Denver Broncos (+5.5) vs Car – Carolina is HOT, HOT, HOT. They’ve pummeled both opponents en route to the Super Bowl. But those were at home. This game is on an unfamiliar surface to both teams. Denver comes in impressive from a defensive standpoint. Offensively, they have not been asked to do too much and that’s a good thing; they probably can’t with Peyton Manning in his current form. Therefore, it’s a much safer attack and focuses on ball control.
When Carolina has the ball: Expect the Panthers to do what they have done all year long. They will try and establish the line of scrimmage and run game, and mix in the pass – with some shots down the field. They’ll find slim pickings in the run game and be forced to attack through the air. They should enjoy solid success targeting TE Greg Olsen. Denver has struggled against opposing TEs. However, Denver has the decided advantage against the Panthers receivers. Cam Newton is playing at a ridiculous level but QBs tend to lose focus when they get hit. Wade Phillips’ plan will emphasize putting a lick on Newton every time they can, and that will likely force Carolina to minimize the number of designed runs they have for him.
When Denver has the ball: The Broncos will continue their conservative attack. The last thing they want is for Manning to make a crucial mistake (ie pick six) because he is being asked to win this game with his arm. He won’t be. They’ll mix in the run (with limited success) to keep the Panthers honest, and then target TE Owen Daniels and WR Emmanuel Sanders out of the slot. Norman should have success against Thomas if not because Thomas is prone to the dropsies, so Denver will look elsewhere. Expect the Broncos to try and sustain long drives and win the time of possession battle. Shortening the game will be crucial to their chances.
When all is said and done, the Panthers look like the winner, but not by 5.5. Denver brings the best D in the NFL in and the best Cam has seen all year, and defenses travel. They’ll keep the Broncos in the game throughout and give them a chance to win at the end. We could see a 20-16 final in favor of the Panthers, or a last minute Denver win on a FG. It will be close throughout and whichever team makes the fewest mistakes will win.