3. Denver’s star wideouts vs. Carolina’s corners
While many members of Denver’s defense enjoyed career years in 2015, one of their star players on offense had a bit of an off-year–wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. On paper 105 catches for 1,304 yards and six touchdowns certainly doesn’t seem like an off-year, but throw in a league-high 20 drops and take into consideration the decrease in yards (2014: 1,619, 2013: 1,430) and touchdowns (2014: 11, 2013: 14) from the last two seasons and one will realize Thomas’s drop-off. In Denver’s two playoff games, Thomas has only six catches for 52 yards and no touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders has taken on the role of number one wideout through the first two playoff games with a total of 10 catches for 147 yards, which creates the dilemma: who is Josh Norman going to cover? Norman seized the title of the league’s top shutdown corner with ease this year, shutting down the likes of Randall Cobb, T.Y. Hilton, and most recently Larry Fitzgerald. Despite his lack of production in the playoffs, it will likely be Thomas who draws coverage from Norman, meaning that Sanders will be matched up against Robert McClain. No matter who these two line up against on Sunday, one of them is going to have to rise to the occasion if Denver is going to find balance against this ball-hawking Panther defense.