The Denver Broncos have a terrifying defence.
A pass rush that is, at its best, blindingly ferocious along with a hounding, opportunistic secondary.
It is a defence that wins them games. A Super Bowl worthy defence.
And that is fortunate, because their offence is bad.
The Broncos need to squeeze every inch of an edge out of their defence that they can.
They need it to be so decisive because their middling offence decidedly cannot be.
Denver arrived at Super Bowl 50 the hard way. They scraped and clawed and grit their teeth and emerged victorious.
That is all very admirable.
Meanwhile the Carolina Panthers drubbed two of the NFL’s top defences and danced to the Super Bowl in style.
So this is the contrast in Super Bowl 50: a grinding, battling Broncos team on the one hand, and on the other an actual force in the form of the Panthers.
They went 15-1 in the regular season, and behind the genius of quarterback Cam Newton scored more points than any other team. They also allowed the sixth fewest points.
By the adjusted-for-quality-of-competition DVOA measurement, published by Football Outsiders, they had the eighth-ranked offence and second-ranked defence.
The Broncos had the first-ranked defence. And 25th-ranked offence.
The Panthers’ NFC Championship win over the Arizona Cardinals was the second best single-game play-off performance since 1989 by DVOA.
They are, and this is what is fundamentally different about them from the Broncos, Super Bowl worthy all the way around.
Quality starters such as Luke Kuechly, Jared Allen, Thomas Davis and Josh Norman form an imposing defence. Almost as imposing as Denver’s.
And, with Newton conducting the attack behind a decent offensive line, the Panthers reach a level the Broncos cannot credibly claim to match.
That is Carolina’s giant edge in Super Bowl 50.
Two great defences will take the field at Santa Clara, but, for all of Peyton Manning’s past heroics, one great offence stands alone.
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