NFL

Five Matchups That Will Determine The Super Bowl Winner

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We’re midway through the hoopla that is ‘Super Bowl’ week.

As the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers prepare for the biggest game of their lives, there EW five key matchups that will most likely determine who will hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy.

Demaryius Thomas vs. Josh Norman – Out of all the key matchups, Demaryius Thomas versus Josh Norman may be the most exciting one to follow.

With this game being a matchup of two of the top defenses in the world, points will be hard to come by Sunday night.

However, the Panthers are averaging 40 points per game this postseason, while Denver is only averaging 21.5 points per game. 

In order for Peyton Manning to go out on top, he’ll need his partner in crime to win his one-on-one matchup against Pro Bowl cornerback Norman.

This postseason, Thomas has only caught six passes for 52 yards with no touchdowns. 

“I haven’t played my best in the last couple weeks,” Thomas said. “I need a better game than I’ve had the past couple weeks.”

No kidding, because if Thomas doesn’t perform better, not only will it affect his team, but it may directly affect him from a mental standpoint because we all know Norman is a great trash-talker.

With that being said , Thomas claims it won’t affect him in a negative light. 

“I don’t tune it out, I hear it, but it just helps me play better,” he explained. “I just play, I don’t talk back, I let my play do the talking.”

Ted Ginn vs. Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr. – For as bad as Manning needs Thomas to get separation, Cam Newton needs Ted Ginn just as much.

Denver arguably has the best front seven in football, led by elite pass rusher Von Miller.

The Broncos finished third in the NFL against the run, so while Carolina will still try to keep them honest with the ground game, they’ll need to open things up through the air.

In Carolina’s two postseason games, Ted Ginn has been a non-factor to say the least. The former Ohio State product has only caught two balls for 52 yards.

Things will only get tougher as Ginn will be lined up against Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. throughout the game.

Denver’s cornerback tandem combined for five interceptions during the regular season.

Michael Oher vs. Von Miller – As mentioned before, this Broncos front seven is among the very best. As a collective unit, this defense will look to wreak havoc in the backfield.

With that being said, four-time Pro Bowler Von Miller will be the main focus for Carolina’s pass protection and deservedly so.

After all, Miller finished the regular season with 11 sacks to go along with 2.5 sacks against Tom Brady and the Patriots. While containing Miller will take a team effort, Panthers left tackle Michael Oher has the pressure of protecting Newton’s blind side.

Expecting Oher to stop Miller one-on-one is probably unrealistic, but Newton wanted Oher for games just like this.

“Yeah, it meant a lot,” Oher on Newton recruiting him. “I mean, it’s Cam Newton. You get a text from Cam Newton telling you that he needs you, well, you appreciate that. It’s definitely something that resonated with me.”

Ryan Kalil vs. Derek Wolfe – If you haven’t noticed by now, protecting Cam Newton is one of Carolina’s primary priorities heading into Sunday.

Keeping Von Miller out of the backfield will be difficult enough, but center Ryan Kalil will have to help keep Derek Wolfe from touching Newton as well. Kalil is the rock of this solid offensive line, however, Denver led the league in sacks during the regular season.

Just in case that wasn’t enough to convince you, what if I told you Denver hit Tom Brady 20 times in the AFC Championship Game?

Wolfe totaled 5.5 sacks during the regular season to go along with two sacks thus far in postseason play. Ever since Week 11, Wolfe has totaled at least half of a sack in every game but one.

Greg Olsen vs. T.J. Ward – Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward knows a thing or two about defending hybrid tight ends.

Just two weeks ago, the 29-year-old was dealt with the daunting task of having to slow down Rob Gronkowski. Now, it’s not as if Ward was asked to defend Gronk the entire game because whenever the 6-foot-6, 265 pound beast was lined up in a traditional formation, Denver would tend to use linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan to bump him at the line of scrimmage.

However, whenever Gronk would split out wide, Ward would be out on an island by himself.

Although the Patriots All-Pro tight end ended up with eight catches for 144 yards to go along with a touchdown, it wasn’t an easy day for the four-time Pro Bowler at all.

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is next up for Ward and he sees some similarities to Gronk. 

“(Olsen’s) not as big. I don’t believe he’s as fast, but he’s just as effective,” Ward explained. “I think he runs the better routes. They have really good hands. I think they’re both very similar but just different builds and different speeds.”

Olsen is coming off arguably the best regular season of his career. The former Miami product finished with 77 catches, 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns.  The former “seventh-floor crew” member will need to play big if the Panthers are going to win.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.