The bookmakers have Denver as a 5.5 point underdog. The consensus with the public, unsurprisingly, is that Carolina will win fairly comfortably. After all they blew the Seahawks out of the water before they could even get started in the Divisional round and then dismantled the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game while the Broncos laboured to wins against Pittsburgh and New England. But it’s never that easy. Just ask the 2001 Rams or 2007 Patriots. They were heavy, heavy favourites but found themselves on the wrong side of the confetti come the final whistle. So how can the Broncos pull off an upset on Sunday? Well, much like they did 2 weeks ago. Play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses. That sounds like an easy strategy but how do you play to your defense and try to hide your Quarterback!? Well, Denver’s strategy against New England was to employ a 3-man rush in places and blitz sparingly. They were able to shut the run down early on and then play from a position of strength on third down. There’s going to be a certain amount of that philosophy employed by Wade Phillips against Cam Newton and the Panthers. Carolina are a strong rushing team but if the Broncos can keep them to a minimal gain on first down it can force uncomfortable situations for third down. Blitzes are dangerous against Newton but with DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and the other myriad of rushers the Broncos have at their disposal Wade Phillips should be able to get pressure on him without the help of a 5th rusher. They might not tally the massive 20 hits they did against Tom Brady in the AFC championship game but a similar strategy of hit the Quarterback early, often, and hard will be plan A. Plan B will come with varied coverages. They can’t allow Newton to get comfortable with what he’s seeing and they especially can’t allow him to throw the deep bombs to Ted Ginn. Denver have to force 15 to 20 play drives because they will get their chances to make plays and snag turnovers, a couple of big plays here and there will really hamper the Broncos freedom on defense to get aggressive up front. On offense it’s a tougher task. The Patriots dared Denver to throw over the top of them and while Peyton had some mild success early on he repeatedly missed seam routes that ended up leaving points on the field. If that means only throwing underneath this Sunday then so be it, but to do that Denver will have to run the ball, and run it well. They have the capability to do that, with the quality of Evan Mathis on the O-Line and a pair of good backs, but something like a 6-man line might help the Broncos control an impressive Carolina front 7 early on and create some space for CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Any cunning bits of trickery they have up their sleeves will be needed as well. A double pass, a reverse, anything that can take advantage of what is sometimes an overly aggressive Carolina defense. The best chance the Broncos have to win is the way most underdogs go about a gameplan. Take the ball away on defense, keep it on offense. Steal a possession with a fake punt or 4th down attempt. Don’t give up big returns on the kicks and get them yourself. Those extra yards on special teams will lift some pressure off the Broncos offense and if they can take the ball away from Newton a few times they will give themselves a strong platform to build on. An early interception would certainly help settle the Denver defense and rattle Cam Newton. Most of this Broncos team were here two years ago when they got demolished by Seattle. They know the importance of the first score, of being strong and safe early on. Anything they can do to remind Newton, Kuechly and Norman that this is the biggest game of their lives would be in their benefit. Personally I feel Denver need to hold Carolina to 20 points to win. 25 is doable but more than that will require a lot of luck around the field if they are to get that many points themselves. Carolina have been held to under 25 points 3 times this season, one of which was their sole defeat, 20-13 to the Falcons in week 16. The other two were in the opening weeks of the season, and a lot has changed since then. But if any defense can do it it’s this Broncos one that have conceded under 25 points 13 times in the regular season and in both their playoff victories, they’ve given up 20 or less in 10 games (plus both playoffs). Write off the Broncos at your peril.