The Carolina Panthers have been a revelation this year. When the season began for the Panthers, there was trepidation with how they would do. Carolina lost their best wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, to a torn ACL before the season started. But the Panthers passing attack overcame that and ended up being one of the best offenses in the NFL, thanks to soon-to-be NFL MVP Cam Newton. And combined with that stingy defense, the Panthers steamrolled through the regular and the postseason. Now the next challenge awaits them as they take on the Denver Broncos. And while some may think it could be an ugly game for Denver, the Panthers should expect a battle from the veteran Broncos team. Here are five factors that could swing the game in their favor versus Denver.
- Turn up the heat on Peyton Manning
The Panthers have been steady in putting pressure on quarterbacks all year long. And the Denver Broncos have not exactly been the best at protecting their quarterback. The Broncos have gotten better over the year, but they are still the same offensive line that had issues to start the year. If Carolina is able to take advantage of that, then they will have Peyton Manning dancing in the pocket more than he would like to. One guy to watch out for up front is defensive tackle Kawaan Short. He seems to be the barometer of their front four and can be a huge force on the game.
- Who’s the other corner?
The Carolina Panthers have had cornerback Josh Norman step up all season long. And going into his free agency this offseason, he will be targeted by many teams because of his stellar job. But other than him, who do the Panthers have? The other cornerbacks have done well, but with Charles Tillman out, Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain have to step up and play well. Based on the Panthers defense, Norman will not be on Broncos’ wide receiver Demaryius Thomas all the time. And with Emmanuel Sanders at the other wide receiver slot for Denver, the Panthers will need someone else to step up and defend him sometimes too. Finnegan and McClain will be key to how the Panthers defend the Broncos’ passing game.
- Pound the rock
The Carolina Panthers are a physical team whose mantra is “Keep Pounding”. In this game, they must do so offensively. The Panthers are a run-oriented team with a passing game that works off of it. As far as the Broncos, they are a physical team that limits teams in the running game. The Panthers have to win that battle in the running game versus Denver’s defense. When they run the football with Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart or Mike Tolbert, it sets up everything that they do. And if they don’t have the running game, then it causes the Panthers to struggle a bit. The Panthers offensive line has to be nasty in this one from start to finish.
- Cam being the MVP
Cam Newton has been the MVP of the NFL this season. And in this game, the Denver Broncos will try to do all they can to limit him. But it’s real hard to limit a guy that is 6’6” and 250-260 pounds with a cannon for an arm. Cam has to make those special plays that make a player like him unique. The pressure will be after him all game long, so he has to turn those potential sacks into positive plays. And if he is able to do that and neutralize the Broncos’ pass rush, then the Panthers will be a better position to win the game.
- The others receivers
The Panthers receivers have been playing well this season. For example, Ted Ginn Jr has had a career year for Carolina. But there have been some times where Ginn Jr has disappeared and dropped sure touchdown passes. And for him and the rest of the Panthers receiving corps, they will have their opportunities to make some things happen. Denver’s defensive secondary is very good but they do allow some plays to happen. The question is will they make the plays when they present themselves like they have all season or not? The big stage can have a great effect on players and it can also have a damaging effect. If they show up and take advantage of their opportunities, they could be in great position to win.
The Panthers are in a spot where they can make history. Carolina can win their first title in team history if they are to defeat the Broncos. It will not be easy. The Broncos will give them everything they have. But if Carolina can make these five things happen, then they could potentially be Dabbin all the way to Charlotte after this one.