How Denver matches up against Panthers and predictions


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.

Key matchup

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

Running back

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

Receiver/tight end

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

Offensive line

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

Defensive line

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

Special teams

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

Category Broncos Panthers
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.


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