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Broncos at Panthers preview: Can Denver unlock the road upset?

For the Broncos to get the win on Sunday, the MHR staff is in agreement that it all comes down to the offense.

The Denver Broncos have four games left.

That means 12 games have been played, and incredibly it feels like it’s been more than that. This has been one of the most bizarre and unique seasons in NFL history. And Denver got a little more for the 2020 bingo card with cornerback A.J. Bouye getting suspended for PEDs.

The question facing just about everyone right now: What do we make of this team? The Broncos are on the verge of their fourth-straight losing season. Yet Denver has shown improvement in two of the last three games. On the MHR Radio Podcast, Adam Malnati and I tackled that quandary (not the 14er in Colorado). We also give our keys to the game, players to watch, and game predictions.

Offensive Rankings

Denver: Twenty-fifth in overall offense (325.6 yards per game), 12th in rushing (119.8), 26th in passing (206.7), 31st in scoring offense (18.8 points per game).

Carolina: Twentieth in overall offense (354.8 yards per game), 20th in rushing (106.4), 15th in passing (248.4), 21st in scoring offense (23.3 points per game).

Defensive Rankings

Denver: Fourteenth in overall in defense (341.4 yards per game), 26th in rushing defense (131.5), eighth in passing defense (218.7), 21st in scoring defense (26.7 points per game).

Carolina: Twentieth in overall defense (364.3 yards per game), 15th in rushing defense (115.1), 19th in passing defense (249.3), 16th in scoring defense (25.0 points per game).

Here are the MHR staff’s keys to Sunday’s game.

Score touchdowns

Moving the ball is fine, as the Broncos did against the Kansas City Chiefs. Running the ball is great (179 yards against KC). But the offense still scored 16 points. Help your defense out by getting in the end zone. If Denver wants a chance at the upset, it needs to score at least 24 points. — Ian St. Clair

Keep the momentum on the ground

Leaving out the New Orleans Saints anomaly, Denver has now strung together two strong games on the ground, and its offensive line is looking like it’s beginning to gel. Keep it going this week and continue to build that rapport and continuity within this Oline group, that should return nearly everyone next year. — Jeff Essary

Spoon feed Drew Lock

Pat Shurmur needs to continue to spoon feed Lock easy reads with play action, motion, and shifts. The Broncos used them on 16 of Lock’s 20 passes outside of the 2-minute situations against the Chiefs. On those obvious passing downs, Lock went 2-for-8 for 9 yards and a pick (not great, Bob). — Joe Rowles

Don’t play the hero

Remind Lock on every obvious passing situation not to play hero ball. If he can just not throw INTs like he’s handing out candy at a marching parade, the rest of the team can win the game. — sadaraine

Slow down the game offensively

The Broncos were in the game against KC because they controlled the clock. This will keep Christian McCaffrey off the field, and limit the chances he will have to take over the game. It will also give the defense time off the field to stay fresh, giving them the ability to play well for the entire game, and keep them from being gassed by the fourth quarter. — Adam Malnati

What are your keys to Sunday’s game?