Broncos (3-7) at Panthers (3-8)
When: 11 a.m. MT, Sunday
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Radio/TV: 850 AM, 94.1 FM/FOX
Broncos-Panthers series: Broncos are 5-1 in six regular-season games dating back to 1997; the Broncos won 32-27 in the last meeting, on Dec. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, and also beat the Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50. That was the Broncos’ last playoff game/playoff win.
Broncos defense vs Panthers QB Sam Darnold
In Sam Darnold’s first start of the year, the Broncos don’t want the quarterback feeling comfortable in the pocket. And they’re also making it a priority that the 2018 first-round pick doesn’t feel comfortable outside the pocket, too.
“I would say (Darnold) is underestimated as an athlete,” Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “He can take off, he can extend plays, he can run with the ball, and he can make scramble drills come alive. That’s going to be probably the biggest challenge for us — making sure we contain him in the pocket and not let him get out and get loose.”
Darnold is 17-32 over four years as a starter, three of those with the Jets. He was 4-7 for the Panthers last year and missed five games with a shoulder injury.
This year, Darnold lost the starting quarterback battle to Baker Mayfield during training camp and then Darnold was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury he sustained in the preseason finale.
Darnold is 1-1 in two starts against the Broncos, beating Denver 34-16 in 2018 with the Jets and then losing 37-28 in 2020 in New Jersey, when Broncos backup Brett Rypien made his first NFL start.
Who has the edge?
Russell Wilson is still searching for his mojo, especially after the offense sputtered and contributed to Denver blowing leads the last two weeks. Carolina’s QB carousel continues; Sam Darnold starts over Baker Mayfield (six starts) and P.J. Walker (five starts). Edge: Even
After cutting Melvin Gordon, the Broncos’ backfield features Latavius Murrary as the starter, plus Marlon Mack and Devine Ozigbo. The Panthers, who traded Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers at the deadline, feature D’Onta Foreman. Edge: Even
KJ Hamler (hamstring) and Jerry Jeudy (ankle) are both hurt, while Courtland Sutton’s production has been surging. Kendall Hinton has been a bright spot, as has rookie tight end Greg Dulcich. DJ Moore is the Panthers’ top weapon in the passing game. Edge: Broncos
The Broncos’ banged-up front will likely see Cam Fleming at left tackle, Dalton Risner at left guard, Graham Glasgow at center, Quinn Meinerz at right guard and Calvin Anderson at right tackle. Carolina’s anchored by tackles Ikem Ekwonu and Taylor Moton. Edge: Even
Dre’Mont Jones (5.5 sacks) is playing angry, and like he is hungry for a big contract in the offseason. D.J. Jones, DeShawn Williams and Mike Purcell have been decent too, though they’re vulnerable against the run. Brian Burns leads Carolina with eight sacks. Edge: Even
It will be on Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper to provide Denver’s pass-rush with Randy Gregory still on IR with a knee injury. Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton are playing well inside. Carolina’s linebacking corps is led by Shaq Thompson. Edge: Broncos
Pat Surtain II needs a bounce-back game after getting burned for the winning TD in OT last Sunday. Nickel K’Waun Williams (knee) is still hurt. Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson are anchors. Carolina has Jaycee Horn, picked one slot above Surtain in ’21. Edge: Broncos
Brandon McManus had a chip-shot field goal blocked last week that ended up costing the Broncos. Protection, snapping and holding on field goals has been spotty. Corliss Waitman isn’t punting well. The Panthers’ Eddy Pineiro is 19 of 21 on field goals. Edge: Even
Tale of the tape
|Total offense||326.4 (21st)||286.1 (31st)|
|Rush offense||102.6 (25th)||110.5 (19th)|
|Pass offense||223.8 (15th)||175.5 (29th)|
|Points per game||14.7 (32nd)||18.8 (25th)|
|Total defense||302.1 (3rd)||357.5 (22nd)|
|Run defense||115.3 (15th)||137.0 (27th)|
|Pass defense||186.8 (3rd)||220.5 (18th)|
|Points allowed||17.1 (3rd)||23.3 (20th)|
* Through Week 11
By the numbers
83: Penalties committed by the Broncos, which is the most in the league. Denver has ranked last in the league in penalties since Week 7.
77: Penalties committed by Panthers’ opponents, which is the most in the league. The Broncos rank second with 75 penalties by their opponents. In other words: Sunday sets up to have a lot of flags.
26:15: Carolina’s average time of possession this year, which ranks last in the league.
299: Career touchdown passes for Russell Wilson; one more, and he ties John Elway for 13th all-time.
28th: Wilson’s ranking in the league for TD passes with seven. By comparison, league leader Patrick Mahomes has thrown 28 TD passes for the Chiefs.
Line: Broncos -2.5
The Broncos are favorites? On the road? These Broncos? Boy, Carolina must really be bad. With Darnold making his first appearance this year, all signs point to the Broncos being able to pull out the win. But don’t trust Denver’s offense; bet on the Panthers to at least cover.
Prop bet: More rushing yards — Latavius Murray vs. D’Onta Foreman?
Murray rushed for 66 yards in his Denver debut against the Chargers in Week 6 but hasn’t cracked the 50-yard mark since. His carries will increase with Melvin Gordon gone, but the Broncos’ run game has been anemic. Foreman, meanwhile, has three 100-yard performances in his last five games. The Broncos defense has been leaky against the run. Bet on Foreman.
Kyle Newman, beat writer: Panthers 17, Broncos 16
Another heartbreaker! At least this one isn’t in overtime. D’Onta Foreman tops the 100-yard mark and the Broncos can’t get quite enough pass-rush. The Denver offense, meanwhile, continues to have little-to-no explosiveness, and another last-second drive fizzles out.
Parker Gabriel, beat writer: Broncos 21, Panthers 20
There’s not much reason to pick Denver in this game. They’ve lost seven straight true road games dating to November 2021. They’ve lost six one-score games this year. They’ve lost three overtime games, too. But Carolina is also having a bad year, so this game becomes essentially a toss-up. There may not be many wins left on Denver’s schedule, but maybe they’ll find a way to scratch one out in Charlotte.
Sean Keeler, columnist: Broncos 17, Panthers 17, OT
With no Melvin Gordon, what’ll be the offense’s excuse this week? Team Russ is averaging 17.2 points away from home. Carolina’s averaging 20.5 points at Bank of America Stadium. If the leftover turkey didn’t put you in a food coma over the holiday weekend, this one probably will