Carolina O-line vs Denver D-line
The forgotten motor that has driven the 15-1 Carolina Panthers throughout the season is the team’s rock solid offensive line. Notable faces include tackle Michael Oher, guard Trai Turner and center Ryan Kalil. Their strong and consistent play was the primary reason Carolina was able to become the second best rushing offense in the NFL in 2015.
On the other side of the ball sits Denver’s defensive line, which led the NFL in quarterback sacks in 2015. The two players that Carolina will need to keep track of during the game are DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Miller in particular is a force to be reckoned with, amassing 2.5 sacks and laying multiple hits on Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game. If Carolina wants to sustain drives, they must contain Von Miller.
Peyton Manning vs Carolina Secondary
While it has been well noted this season that Peyton Manning is playing like the shadow of his former self, he is still a threat to any defense. Peyton’s ability to decipher a defense is unparalleled, and his knack for manipulating the speed of the game always keeps the opposing team second guessing. The one thing Peyton must continue to do, as he has done in the last two playoff games is avoid throwing interceptions.
Avoiding turnovers will not be easy for Peyton; the Carolina secondary is very skilled and opportunistic. Led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Josh Norman, the defensive backs operate a zone scheme that is as dangerous as any.
Denver Running Backs vs Carolina Linebackers
Due to Manning’s physical limitations, the Denver offense has relied on its running game throughout the year in order to keep them in games. Running backs CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hilman combine to create a credible threat as a tandem.
However, Carolina’s run defense is ranked fourth in the NFL this season. This success can be attributed to the outstanding play coming from linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Both are tenacious tackling machines that control the opposition’s ability to run the ball. Unfortunately, Thomas Davis broke his arm in the NFC Championship game early on, making his status on game-day uncertain. Although, his surgery reportedly went well and Davis plans on playing no matter what. This is a player who has come back from multiple ACL tears, so doubting him would probably be an unwise decision.
Cam Newton vs Denver’s Defense
This matchup is really what the entire game hinges on. Denver has the formidable No. 1 defense in the NFL, but do they really have a chance against the beast that is Cam Newton? Cam is likely going to be the league’s MVP in runaway fashion after putting together a legendary season. No team in the regular season could stop him and attempts to corral him by the Seahawks and Cardinals in the postseason have been pathetic. If Denver is unable to slow Newton down, it’s very possible the game could get out of hand quickly.