With the Super Bowl now less than one week away, I’ve decided to look at both teams position-by-position to see who comes out on top, at least on paper.
Obviously Peyton Manning is one of the greatest players of all time. However, given his recent injuries and uneven play, along with the MVP-quality play of Cam Newton, the Panthers figure to have the upper hand at quarterback this Sunday.
Advantage: Carolina (1-0 Carolina)
The strength of Carolina’s offense all season has been their power running game. They currently have an NFL-long streak of 31 consecutive games with at least 100 team rushing yards, and Jonathan Stewart has been a perfect compliment to Newton all season, with first team All-Pro fullback Mike Tolbert leading the way. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos have seen occasional bursts from CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, but it has not been enough to frighten many defenses.
Advantage: Carolina (2-0 Carolina)
With Kelvin Benjamin tearing his ACL in the preseason, the Panthers have lacked a true #1 receiver on the outside, making Newton’s MVP-level season even more impressive. Meanwhile, the Broncos boast two star receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, with Cody Latimer proving to be a consistent slot threat.
Advantage: Denver (2-1 Carolina)
After Gronk, Greg Olsen is the most consistent and dangerous threat in the league at the tight end position. No contest from Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis.
Advantage: Carolina (3-1 Carolina)
Denver has struggled to keep their line healthy all season, but they have been good enough to keep Manning upright in his return, and provided Brock Osweiler ample support in his first career starts. Carolina’s line, meanwhile, has had Pro-Bowl level seasons from Michael Oher, Ryan Khalil and Trai Turner on the way to their 17-1 start.
Advantage: Carolina (4-1 Carolina)
Last week, the Panthers showed the strength of their defensive line, forcing Carson Palmer into 6 turnovers (4 interceptions, 2 fumbles). Denver has a strong line anchored by Derek Wolfe, but much of the rush is brought from the outside linebackers.
Advantage: Carolina (5-1 Carolina)
With Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the Panthers boast possibly the strongest inside duo in the league. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are quality players, but do not stack up against the Panthers.
Advantage: Carolina (6-1 Carolina)
Von Miller’s talents were on full display in the AFC Championship game, with 2.5 sacks along with an interception. On the other side, DeMarcus Ware may have lost a step or two, but he is still able to use his savvy and knowledge to make an impact on the edge. Meanwhile, Shaq Thompson (and sometimes Jared Allen) have not produced at the same level.
Advantage: Denver (6-2 Carolina)
Outside of Josh Norman, the Panther’s secondary does not do much to intimidate other teams. Opposite this, the Broncos boast the most feared unit in the league this season, with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and TJ Ward all produced at extremely high levels all season.
Advantage: Denver (6-3 Carolina)
Broncos win at kicker with Brandon McManus and his cannon of a leg, and at punter with Colquitt helping win the AFC title game with his positioned punts, and Ted Ginn gives Carolina the advantage at returner.
Advantage: Denver (6-4 Carolina)
Final: Carolina wins 6-4
Super Bowl L Prediction: Carolina 27, Denver 17