There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is the Broncos go on the road again. The bad news is they play the Carolina Panthers (10-3) who are 7-0 at home. This is going to be an all out brawl. The Panthers lead a very tough division (NFC South), and they’ve won the last 6 of 7 games. Forget about the Cowboys-Giants, this is the game of the week. The Panthers are coming off of a very impressive win against Tampa Bay on Monday night. However, they have never won against the Broncos. All the Broncos need to do to make it into the playoffs is win this game against the Panthers (or hope for a Chargers loss). Why can’t Santa come early this year for the team and its fans? We’ve endured enough in the past few seasons. My Prediction: Broncos 31 Panthers 28.
Broncos - Ranked 3rd in passing offense, Jay Cutler has sure made a name for himself this season. He should be able to do some damage against the Panthers 14th ranked pass defense. Throw away all of the injuries in the backfield, and this offense is relatively healthy. Knock on wood, Eddie Royal, Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley, and Tony Scheffler have been outstanding in recent weeks, and I expect them to have a big day on Sunday. With the way the offensive line has been protecting Cutler, allowing 0 sacks in the last 3 games, these guys should be able to create space down field. Tatum Bell seems prepared to take on the role of the Broncos featured back. He knows the system very well since he played for the team in 04′-06.’ He will be splitting carries with Selvin Young and Cory Boyd. Ryan Clady has yet another tough test blocking Julius Peppers.
Panthers- Smash and Dash, Salt and Pepper, Peanut Butter & Jelly. What ever you want to call them, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart work well together. They put on quite the show on MNF each rushing for 2 TDs and over 100 yards. Sprinkle in some Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad down field, and this Denver defense has got a lot to worry about. I wonder if they’ve started taking their anti-anxiety meds yet. Jake Delhomme has thrown 13 TDs this year and he’s been intercepted 11 times. This team has relied on the run to carry them through the season. Don’t expect to see the Broncos in their 3-4 alignment. The Panthers are proud of their big move to pick up Jeff Otah, and some other players in the off-season to beef up their front line. That is what’s made the Panthers ground game a force to be reckoned with.
Broncos - In the past few weeks, the Broncos defense has strung together some big defensive stops late in the game. I have one Christmas wish for the Broncos: Please give my heart a break, and win it on the defensive side in the first half. My heart is only 25 years old, but I want to keep it in tip-top shape for my remaining years. The Broncos defense seemingly improved when the team lost captions, D.J. Williams and Champ Bailey. Around that time, they started practicing in full pads too, so credit whoever and whatever you want. On Sunday, the Broncos will need to take away the big runs. Williams and Stewart will probably pound the Broncos continually until they tire and break down. Mike Shanahan may need to be conservative with his challenges this week to keep his timeouts in order to give the defense a rest.
Panthers - Carolina’s defense is not that soft chocolate chip cookie that melts in your mouth. It’s tough, ranked 8th in the league, and has got some players to contain. Jon Beason leads the league in tackles, and Thomas Davis and Chris Gamble are right up their with him among the top tacklers. Julius Peppers is a monster and has 12.5 sacks on the season while Charles Johnson has 5 sacks this year. The Panthers are very capable of stopping the Broncos running game, but their secondary will have a lot more trouble stopping the passing attack. Earlier in the season, the Panthers shut out the Chiefs, held the Falcons to 9 points, and kept Drew Brees from throwing a TD in a win over the Saints. However, over the past month, the Panthers have allowed a lot of points.
Broncos - Against the Chiefs, the Broncos special teams struggled. Kickoff and punt coverage were horrible as they allowed the Chiefs to average 30 yards per return. Matt Prater missed another field goal, one that would’ve broken a tie. Prater has missed 6 times this season from 40-49 yards. The Chiefs were a team that could allow for poor special teams play, but the Panthers are not.
Panthers- Kicker John Kasay is nearly perfect on the season making 21-22 field goals. Mark Jones handles most of the kick and punt returns and he’s had longs of 59 yards and 55 yards, respectively. This guy has the ability to find a big hole, so the Broncos special teams coverage needs to be ready.
Broncos - Mike Shanahan’s playoff prediction at the beginning of the year is close to becoming reality. He can do it with one win. Why put the Chargers in charge of losing their game in order for the Broncos to make the playoffs. He has his team prepared and focused this time of year.
Panthers - John Fox had a short week to prepare his team, but there’s no doubt that they’re performing well. Fox will try to control the clock by pounding the ball between the tackles. This team has missed the playoffs the last two years, and he wants to win out to have home field advantage until the Super Bowl.
Topics: Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley, Carolina Panthers, Champ Bailey, Charles Johnson, Chris Gamble, Cory Boyd, D.j. Williams, Deangelo Williams, Denver Broncos, Drew Brees, Eddie Royal, Jake Delhomme, Jay Cutler, Jeff Otah, John Kasay, Jon Beason, Jonathan Stewart, Julius Peppers, Mark Jones, Matt Prater, Mike Shanahan, Muhsin Muhammad, Ryan Clady, Selvin Young, Steve Smith, Tatum Bell, Thomas Davis, Tony Scheffler