The Denver Broncos' defense is a force to be reckoned with. But how will it hold up against a potent Carolina Panthers offense?
Having advanced to Super Bowl 50 with victory over the New England Patriots - the defending Super Bowl champions - in last Sunday's AFC championship game, the Broncos will now face their toughest challenge, from an offense unlike any other they have faced this season.
Here is a breakdown of the Broncos' strengths, weaknesses and key injuries as they prepare to take on the Panthers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7.
Without question, the Broncos' undeniable advantage is their dominating defense.
The Broncos punched their ticket to Super Bowl 50 with a win over the Patriots in last Sunday's AFC championship game, a matchup in which Denver's vigorous defense left Tom Brady bruised and beaten as the team hit the veteran quarterback 20 times and registered four sacks in addition to intercepting him twice.
The Broncos led the NFL in total defense, pass defense and sacks this season. Denver additionally ranked third in rush defense and fourth in points allowed. Fifth-year linebacker Von Miller led the team with 11 sacks while four more players registered at least five sacks this season.
Miller and DeMarcus Ware (7.5 sacks) are the big names, but Vance Walker, Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson are the big bodies.
Despite boasting the number-one defense in the league, the Broncos will face a new and unfamiliar challenge in dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton. Newton has rushed 153 times for 686 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, with six of those scores recorded against teams ranked in the top 10 in total defense.
The most a quarterback has rushed against Denver's stout defense this season was six times by the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck and Kansas City Chiefs' Alex Smith, who rushed for 34 and 33 yards respectively.
Despite being one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, the Broncos were not immune to injuries this season and did not make it to the championship showdown unscathed.
The most notorious of those injuries was Peyton Manning's torn plantar fascia in his right foot. For the first time in his 18-year career, the veteran quarterback was forced to the sideline and remained there for six long weeks. Manning, who previously started all 265 games for which he had been active in his lengthy career, logged just nine touchdowns and an NFL-leading 17 interceptions in nine starts before being ruled out with the injury.
Although he later recovered and returned in Week 17 as the regular season came to an end, Manning had an adjusted-yards-per-pass figure of 5.03 this season, the worst of his career and dangerously close to Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett territory.
As for his postseason performance, Manning has been known to flop. In nearly two decades, which includes 11 seasons in which he won 12 or more regular-season games, he has just one Super Bowl victory and holds a 12-13 playoff record.
Nonetheless, Manning, who turns 40 in March, will become the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history next month. Broncos legend John Elway, who was 38 when he led his team to victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999, was previously the oldest quarterback to take the field in the Super Bowl.
The Broncos lost seven players to injured reserve, with five-time Pro Bowl tackle Ryan Clady the biggest missing factor. Still, Denver has a slight edge over Carolina when it comes to injuries.
Despite getting hurt in Sunday's win over the Patriots, safeties T.J. Ward (ankle) and Darian Stewart (knee) have a "good chance" to play in Super Bowl 50, according to coach Gary Kubiak.
That's important because another safety, Shiloh Keo (quadriceps), was listed on the team's injury report Wednesday as a non-participant, as were two offensive linemen: Louis Vasquez (knee) and Evan Mathis (ankle).
The obvious injury of concern is Manning's right foot. Brock Osweiler, who is 5-2 as a starter in place of Manning, struggled against the San Diego Chargers but has not necessarily played poorly this season. He has proved to be a reliable backup when the Broncos are in a bind after logging 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns in eight games.