How the Panthers can win Super Bowl 50

Can Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly lead Carolina to its first Super Bowl victory? Sam Monson explains how.

| 9 months ago
(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

How the Panthers can win Super Bowl 50

The Carolina Panthers have been overlooked all season long, but every time people doubt them, they have exceeded expectations. In turn, they now roll into the Super Bowl as significant favorites against the Denver Broncos.

Cam Newton has had an MVP-caliber season, and is the foundation of this offense. He does have help around him: Greg Olsen has been a fantastic receiving weapon, and the offensive line, despite being a unit that looked questionable on paper before the season, has been sturdy.  Newton, though, is the fulcrum through which everything else moves.

We all know he’s a rushing threat, but the same thing is true for a lot of quarterbacks in today’s NFL. What Newton does differently is dominate as a rushing threat up the middle, or in power concepts. Including the postseason, Newton has 686 rushing yards at 4.5 yards per carry, but only 29 of his rushes have been scrambles. To compare, Russell Wilson had 58 scrambles in the regular season alone.

Newton is a formidable part of the Carolina running game because they use him like another running back from the backfield. The Panthers are able to expose Newton to the kind of hits other teams won’t risk because of his size and ability to take punishment. Newton dwarfs linebackers and defensive backs, and puts stress on opposing defenses. They legitimately have to count him as an extra weapon in the backfield.

Denver may have the league’s best defense, but they haven’t faced a weapon like Newton all season.

As a passer, Newton developed immensely in 2015, attacking defenses with deep passing on a regular basis. Newton threw 11 touchdowns on deep passes (20+ yards in the air) this season, and tossed just one interception. Only some bad drops from his receivers (seven of them) on those deep passes held him back from even more monstrous numbers.

Newton will test the integrity of Denver’s defense vertically, and for all of Ted Ginn’s faults and propensity for drops, the Panthers’ receiver can get open deep and is a big play waiting to happen.

On the other side of the ball, Carolina has elite players at every level of the defense. Kawann Short, Luke Kuechly, and Josh Norman are all among the best players in the league this season at their positions, with Kuechly, in particular, pushing the boundaries of what we expect a linebacker to be capable of.

Kuechly is the best coverage linebacker in the league, capable of getting into positions and making plays no other linebacker is able to accomplish. So far in the postseason, quarterbacks throwing into his coverage have a passer rating of just 38.0, which is slightly worse than if the quarterback just threw the ball into the turf every play (39.6). That number doesn’t even count plays he’s made when saving teammates from blown coverages. Peyton Manning’s decreasing arm strength means the windows for him are tighter than for other quarterbacks because the ball takes longer to get there. Translation: Kuechly can generate a turnover to swing this game.

For Short’s part up front, Denver’s offensive line has been vastly improved throughout the course of the season, but the Broncos don’t have anybody that can contain him in pass-protection (based on current evidence). The interior trio, over the season for Denver, has surrendered an average of 5.5 pressures per game, while Short has more total pressures this season than all but three other defensive tackles.

Carolina has strong units on both sides of the ball, but they hinge on the performance of their key stars. Succeeding against the Panthers is going to come down to whether the Broncos can neutralize the best players Carolina can deploy on both sides of the ball.

If Denver is able to accomplish that task, it would be something no other team has succeeded with consistently this season.


Not convinced? Be sure to check out Ben Stockwell’s article on how the Broncos can upset the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Tim Edell

    I think everyone now understands if a QB throws the ball directly into the turf his QB rating will be 39.6. I vote moving forward that this phrase is never used again as I believe it has been said or written close to 100 times this year on PFF.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The scary thing about that stat Tim, is that it indicates that if Jay Cutler threw the ball directly into the turf 3 times he would improve his career rating of 86.0 by more than 30%.

  • Kristian Carlson

    Xs and Os

    Panthers will probably use same formation concepts as last week. Shotgun, 12 personnel with TEs often standing.

    TEs can chip or not, either way Ware and Miller must navigate traffic and cannot just tee off on the tackles. Edges must also protect vs read option, DTs must maintain discipline vs power and read option.

    Broncos pass rush neutralized from quick pressure and the secs to pass Will be above regular season avg.

    Can the Bronco LBs and Safeties maintain coverage when Panthers go play action out of these type of concepts vs Olsen or Dickson will determine how well they stop the Panthers, as I expect the CBs to handle the Panthers Wrs well, and force Cam to scramble, which will lead to busted plays, throw a ways, Newton running more so than in regular season. Newton will have to be very accurate to his wrs, and I expect him to do so.

    As far as Broncos go, they can gash the Panthers or get nothing. The Panthers gamble on traditional running downs, and are susceptible to missing gap assignments. Or they will tackle Hillman for a loss on a stretch play, or gang tackle Anderson. That will put Manning under a ton of pressure to make throws into tight windows vs a ball hawking defense that led nfl in ints. Not a formula for success.

    Broncos win if they can force a couple turnovers via strip Cam, force ints with pressure in Cams face from Wolfe or Jackson, or hit Ginn hard on returns.

    Panthers win if they don’t have irresponsible turnovers, play disciplined, and effectively stop Manning from hitting a big play to Thomas or Sanders who are both way overdue for Manning to hit deep. Make Broncos have long drives, and Manning is trash in red zone when not facing Jamie Collins.


    Panthers 31
    Broncos 16