In the days leading up to the NFC Championship, a lot of NFL betting enthusiasts were doubtful as to whether the Carolina Panthers had enough offense to score in bunches on elite defenses. After all, a lot of the Panthers’ wins had come in their soft division (New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Atlanta) and some other wins had come against soft competition in the other divisions, such as the Dallas Cowboys. By the time the NFC Championship came to a close, though, the Panthers had sealed up a 49-15 victory that showed that the Panther offense was definitely legitimate.
When: Sunday, February 7, 2015Kickoff: 6:30 PM ETWhere: Santa Clara, CAStadium: Levi’s StadiumSpread: Panthers -5Moneyline: Carolina -220 vs Denver +190Game Total: 45Watch: CBSStream: CBS Sports Listen: Carolina vs DenverOf course, it was outstanding play on both sides of the ball that led to this rout. The defense took the ball away from the Cardinals six times, which gave the Panthers some short fields (and even a pick-six, as Luke Kuechly had his second interception return for a touchdown in as many playoff games).However, the Panthers offense served notice that they were ready to take any defense in the league to the woodshed — and if they want to knock off the Denver Broncos, they will have to repeat that performance against the #1 defense in the National Football League.In 2012, the Panthers and the Broncos met in Week 10, with the Broncos rolling 36-14 and the Denver defense sacking Cam Newton seven times. However, this matchup looks to be a lot different. Even with the terrific pass rush that the Broncos have, I don’t getting sacked nearly that many times. Back in 2012, Newton was still a green quarterback in his second season. Now, he’s the leading candidate for the MVP of the league, playing other-worldly with his feet as well as his arm.In the NFC Championship, Newton made only one mistake, an overthrown ball near halftime that Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off. The Panthers neutralized that mistake, even though Peterson almost returned the pick for a touchdown. Ted Ginn Jr tracked Peterson down the length of the field to tackle him and save a touchdown. Then, Carson Palmer threw an interception in the end zone on the very next play.Newton gets press for the read option, but he also threw for four touchdowns and 335 yards in the NFC Championship. Greg Olsen and Corey Brown each gained 113 yards in receptions, and Brown’s 86-yard catch in the first quarter staked the Panthers to a 17-point lead in the first period.Olsen might be the team’s most significant offensive contributor besides Newton. The tight end was Newton’s favorite target, and he ranked in the NFL’s top five in receiving yards, receptions and targets, and he is headed to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year. Given that Denver’s defense has struggled with covering tight ends, that could be a major Achilles heel for the Broncos this week.Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers’ tailback, gives Carolina that running dimension that the Patriots lacked. He helped the Panthers gain 152 yards on the ground and rumble for three touchdowns. With those multiple dimensions, the Panthers could make this a long day for the Denver Broncos.