiting Rob Gronkowski until the last drive, the Broncos now face another offence relying on its tight end in the Panthers Greg Olsen. After the Broncos got the good news that safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart will be able to play after receiving injuries, the task became a lot more manageable. Olsen should expect a double team on every play and coverage from the Broncos biggest star corner, Aqib Talib (6’1”, 205 lbs.).
The Panthers’ only other major receiving threat is speedster Ted Ginn Jr., The Broncos two-time All-Pro shutdown corner. Chris Harris Jr. Should be fully healthy and able to follow him around the field with relative ease.
The Broncos should be able to spy Cam Newton on the rare occasion he breaks free of the pass rush to help limit any broken plays when Cam attempts to run.
The Broncos offence will be in for a challenge, but with a veteran in Manning, the Broncos should be able to avoid crucial turnovers. The panthers defence has been able to sit back with a lead so far in the playoffs. Against Seattle in the divisional round the Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game. Being able to sit back and wait for the pass helped Carolina hide their weak secondary. The Panthers were forced to sign veterans Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain in December due to injuries at cornerback.
Manning had a rough year which included being benched after throwing four interceptions against Kansas City in week 10. A foot injury forced Manning to miss a few games, but, after returning and eventually playing as a back-up in week 17, Manning has not turned the ball over yet. Continuing this streak will be a key after the Panthers forced Arizona’s Carson Palmer into six turnovers in the NFC conference championship.
The Broncos run game will face a stiff challenge from the Panthers. The Broncos do have the advantage as an offensive line of having their starters miss a combined five games since week four. Both tackles Ryan Harris and Michael Schofield along with centre Matt Paradis have started every game during that span. Communication will be key for the team in their zone blocking run style, which relies on everyone working on the same page.
At the running back position, the Broncos have been splitting the carries between the duo of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman throughout the season with both taking turns to star. Anderson has been the most productive of the two, averaging 4.6 yards per carry in two playoff games and 5.7 over the last four games total.
If Anderson can continue his production it should give Manning just enough room to make the throws to the open receivers, other than the one Josh Norman is covering. If the Broncos can avoid turnovers and allow their defence enough time to stay fresh, it will be a success for the veteran Manning.
For the Broncos to win, it will take another excellent effort from their defence on every level to slow down Newton, both running and passing. This version of the Broncos’ defence is built to win the Super Bowl and should be able to carry the Broncos to victory on Sunday, and hopefully a Manning retirement.