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Joniak's Super Bowl Journal: Ron Rivera Pushing Right Buttons For Carolina Panthers

By Jeff Joniak--

(CBS) The Panthers and Broncos square off in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday evening in Santa Clara, Calif. Here are my observations leading up the big game.

First impression

The Bay Area has done a nice job of hosting Super Bowl 50, which itself now must deliver for the league's rabid fans. Traffic in San Francisco and surrounding cities was probably the biggest hurdle over the course of the week. It's standard for every big city of course but challenging to navigate nonetheless.

That said, I really wish Chicago could someday host a Super Bowl. The city and its unmatched neighborhoods and beautiful lakefront would be a destination no matter the weather. The NFL does an incredible job with its partnering host committees to dress up the city and venues, creating a festive and fun experience for visitors and the fans of the two teams competing for the Lombardi Trophy.

Chicago impressively hosted the NFL Draft last spring and will do so again in the coming weeks, proving again it's the greatest city in the country.

Second thought

I just can't get off of Carolina right now for the win Sunday. With class and the integrity we've come to expect from 1985 Bear and current Panthers coach Ron Rivera, Carolina has glided through the week with polish, sincerity and confidence. Despite these Panthers' maiden voyage into this environment, I don't believe the moment will be too big for them. Rivera's pressing all the right buttons, and the players have collectively positioned a giant chip on their shoulders.

Denver's defense is a major obstacle, of course. They have the top-ranked unit for a reason, with impact players at every level of the defense. The Broncos make it really difficult to score points. However, the Panthers have the mojo and the hottest player right now in quarterback Cam Newton. They also have the moxie and toughness to weather any storms that flare up during the course of the game. I see Carolina as the Super Bowl 50 champion.

Third degree

Will the Broncos spy Newton with one of their inside linebackers? Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall will be busy one way or another. Trevathan has spied mobile quarterbacks in the past, including Alex Smith of Kansas City. The Broncos could rush three and drop eight against Newton, forcing him to hold the ball even a second longer for Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to race the edges. No matter what, tackling Newton when he's on the move is the big challenge. He doesn't go down easy.

Denver's comfortable running the ball and moving the sticks with a controlled passing game. In key moments, quarterback Peyton Manning will need to attack Carolina's nickel and dime packages, and his receivers will need to get yards after the catch. Panthers linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are difficult to throw against, but that doesn't mean Manning can't create a mismatch with a receiver like Demaryius Thomas running out of the slot on inside routes matched up against a linebacker.


In my opinion, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is a huge X-factor in this game. A former Bear, Olsen piled up 1,104 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

I asked Olsen this week if he's maintained his route speed after nine seasons, and he feels he's at the top of his game right now. The Broncos linebackers have also indicated that Olsen's faster than they thought. Look for Denver to cover Olsen with a combo of options, from corners to safeties to linebackers. He's that important in the outcome of the game.

The Broncos gave up significant yardage to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in two meetings this season, and he was deadly down the seam. Watch those seam routes with Olsen and see where it takes the Panthers offense.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.

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