Denver Broncos @ Carolina Panthers; Predicting Greatness

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I sat down to decide which game to profile for this weeks' Through The Years post when I realized something; no previous match up between these two teams will ever come close to the heroic victory the Broncos will get this very weekend. Let's call this post my Nostradamus moment as I see this weekends game being a trap game for the Panthers and a "Let's find out how good we are game" for the Broncos.

I have been weary of this Bronco team much of the year and nothing from last weeks' victory encouraged me going into this week. Our team floundered early against the Chiefs and had to fight hard the rest of the game to come out with a W. Meanwhile the Panthers are coming off of a dominating performance against a playoff caliber division rival in the Buccaneers. Let me go into detail why I think the Broncos are poised to shock the Panthers back to reality this Sunday.

The Media

The one thing I have learned about the Denver Broncos this year is that they notice when the media has all but written them off for any particular game.  I have noticed five games in particular where the media didn't give them much of a chance to win.  Those games were against the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, and the New York Jets.

If you think back, the Broncos we not written off before the game against the Patriots, Jaguars, or Dolphins.  Most of the disrespect came early in the season and just recently.  And the lack of respect was for the most part deserved since the Broncos had lost four out of five games.  The point is, the media in general is not a believer in the Broncos and have them winning maybe one game out of the last three.

To help add fuel to that fire, the media is already talking about Carolina getting homefield advantage if they beat the Giants in two weeks.  Okay, well they have to beat the Broncos first, but to the media that game has already been decided and we all know how the Broncos respond to games the media has already decided for them.  The Panthers are already getting stroked by nearly every media outlet in the nation covering them and rightly so after their 301 yard rushing performance against one of the league's best defenses.

The media will also speculate just how much rushing yards the great Panther offense will rack up against one of the league's worst defenses.  The media rarely looks at trends or recent history.  Their stats focus solely on the year to date totals.  Unless, that is, they are trying to prove points that go against that model.  Such as pointing towards the supposedly great defense of the Carolina Panthers or when talking about how one dimensional the Broncos offense is.  It's hilarious to watch the experts on television talk about these stats as if they carry any weight in reality.  Though perhaps they have a point, let's look at the year-to-date stats and see just how much merit their words have with statistical reality.

The Stats

First off, we need to find out just how dominated the Broncos defense will be this weekend according to the media and the stats.  I had no idea the Carolina Panthers had such a prolific offense, but then again, the Broncos defense has been much maligned this year.  Let's take a look at the stats and then break it down.

Carolina Panthers Offense Denver Broncos Defense
PPG YDS PASS RUSH PPG YDS PASS RUSH
24.8
10th
336.5
13th
190.5
22nd
146.0
4th
25.8
28th
371.3
28th
231.8
27th
139.5
26th

Not surprisingly, the year-to-date stats match up perfectly to the media's belief that this game is already over and done with.  The problem is, the Broncos defense has been much more stout against the run in the past five weeks than in the previous eight.  They are by no means elite, but it appears the Broncos are currently employing a top twenty, maybe top fifteen run defense.  Rest assured, they will be stacking the line of scrimmage this weekend to stop the Panther's 4th ranked rushing offense.

Another misleading stat is the points per game that the Broncos defense is surrendering.  Over the past five weeks, the Broncos defense has only given up a little over twenty points per game.  Not counting pick sixes and punt returns.  The problem the Broncos face is that the Panthers offense has caught fire over the last month and have averaged almost thirty points per game.  The Broncos defense will need to come up big in the red zone.  They will give up yards to this Panthers offense, but if they give up more field goals than touchdowns then they will have won the battle.

So we already know our defense was going to struggle, what else is new?  They only have to keep the Panthers out of the end zone enough times to give the offense a chance to win the game late.  So how does the Broncos offense match up against the great Panthers defense?  Let's take a look at the stats and then pick apart just how mismatched this Bronco team is supposed to be.

Denver Broncos Offense Carolina Panthers Defense
PPG YDS PASS RUSH PPG YDS PASS RUSH
24.3
11th
393.5
2nd
280.5
3rd
113.0
16th
19.5
8th
318.8
15th
208.0
14th
110.8
17th

Here is where the media starts to overlook things and the ball gets dropped every time the Broncos face a tough team.  The Denver Broncos have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.  The stats above belie just how great the Broncos offense has been playing over the past five weeks.  The Broncos have averaged over 25 points per game over that span and almost thirty if we throw out that rotten egg they laid against Oakland.  Meanwhile, the vaunted Panthers defense has given up an average of over 30 points per game over the past four games.

The Panthers defense has been shredded over the past four weeks by teams that do not have close to the weapons that the Broncos put on the field offensively.  As long as the Secret Service keeps Cutler's jersey clean, the Panthers defense is going to have a very long day.  Both teams are peaking offensively and both teams are suspect on defense in recent weeks, even with the Broncos improved play they are still a bad defense.  The stats paint a different picture when taken with a grain of salt.

Jay Cutler

My final point lies in Jay Cutler.  We should thank our lucky stars that we have him on our football team.  He isn't a Romo choker, or a Leaf bust.  Cutler is a star and he is developing in front of our eyes.  The dude has, what, six fourth quarter comebacks in 2008!  Are you kidding me?  I've said this many times this year, our team will only go as far as Jay Cutler will take it.  For that reason, I don't see the loss of Peyton Hillis as a major deal for this team.  It was nice to have a reliable guy to hand the ball off too, but the outcome of the games always seem to follow how well Cutler plays.

This is another reason why the Broncos will win on Sunday.  The Panthers defense will be focused on Cutler and stopping the passing game, except they forget one thing.  The Denver Broncos still like to run the ball and I think Cutler will not call off as many run plays as he did this last Sunday.  The result will be some pretty big holes for Tatum Bell or Selvin Young to run through.  The Broncos are a tough team to figure out and I could very well be wrong and the Broncos will throw the ball sixty times on Sunday, but I know that if they do throw the ball that much the outcome will be an embarrassing blow out.

Jay Cutler and the Broncos finally figured out how to overcome adversity early in games and they are hungry to prove to the league they belong in the playoffs.  The media thinks the Broncos will go on auto pilot for the rest of the season, but I refuse to believe that.  I saw hunger in their eyes over the last four out of five weeks and this next game will prove to be their ultimate test.  If they pass they will belong in the playoffs, if they fail, then the doubts will continue to plague them all the way into the 2009 regular season.  Oh and did I mention that Jay Cutler is 3-0 in 2008 against the NFC South, which is a combined 34-18 this year?

My Prediction

This game will go one of two ways.  The Broncos win a close one or they get blown out.  It all comes down to how well they play early on.  Overcoming adversity early against the Chiefs is not the same as overcoming adversity early against the Panthers.  The key will be to keep the game close until the fourth quarter as we all know how well the Broncos have dominated the fourth quarter this year.  6-0 in 2008 with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.  The magic number for the Broncos is 20, as they are 7-0 when they score twenty or more points and just 1-5 when they score less than that.

Denver Broncos 30, Carolina Panthers 26

The Broncos may not get much love from the media, but this team has a fiery spirit and competitive drive to win that will continue to frustrate the experts. GO BRONCOS!

I will be back on the history beat next week, but I felt too strongly about the upcoming game to keep quiet about. This Sunday will be the greatest match up these two teams have ever had. I am curious; how many of you believe as I do? How many think the Broncos are in over their heads and why?

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