By: S. Davis
I’ve been so busy with life crap that I forgot to spend any time trying to come up with a Super Bowl victor. That’s bullshit! I don’t know who’s going to be celebrating once the confetti begins to shower the field. Predicting the playoffs was a breeze for me until I whiffed on both conference title games (my two losses).
After this game I have to get back to the real world of, well, living in SoCal is not real – at all – so I’ll pour myself into…stuff. Avoiding this game breakdown will only compound the problem so let’s get with it.
Carolina @ Denver
All season long I’ve been worried about the Broncos’ offense. Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning have struggled to find a functional balance between their offensive philosophies. Now I completely agree that Manning needs to operate – the majority of the snaps – under center instead of the shotgun where he really feels most comfortable. Kubiak goes with traditional sets so that he can run his bootlegs and, more importantly, keep his running back attacking from a point of strength. (Receiving the handoff from the shotgun set isn’t a favorite of most runners.) To remedy this, Manning has also been operating out of the pistol which is a great compromise by both men.
Taking all that into consideration, they’ve been inconsistent all year. Is anyone sure what the offense will provide on Sunday? Most experts have the Panthers winning this game by two (or more) touchdowns whereas the gamblers have them installed as a 5.5 point favorite. The consensus is that this game will be similar to Super Bowl 48 which was decided after the first snap. Repeat: The FIRST snap. I hope not. Something told me I should have just had sex that night but that’s a whole other issue.
They score 22.2 points per contest for a league rating of 18th in the league whereas the Panthers light the scoreboard to the tune of 31.3 points per game (first in the NFL). Provided those numbers hold up in a few days, the Broncos’ dominant defenders are going to have to muster up another stellar performance; not mediocre or average, they have to be perfect. They have no room for error. Think about the level of pressure that brings.
My hesitation to pick Denver lies there. After playing at the highest level against the New England Patriots (in a game where I picked the Pats to advance) can they do it one more time?
Cam Newton presents issues that we’re all aware of: outstanding power, strength and speed; a great arm, the ability to read and deliver from the pocket and on the move – and the personality that drives a confident bunch of cats. They can win this game by basically emulating what they’ve done most of the year. Unlike many of the second half naps this team has taken while protecting leads, they won’t have to be too scared if they jump out on the Broncos early.
Two things I’m looking for:
- Greg Olsen vs. Broncos’ Secondary: All signs point to Aqib Talib spending most of the evening chasing the league’s other dominant tight end. With the lack of respect the Panthers’ wide receivers garner it makes sense that Talib would focus on Olsen. The Super Bowl just about always features a player coming out of thin air to blow the game open. Will Ted Ginn Jr. (and his hands) answer the call? I’m also interested to see where T.J. Ward spends most of the game.
- Will Demaryius Thomas actually do anything? For a receiver classified as one of the league’s best I seem to forget he’s on the field in the postseason. I remember the touchdown run to eliminate the Pittsburgh Steelers a few years back when Tim Tebow was the quarterback. In two games played this postseason he has a combined 52 yards receiving with zero touchdowns. Last year he totaled 59 yards in his one start of the postseason. He has to be busy for the Broncos to have a real chance at winning this game.
Both defensive units are primed to make this a great battle when each takes the field. Who makes the big play first? Will Manning make a critical interception? I honestly think he’s going to play well, although I don’t know if that’s going to be enough here. I feel that with two weeks of rest and training for what may be his last game, ever, he’s going to look good in optimal weather conditions. Manning’s performance is the least of my concerns. Additionally, I want to see the impact Owen Daniels will have now that the Panthers’ best coverage linebacker, Thomas Davis, will start the game with a forearm that was surgically repaired two weeks ago after breaking it against the Arizona Cardinals.
Since Newton is the ultimate wildcat/option quarterback. He is the evolution at the position that was molded from John Elway, Steve Young and Michael Vick. While not as consistent – over his career thus far – as Young and Elway in the pocket, he is impressive when standing in there to deliver the ball. Also, he doesn’t escape the rush as the first resort. Newton makes his way through his progressions before relying on his natural gifts. Along with Russell Wilson, they occupy their own version of the quarterback template.
The Panthers’ offense will give the Broncos a myriad of problems. Their unpredictability with traps, jet sweeps, pulling linemen that zone block to open alleys for Newton and Jonathan Stewart will make sure the Broncos stay disciplined. Put too many men in the box and Newton can go over the top in the passing game. Pull the secondary too far away from the line of scrimmage and they have to deal with the Stewart/Newton/Mike Tolbert nightmare. Watching the Panthers, you really have to look back across the history of the league. Their playbook features chapters from the Green Bay Packers’ dynasty of Vince Lombardi, Joe Gibbs’ Washington teams and some tenets the Miami Dolphins employed with Larry Csonka. It’s no secret that Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s father, Don Shula, led those Dolphins. Can you see the symmetry? They’re basically a single-wing offense with diverse wrinkles added. They’re not out to trick anyone, they go to the line of scrimmage and bludgeon you.
I should stop avoiding the whole reason this piece is being written; pick? Nope, I don’t have one yet.
The Broncos will have to replicate last week’s strategy that confused the Patriots but the issue is the same. Wade Phillips ordered pressure looks on every snap mixed with varied coverage packages. The issue is the pressure that worked to short-circuit the Patriots will get the Broncos’ defenders in trouble. Denver has to be honest and play straight up because the exotic blitzes and extra men in the box will get them blown up. It could be an ugly final outcome but I doubt it will.
Pick: Panthers over Broncos, 27-17. All year I’ve been talking about the one game where the Broncos will have to be perfect on defense to win…and the offense will lag a bit behind; this is that game. I thought it was going to take place against the Patriots. The front seven of the Broncos are going to have to decide this game if they are to hold the trophy. The Panthers can match their counterparts, defensively, while being varied, fine tuned and consistent offensively. It’s Carolina.
Regular Season: 154-101