Big Game Week

The big game week is finally here where plans are set and the anticipation rises for the Sunday evening kickoff to conclude the 2015-16 NFL season. The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos are now in Santa Ana, CA, which means the 24-hour cycle of coverage is officially underway. Water Cooler Talk is as excited as anyone for this Sunday’s game, so excited that I’ll try to break down every detail of what to watch. So sit back, relax, hide the monitors and let Water Cooler Talk help you to be the Big Game sports guru of the office this week.

It’s no secret where most of the nation will put their focus on this week, and that’s on Peyton Manning. We got a hint that this may be his last game as a professional, and what better way to go out than on top? John Elway did that for two consecutive seasons before retiring, and I’m sure he envisioned the same happening for Peyton when he was signed in 2012.

In order for Manning to go out on top with two rings, like his boss, he’s going to have to manipulate a stingy Panthers defense, a defense that is arguably the toughest to prepare for. The pass rush is solid with Charles Johnson and Jared Allen with complimentary help from Mario Addison and Kony Ealy. The run defense is stout thanks to defensive lineman Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei, and the linebacking core of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. Then there’s secondary that has been exposed with throws that are over-the-top. With Josh Norman and Kurt Coleman being the exceptions, the secondary has been the weakest link by far. Manning is one of the best at devouring defenses in zone coverage, something the Panthers like to do quite a lot, especially when trying to hold onto a sizable lead. Perhaps the best thing the Broncos could do is let Carolina get a big lead early, but that shouldn’t even be mentioned in the game plan. When the Panthers are in press man-to-man coverage, Manning will have to use effective play-action to allow his receivers to separate and also hope the safeties will bite to allow Emmanuel Sanders to run the 9-route.

If the run game isn’t effective, Manning will have to regain his old form and throw bullets around the field. Unfortunately for him, that hasn’t been seen all season. If Peyton is throwing “ducks”, the Panthers will eat him alive just as they did against Carson Palmer. But again, play-action passes will be the determining factor, that’ll make or break the game for the Broncos offense.

The Broncos defense is also arguably the toughest to prepare for thanks to the likes of Von Miller. Miller had a field-day against the Patriots, and he’ll need another stellar performance to ground the Panthers offensive attack. Let’s also not forget who’s on the other side of Miller, and that’s the 11-year veteran, DeMarcus Ware. Ware is playing in his first Super Bowl, and you know he’ll want to make an impact. Denver also has a well above-average secondary lead by T.J. Ward and Chris Harris Jr. The defensive line…stout, and they get a lot of one-on-one match-ups thanks in part to Miller and Ware.

So what does all of this mean for Cam Newton and company? It means you better have the best pass protection plan known to man. Michael Oher and Mike Remmers have been fabulous at the tackle position this season, but each will need help for a majority of the game. That means sitting Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield to fend off the Broncos linebackers. Cam Newton will have to improvise, something he’s great at, whether that mean moving around the pocket or taking off and running when the opportunity presents itself. The receivers will of course have to find holes in the zone and separate on the man coverage with help over-the-top. Ted Ginn Jr. is always a threat to run the 9-route, but it’ll come down to Philly Brown, Greg Olsen, and rookie receiver Devin Funchess finding room 10-18 yards down the field.

My question is this: can the Panthers continue their streak of 100-yard rushing games? With Newton, Stewart, Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker…yes. For the running backs to be effective, Cam has to be effective. If Cam can run effective early, look for that streak to continue.

So we’ve broken down what needs to happen for the #1 scoring offense (Carolina) and the #1 defense (Denver) to win. Who’s your pick? I’d love to get your answer. Let me know what you think the score will be on Twitter.

My final prediction: Despite all I’ve just written, I think Carolina gets this easily. With Peyton throwing lazy passes, I think the sitting safeties and the dropping linebackers will have a late or early Christmas (however you want to look at it). The Broncos defense will be on the field an awful lot which will tire them out, not good if you’re facing Cam Newton. Carolina wins this game, 30-14 and the score will be closer than the game ever will be.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you’ve become more educated on Sunday’s game before this. Be sure to check out archive blogs and coming back for future articles. Enjoy the game everyone!