I struggled trying to figure out who had the edge in this game. I could take the Broncos defense and run with the “Peyton as a game manager” narrative that everyone (Broncos fans especially) seem to want to run with. I could pick the guy who, most likely, will be the league’s Most Valuable Player, Cam Newton.
Decisions. Narrative. Analysis. Forget it all when it comes to what is going to happen on Sunday in Santa Clara (Not San Francisco).
Obviously I’m not a psychic (although, I am 8-2 picking games this postseason), but what I’m predicting is that neither team will have it easy on offense. So Panthers fans, please, do not take this as a slight, but when it’s being said that Carolina hasn’t played a defense like Denver’s yet, it’s true. No one is making this up for fun or just for conversation. The match up does not favor what the Panthers want to do, and have done so well: run the football to set up their pass through the read-option.
Never mind that running on Denver has been difficult for every team this season (third overall rushing defense), but now you’re trying to set everything else up through a run based system. That’s not a good formula.
Carolina isn’t dead in the water, either.
The Panthers ranked 11th against the pass and 4th in rushing defense. They’re a force to be reckoned with, in their own right, on defense. What concerns me, in regards to this match up, is will they have enough pieces for all that Denver has on offense? I’ve heard and seen all there is regarding Manning and his arm. Remember what I told you at the beginning, forget all of that. If this is indeed “his last rodeo” I’m sure he has enough left to figure it out for 60 minutes.
I mentioned before the Panthers game against the Cardinals what I liked most about their 4-3 Base defense was that it was built properly. The key to that defense is Kuechly, who put together another stellar performance in the NFC Championship game. Denver’s offensive plan will need to be to nullify the impact he has on the game by doing something the Giants did very well back in week 15 and that is staying committed to the passing game.
Yes this Panthers team has Josh Norman in their secondary and that isn’t to understate his importance. But the Panthers can be had through the air if the routes are creative enough. And as we saw in the Broncos’ game against New England, they can get creative in the passing game.
I’ve wavered back and forth on this game for the better part of two weeks (and will probably do so again before Sunday). However one thing I keep coming back to is this Broncos defense being historically good. To the point that, despite how good I think the Panthers are, I can’t bet against this Broncos personnel. There won’t be a blowout in Santa Clara on Sunday, but I believe when it’s all said and done Denver gets the job done.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Panthers 20
Thoughts? Let me know about’em! Follow me on Twitter @DACubbage