Special teams don’t see the field for long on any given Sunday, but often they make a significant impact.
That’s especially true of the field goal unit, specifically the kickers. And if Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California, on Sunday comes down to a field goal or extra point, the Broncos should feel slightly more confident than the Panthers.
Denver’s Brandon McManus is among the busiest and most reliable distance kickers in the NFL. Including the playoffs, he’s 15-20 from 40 yards away, and he’s made seven from 50 or longer.
Graham Gano is no slouch, but Carolina tends to shy away from kicks beyond 50 yards. He attempted just four during the regular season, making two. More worrisome is his league-high four kicks that were blocked this season. The Panthers can’t afford such special teams miscues on Sunday.
Neither team appears to have a strong edge at the punter position, with the Panthers’ Brad Nortman and the Broncos’ Britton Colquitt serviceable if unspectacular.
As for the punt return game, the Panthers will have a clear edge with Ted Ginn Jr. He ranked fifth in the league in average yards per return with 10.3. Although he did not return one for a touchdown this season, he has done so four times in his career — and three more on kickoffs.
Jordan Norwood has handled punt return duties for the Broncos during the playoffs, but he has just nine combined returns and averaged a modest 8.0 yards per return.
Expect plenty of touchbacks on kickoffs in the Super Bowl. Denver and Carolina, who each use their kicker on these plays, rank third and seventh in the NFL in touchback percentage.
When kicks are returned, Carolina relies on Fozzy Whittaker and Joe Webb and Denver utilizes Andre Caldwell now that Omar Bolden is injured. None of the healthy players is a notorious threat to break off a game-changing return.