Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How Broncos and Panthers match up for Super Bowl 50

When Carolina has the ball

QB Cam Newton (left) accounted for 50 total touchdowns, but Carolina's strength is the NFL's No. 2 run game, averaging 142 yards a game. Newton is at his best in the red zone, where the Panthers scored touchdowns a league-best 70 percent of their trips inside the opposing 20.

That lines up with Denver's strength — the NFL's No. 1 total defense, No. 1 pass defense, No. 1 in sacks, No. 3 run defense. The Broncos had a league-best 52 sacks, so for Newton to play well, tackles Michael Oher and Mike Remmers must keep Pro Bowl outside LBs Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware from getting to Newton with any consistency.

Carolina's offense has good depth — nine players scored two or more touchdowns this season, with WR Ted Ginn (10 TDs) and TE Greg Olsen (seven) leading the way. RB Jonathan Stewart has a career average of better than 5 yards a carry in the postseason, with three touchdowns in his past four games. No team in the NFL ran the ball more than Carolina, so Denver has to stop the Panthers' run game and turn Newton into a more predictable dropback passer.

When Denver has the ball

Which Peyton Manning shows up against Carolina? He threw for only nine touchdown passes against 17 interceptions in 331 pass attempts, leaning heavily on the Broncos defense. Those interceptions are something to watch — Carolina's defense led the NFL with 24 interceptions and 38 total takeaways in the regular season.

Denver has two solid backs in Ronnie Hillman (863 yards) and C.J. Anderson (720 yards), but Anderson (right) is probably the more dangerous postseason threat — Hillman has a career average of 2.8 yards per carry in the playoffs, while Anderson is at 4.6. Denver has the NFL's 27th-best red zone offense, one of the most glaring differences from Carolina, so they'll need to convert those opportunities — the Panthers are only 11th in red-zone defense, a relative weakness for that unit.

The Broncos have two prolific receivers in Demaryius Thomas (1,304 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders (1,135), but they need touchdowns to match their yards. Manning hasn't thrown an interception in two playoff games — Super Bowl teams are 18-2 all time when they don't commit a turnover.

Special teams matchup

Want a vulnerability for Carolina? How about blocked kicks? Graham Gano, a former FSU standout, had four field goals blocked as well as an extra point for an NFL-high five blocked kicks. And Denver nearly returned a blocked extra point for a touchdown against Detroit this season.

Carolina ranked last in the NFL in kickoff return average, but it has a proven threat on punt returns in Ted Ginn, who has seven career touchdowns on returns including four on punts. Denver had a return TD this season but lost returner Omar Bolden to a knee injury in the playoffs, so it is less of a danger as a result.

Denver reached this game with the help of a missed extra point, so it's worth noting that Gano has missed three of them this season. He and Denver's Brandon McManus have the leg to hit a field goal from 55-plus yards, but the accuracy on the shorter kicks could be just as important.

Coaching matchup

Both head coaches have plenty of Super Bowl experience, as players and as coaches. Carolina's Ron Rivera and Denver's Gary Kubiak are in their first Super Bowls as head coaches, but they've been here before.

Kubiak has been in six Super Bowls, losing three as Denver's backup quarterback, then winning three in five years as an assistant with the 1994 49ers and the '97 and '98 Broncos. Rivera won a Super Bowl as a Bears player in the 1985 season and was Lovie Smith's defensive coordinator when Chicago lost in 2006.

Rivera has a chance to be just the fourth person to win a Super Bowl as a player and head coach, joining his old coach Mike Ditka, as well as Tom Flores and Tony Dungy.

     
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