The Carolina Panthers are heavy favorites over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. And it’s easy to see why. They will be entering the game with a 17-1 overall record, with 12 of those wins coming by a touchdown or more, and their quarterback, Cam Newton, is now arguably the best football player in the world. In fact, with a win, the Panthers will likely go down as one of the greatest teams to win a Super Bowl in NFL history.
Of course, that’s only if they actually win the game. Here’s a look at five keys to victory for the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
1. Expose the Broncos’ offensive line deficiencies.
The general consensus around the NFL is that the Broncos have the best defensive front seven in the league. What’s less often mentioned is that the Panthers aren’t far behind. On the shoulders of linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, as well as defensive tackles Kawann Short (pictured above) and Star Lotulelei, the Panthers have had one of the league’s top defenses all season. And, in reality, Carolina’s defense should dominate the Denver offense at the line of scrimmage — The Broncos’ offensive line has struggled all season, and if the Panthers can ensure that trend continues, they will likely win the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
2. Limit the effectiveness of the Broncos’ pass rush.
When it comes down to it, the Broncos’ pass rush, led by outside linebackers Von Miller (pictured above) and DeMarcus Ware, was the reason Denver knocked off Tom Brady and the New England Patriots two weeks ago in the AFC Championship Game. The Panthers do have the advantage of having a mobile quarterback in Cam Newton, but their offensive line will still have their work cut out for them on Sunday night. If Miller, Ware, or any of Denver’s slew of pass rushers are able to get to Newton on a consistent basis, the Broncos’ chances of pulling off the upset will increase exponentially.
3. Rush for 125 or more yards.
This right here is a matchup of strengths. During the 2015 regular season, the Panthers rushed for 142.6 yards per game (the 2nd-highest per game total in the league), and the Broncos allowed just 83.6 yards per game on the ground (the 3rd lowest per game total in the league). If Carolina fails to get their rushing attack going against a staunch Denver defense, then we like the Broncos’ chances to come away with the win. Conversely, if the Panthers can establish their ground game early on, it will keep the Broncos’ defense off-balance and open things up for Newton, tight end Greg Olsen, and the rest of the Carolina offense.
In our eyes, the key number is 125. If the Panthers go over 125 rushing yards, we believe that they will win. If not, we like the Broncos’ chances.
4. Win the special teams battle.
We also listed this as one of the major things the Broncos needed to do to win on Sunday night. Needless to say, we truly believe that the winner of the special teams battle will likely prevail on Sunday night. For Carolina to win the battle, they will of course need strong performances out of punter Brad Nortman and kicker Graham Gano, but more importantly, they will need to get an explosive play or two out of Ted Ginn Jr. (pictured above) in the return game.
5. Get off to a fast start.
The Panthers have excelled at starting games off fast and never letting up all season. They did it to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional round – they jumped out to a 31-0 first half lead against the two-time defending NFC Champions – and they did it again against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, taking a 34-7 lead into the fourth quarter en route to winning the game by a final score of 49-15. If Carolina can pull off something similar on Sunday night, they will likely add the Broncos’ long history of Super Bowl failures.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.