WR Kealoha Pilares - Carolina Panthers
|5-10, 199||Born: 2-19-1988||College: Hawaii||Drafted: Round 5|
Week 21: at Denver Broncos
Mark and Joe say: Neutral matchup. Cam Newton didn't have to throw the ball much against the Seahawks, as Jonathan Stewart and the defense staked him to a 21-0 lead by early in the second quarter that Sunday. Newton did eventually hit Greg Olsen (six targets for 6/77/1 during the entire game) for a 19-yard TD, and the Panthers went into halftime with 31 points - the same total that they won the game with at the end (31-24). All told, Newton threw 16/22 for 161 yards passing, one TD and zero interceptions two contests ago. Then, Newton accounted for four TDs against the Cardinals during the Panthers 49-15 Conference Championship victory, throwing 19/28 for 335 yards passing, two TDs and one interception thrown, with 10/47/2 rushing to his credit. Corey Brown (seven targets for 4/113/1 receiving) and Olsen (eight for 6/113/0) both went over 100 yards receiving during the game, with big assists thrown in by Devin Funchess (three for 2/21/1) and Ted Ginn Jr. (two for 2/52/0). The Panthers' passing attack is on a roll entering this Super Bowl, and they finished their victory against the Cardinals emphatically, which the team had stated was their goal after allowing Seattle to get back in the contest during the Divisional Round of the playoffs. As an aside - Newton has a 105.6 passer rating and has posted a 39:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone since 2014. He's thrown 26 red zone touchdowns this season without a single interception, according to NFL.com. As of Tuesday, February 2, the Broncos expected free safety Darian Stewart (MCL sprain) and strong safety T.J. Ward (nagging ankle injury) to be ready for Super Bowl 50. They were both expected to practice on Wednesday, February 3. However, Ward has tweaked his ankle injury multiple times and has been sidelined at times after the aggravations, so it is dicey that he is able to finish this game even if he starts it. On January 30, after missing the bye week of practices, Ward stated: 'Anytime you get an opportunity to play in this game, and you can run a little bit, I'm guaranteeing you're going to be out there.' Ward said. Stewart affirmed Ward's sentiment. 'Without a doubt in my mind, I'm playing.' Right cornerback Chris Harris (shoulder injury) is considered probable to play, so the Broncos will at least begin the contest with their starting secondary. If Denver is going to stand up to Carolina, they'll need Ward and Stewart to play through pain and stay on the field Sunday. The Broncos come into this game with the NFL's top-ranked pass defense during regular season, averaging just 199.6 net passing yards allowed per game, with 52 sacks generated (first in the NFL), while allowing 19 passing scores vs. 14 interceptions (tied for 13th in the NFL). However, they have given up a surprising average of 301.5 net passing yards per game during the postseason, worst among teams in the playoffs, with one passing score and two interceptions surrendered so far - they've recorded seven sacks, third-most among the 12 playoff teams. Pittsburgh racked up yards in the Divisional Round (24/37 for 311 net yards passing), but didn't manage to throw for a single TD (zero TDs or interceptions thrown at Denver). Tom Brady attempted a whopping 56 passes at Denver two weeks ago (27/56 for 292 net yards passing, one TD and two interceptions thrown with four sacks taken for -18 yards) but watched his team lose 18-20 due to a missed two-point conversion. The Denver pass D isn't at the top of their collective game entering Super Bowl 50. Newton is hot, while the Broncos' pass defense hasn't been impressive of late, but dominated during regular season - this looks like a neutral matchup to us.