The Carolina Panthers scored a league-leading 500 points during the regular season, while the Denver Broncos allowed a league-low 283.1 yards per game. Both squads grabbed the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences, and now they get to do battle on the huge stage of Super Bowl 50.
With a look at the below table, we can get a pretty good idea of what each team's strengths and weaknesses are. With that in mind, let's predict what the game's final box score might look like. We'll focus on offensive performance both through the air and on the ground, as well as what sort of big plays each defense will cause.
|Panthers vs. Broncos: Statistical Comparison|
|Passing Yardage Per Game (Rank)||224.3 (24)||248.1 (14)|
|Rushing Yardage Per Game (Rank)||142.6 (2)||107.4 (17)|
|Opponent Passing Yardage (Rank)||234.5 (11)||199.6 (1)|
|Opponent Rushing Yardage (Rank)||88.4 (4)||83.6 (3)|
|Turnover Differential (Rank)||+20 (1)||-4 (19)|
|Third-Down Conversion Percentage (Rank)||42.4 (7)||35.3 (25)|
In one of the very rare moments of the past 17 years, Peyton Manning is actually at a large disadvantage in the quarterback matchup. Cam Newton deserves the MVP award this year for his work with the Panthers, and the Broncos are just hoping Manning can manage the game effectively with short, accurate throws.
In this game, Newton does face the tougher defense, but not by that much. The Broncos' specialty is their pass rush, often not even needing a blitz to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Carolina's strong offensive line will have its hands full keeping the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller out of the backfield.
However, Newton's scrambling ability will come in handy here. His speed to get to the edge will force a lot of different looks from the Denver defense compared to when the unit faced the pocket-bound Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.
Manning's return to the field for the past three Broncos games has been a success, as the 39-year-old's play has been a factor in wins against the San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots.
Now, he faces a Panthers pass defense that is much stronger than all of those three teams' units. All three of those squads ranked 13th or worse in opponent passer rating, while Carolina had the best mark in the league.
With the Broncos offense a bit overmatched, Manning may get his share of yardage with Denver trying to get back in the game in the second half. An interception both before and after the intermission for Manning will also be tough for his team to overcome.
|Predicted Quarterback Box Score|
|Cam Newton||Peyton Manning|
|Predictions belong to author|
Jonathan Stewart has been a force toting the ball in the playoffs against two tough defenses. Against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, he combined for 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
He faces another stiff challenge in the Broncos' tough front seven, but the threat of Newton's passing and running ability will open him up for a few nice runs. Fullback Mike Tolbert should also come in to rush during a few short-yardage situations, with mixed results.
C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have split carries pretty evenly in the backfield this season, but Anderson has been hotter in recent weeks and is my pick to get the heavier workload during the Super Bowl. Carolina can play more men in the box because of Manning's lack of arm strength at this point in his career, so that does decrease the likelihood of the Broncos' running game having a big day.
|Predicted Running Back Box Score|
|Jonathan Stewart||C.J. Anderson|
|Predictions belong to author|
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Tight end Greg Olsen should play a huge role in this game as a safety valve for Newton when the Broncos force him to rush his throws. He has a serious argument as the best player at his position not named Rob Gronkowski, and he helps cover up the fact that the Panthers don't have a true No. 1 wide receiver.
Ted Ginn Jr., though, is the closest thing Carolina has to a stud wideout, and his speed makes him a strong candidate to rip off a couple of big plays to take the top off the Broncos defense.
For Denver, No. 1 receiver Demaryius Thomas will get the Josh Norman treatment for much of the game. Norman is an elite cornerback and Thomas has been off the past couple of games (six receptions and 52 yards on 13 total targets), so his statistics may not jump off the page
The Broncos' No. 2 wideout, Emmanuel Sanders, is the guy Manning will have to force some passes to, and a receiving touchdown for the 28-year-old is likely.
|Predicted Wide Receiver/Tight End Box Score|
|Greg Olsen||Ted Ginn Jr.||Emmanuel Sanders||Demaryius Thomas|
|Predictions belong to author|
The Panthers' defense is very, very good. We already discussed their league-low opponent passer rating, but they were also fourth in rushing yards allowed. They had 39 takeaways, the most in the NFL.
The unit will get a boost if linebacker Thomas Davis can play. Per ESPN's David Newton, Davis broke his arm in the NFC Championship Game and had surgery on it Monday but still plans to play in the Super Bowl.
As good as Carolina's defense is, Denver's point-preventing brigade is even better. It had a magnificent showing against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips continuing to add wrinkles from their dream season on that side of the ball.
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The reality is, though, the Panthers get a sizable advantage here by virtue of the offense they are facing. Although Denver's defense is amazing, Carolina's is somewhat close. You can't say the some on the other end, where Cam Newton and Co. have been more explosive than the Broncos all season long.
|Predicted Defense Box Score (Big Plays)|
|Panthers Defense||Broncos Defense|
|Forced Fumbles/Fumble Recoveries||1/0||2/1|
|Predictions belong to author|
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