The Carolina Panthers (17-1) led the NFL in scoring, averaging over 31 points per game this season. The Panthers as a team, rank 1st in the NFL for turnover differential, total takeaways and 6th in total defense.
The Denver Broncos (14-4) come in with the number one ranked defense in the NFL, and statistically the best defense in the franchises history. Teams with the NFL’s number one defense are 9-2 all-time in the Super Bowl.
The Carolina Panthers have only been held to under 20 points once this season.
The Broncos have held their opponent to under 20 points 11 times this season, including in both of their playoff wins.
Defensively, The Broncos rank 3rd in the NFL in rushing defense and 1st in passing defense.
If you’re looking for a comparison of how the Panthers has fared against some of the leagues better defenses; Carolina did defeat Seattle, who had the number one rushing and second ranked passing defense in the league, twice this season. Arizona had the 6th best rushing and 8th best pass defense in the league.
The Broncos however will still pose new threats to the Carolina offense. The Broncos led the NFL with 52 sacks this season and have added 7 more sacks in two post season games. The Panthers will have to continue to get good production from their running game, which ranks as the 2nd best in the NFL, to keep the Broncos pass rush honest. The Broncos defense was able to hit Tom Brady 23 times in the AFC Championship, although due to the Patriots almost non-existent threat to run the ball, Brady and the Patriots did attempt 60 passing plays.
As good as the Broncos defense has been, I expect the Broncos offense to struggle against the Carolina defense. The Broncos rank 19th in the NFL in scoring and 16th in total offense. The Broncos have also turned the ball over 31 times this season, which is the 3rd highest total in the NFL. The Panthers are no slouch defensively themselves, coming in with the leagues 4th best rushing and 11th best defense against the pass to go along with 44 regular season and 8 post season quarterback sacks. The Panthers also lead the league in points off of turnovers.
This game is about so much more than Peyton Manning versus Cam Newton, however of course the quarterbacks will have an impact on this game. For Denver to win, the Broncos must be able to run the ball effectively and allow Peyton Manning to make the smart throws at the right time. The Broncos defense also must slow down the Panthers running game and cause Cam Newton to make some mistakes. Peyton Manning must continue to make smart decisions and protect the football. If Carolina can get off to an early lead, and the Peyton Manning who threw only 9 touchdowns to 17 interceptions during the regular season shows up, then it could be a long day for Denver.
I know defense wins championships, just don’t forget that the Panthers also play defense. I expect the Panthers running game to keep the Broncos pass rush honest, and for a mobile Cam Newton to be able to get out of the pocket and make enough plays to win. I love the Panthers in this match-up both straight up and against the spread. As for the over/under, which is currently 44, I see this game right around that mark making it a risky play on either side.
Carolina 27 Denver 16