My final breakdown of the Panthers and Broncos before a prediction will be a look at a few x-factors for the game.
- Ted Ginn Jr.
I’ve touched on Ginn already when I talked about the special teams and it’s for good reason. Ginn is a perfect example of an x-factor because he has the potential to change the game with a couple of plays, despite not getting a high volume of touches. Ginn will be able to stretch Denver’s defense like a perimeter shooter in basketball, whether he has the ball or not; that’s what speed does. Denver safeties will need to know where he is at all times, and punter Britton Colquitt should be weary on whether or not to kick to him; in the case of Ginn — speed can kill.
- Michael Oher and Mike Remmers
The two offensive tackles for the Panthers are going to be busy. Oher and Remmers will be tasked with slowing down guys like Von Miller coming off the edge for Denver. They’re going to be instrumental in allowing Cam Newton do what he wants to do, and if they can’t protect him it could mean an off balanced looking Panther offense. The Bronco defense is incredibly talented and good at both rushing the passer as well as stopping the run, for that reason it’s going to be instrumental for Carolina to win the battle in the trenches; and it starts with Oher and Remmers.
- Robert McClain
McClain, as well as Cortland Finnegan, have been thrust into bigger roles in the Panther secondary with Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman going down. McClain is going to spend at least some time guarding Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders; both of which are a test for any cornerback. Peyton Manning is clearly not the Manning of old, but he knows how to exploit secondaries to his capabilities. McClain will likely see a lot of targets come his way and his ability (or inability) to cover his man will be a game changer.
- BONUS: Shaq Thompson
The former Husky will be playing in the Super Bowl in just his rookie season. Thompson is extremely versatile — he can play linebacker and nickel back. With Thomas Davis’ availability in question, along with some needed aid in the secondary, Thompson could be hugely significant in plugging up holes for the Panthers. Husky fans know what Thompson can do, it could be time for the world to do the same come Sunday.
- CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman
The importance of these two can’t be stressed enough. Denver Head Coach Gary Kubiak wants to run the ball and protect the ball, especially with a limited Manning. That puts a lot of pressure on these two backs, but one of them needs to get a hot hand and keep the chains moving. Anderson has been playing well in the postseason after a suspect regular season, notching 4.6 yards per carry. It’s going to be tough to find a lot of running room for either one behind a below average offensive line and battling a dominant front seven. For Denver’s sake they’ll need Anderson to remain patient and take advantage of his opportunities.
- Owen Daniels
Daniels has burst into the conversation after two touchdown catches against the Patriots in the AFC Championship. With Manning’s arm not
what it once was, he’ll continue to look for his tight end and Daniels will have to make non-cover guys pay. Not only that, as an extra blocker he’ll need to be effective so that Anderson and Hillman have some running room. I’m going to sound like a broken record, but it’s all about taking advantage of opportunities against this Panthers team that won’t give them many — Daniels could be one of the guys that has multiple of those opportunities.
- Darian Stewart
The safety most likely will draw the unlucky task of having to guard Greg Olsen of the Panthers. Olsen is easily the biggest passing threat and it’s crucial that the Broncos don’t lose track of him on the field. Stewart and the rest of the Broncos secondary did pretty well with Gronkowski, especially in the first half of the game. That trend will need to continue in order to slow down the Panthers, especially in 3rd and long situations.
- BONUS: Peyton Manning
It feels weird to be calling Manning an x-factor, but I’ll do it anyway. The guy has been absolutely written off by many that follow the NFL. It’s likely his last rodeo, and I just don’t see him going down like he did against the Seahawks. Manning is not an x-factor in that he needs to throw for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns, but rather as a guy that knows what it takes to win and, if it comes down to it, will win. If Denver gets the ball last with a chance to win, it has the potential to be a perfect fairytale story of vintage Manning and a vintage Manning drive. All I’m saying is the man is a legend and he’s got one game left, he’s going to go down swinging.