As the most well-known Raider fan along the Front Range, many of you have asked for my thoughts on the Denver Broncos’ success this year after previously saying this team was “fools gold.” My response is this: Making it to the Super Bowl party is only half the journey. Winning the Super Bowl is the goal. I stand by my statement.

No, Joe Williams is not my father, and to paraphrase the late Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Bobby, “second place is the first loser.” Enter the Lamar Hunt and George S. Halas participation trophies.

As we know, defense wins championships. Offen$e put$ fanny$ in $eat$, and I $ee lot$ of No. 18 jer$ey$ in tho$e $eat$ and a very good defense on the field. Now for the caveat.

The Broncos have been in a similar position before, waltzing into a Super Bowl with the No. 1 scoring defense holding opponents to a game average of 14 points and a season high of 30. That team went to the Super Bowl and The G.O.A.T, Joe Montana, dropped 55 on them. One of the ugliest losses in Super Bowl history, if not the ugliest.

It’s hard to tell since the Broncos have a fistful of them. Yes, it is an old reference, but as we all know, history can and will repeat itself. One way or the other, NFL history is a scorned mistress.

Look at the Raiders, who fell prey to two of arguably best defenses of all time, the 2001 Baltimore Ravens and the 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both mirror this year’s Broncos team. Great defense and an offense that makes you say WTF?

Of course No. 18 is 1,000 times the quarterback Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson are, even tied together on PEDs and at their best.

I think Denver’s own Drew Litton’s Cartoon in this month’s issue of Mile High Sports Magazine, titled “Broncos fan selfie,” best describes the way many of you feel about the Broncos offense. Make sure you get a copy.

Now, here is the breakdown.

First things first. Both of these teams are here because of defense, don’t let the media fool you. This is not Cam Newton vs. Peyton Manning.  This Panthers team is complete, top to bottom.

Carolina Offense vs. Denver Defense

Could you ask for a better matchup?  I don’t need to school you on this; for that matter what I will say is that this matchup that can go either way. The Panthers offense completely decimated the high-powered Cardinals defense in 15 minutes, who had no chance of recovery after that. Amassing just 287 yards in the NFC title game, against arguably the best team in football this year, the Cardinals had no shot that day. By the way, the Panthers have beaten the Nos. 2, 3 and 5 defenses.

And guess who is next up? Mr. Newton himself. The Broncos have the horses to corral a wily quarterback who throws BBs. That cannot be their focus. With the Panthers’ arsenal of weapons, The No Fly Zone will be tested early. A strong run game supports the most polarizing player in the game, who in true leadership fashion has absorbed all of the criticism himself and shielded his teammates. Like a Superman of the Justice League should.

This has the makings of a Floyd Mayweather fight. Lots of hype, but in the end just lots of strategies playing out to get the win, and no definitive knockout blow.

Now, the Panthers O-line. The presumed NFL MVP would not be in this position without his dancing bears Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell and the anchor, center Ryan Kalil. This group will have to play its best game against a Broncos unit that has been at the forefront of the NFL’s best total defense all year.

This needs to be the Denver Broncos defense’s finest hour. As Broncos defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said on my show, The Nosebleed Section, “The best has yet to come from this team.” I don’t think I need to tell you all how good the Broncos defense is. Sly, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson have 13 sacks as an interior unit.

This Panthers team is what we all thought the Packers were when that team came into Mile High during the regular season. For crying out loud, Newton has made castoff Ted Ginn Jr. look like Mushin Muhammad reincarnated and he’s resurrected Jerricho Cotchery‘s career. Remember how the Panthers threw away Steve Smith and we were wondering how and who Cam would be playing catch with?

Did I mention that the Broncos have the No. 1 defense? A defense whose best test came twice against perennial powerhouse New England and answered every question levied against it?

Yes, Olson is no Gronk; but he is still one the top tight ends in the game. Did I fail to mention as a team the Broncos are coming into this game having faced adversity, criticisms, allegations, fanbase division and started their second string quarterback for a significant portion of the season? Oh and they have the No. 1 defense.

Only ham and eggs sports talk radio host and complete homers will dismiss the accomplishments of the Carolina offense. Did I tell you about the Broncos No. 1 defense?

Yes, it’s not Randy Gradishar and Lyle Alzados‘ 77 Orange Crush; what it is, is a unit that has routinely shown it’s penchant and lust for being the underdog. Did I remind you they were ranked No. 1 overall?

If The Duke is really that great of a football guy he would lock up the son of Bum with a lifetime contract. If there is one thing I know it is this: Wade Phillips has proven he is capable of being a head coach he just isn’t a very good one (Music City miracle.) Call him the Norv Turner of defensive strategies. Plenty of chances, not a lot of success as a head coach.

Carolina Defense vs. Denver Offense

The Panthers were sixth in the NFL with 44 sacks, led by defensive tackle Kawann (K-Won) Short, who had 11. This D-line is aggressive, cunning and smart and unlike anything the Broncos O-line has seen all year. That patchwork quilt of an O-line that was pieced together from parts old and now appears to have gelled together at the right time, much to the joy of Broncos fans everywhere. It’s a minor miracle this group has not gotten Nos. 17 and 18 killed this year, although this unit has seen its moments. (Pinning the career day that Khalil Mack had on Michael Scofield is a bad play; the Broncos gave him no help.)

I was wondering what Rick Dennison was thinking that day. Yes, you do remember him right? I think he is Elway’s golf partner and the fourth person at card games in the locker room. This guy gets no credit or criticism at all here in the Mile High City because of the “Kubiak” system.

Ron Rivera, the 85 Bears linebacker turned head coach, opens things up for a Panthers linebacking corps led by Luke Kuechly. Running the ball is going to be tough for both of these teams; the Panthers rank fourth in run defense and the Broncos third. When the Broncos get 100 yards on the ground, they usually win the game. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson will need to go wonder twins in this matchup.

Rivera’s staff also should receive kudos for creating an environment that allows his players’ personalities to flourish. As Nostradamus so eloquently said in his quatrains, this is “The young lion versus the old lion.” Led by two linebackers that could possibly be the best tandem in the history of the NFL, Thomas Davis Jr. & Kuechly are the extension of head coach “Riverboat” Ron who last year at this time was worried about his job at 7-8-1. Davis, with his broken twig suffered in the NFC title game win and his three ACL surgeries, is the embodiment of a true  NFL Gladiator, and Kuechly isn’t far behind. At this point I have to push all my chips to the Panthers side of the table because I haven’t even gotten to seasoned vets Roman Harper and the biggest free agent for the offseason, Josh Norman, who cuts the field in half with his play and will get paid. That being said, the loss of Charles Tillman was a blow to that defensive backfield and Cortland Finnegan, signed late in the year, has been a liability.

Long story short, half of the field will probably be open when 18 is dropping back to pass in Santa Clara.

It breaks down like this: This Panthers team is who we thought the Packers were coming into Mile High during the regular season.

Unless the Denver defense can pitch a few shutout quarters of football, this is a push agianst the Broncos offense. These two elements of the game should be the focal point. I have to go with the Panthers here.

If the Broncos can stop the Panthers offense they will be considered a top-three defense all-time.

Only a division opponent who has plenty of dirt on them have been able to slow the roll of the Panthers this season. Something we know all to well in the AFC West.

How many times have you seen a team with nothing to play for jump up and snake bite a team  late in the year? For the Panthers it came at the right time, taking pressure of a potentially perfect season off the entire team, allowing them to move on to the next game and put it behind them. (They responded like a championship team should by getting right back to their winning ways.)

This Broncos team has answered its own adversity time and time again and silenced its critics by making it this far. Congratulations. Now be the team that you say you are and bring the Lombardi trophy to Denver.

Sorry, but No. 1 defense or not the Broncos offense is going to have to play its best game of the year to win. That’s where I have the issue.

I have no horse in this race and it’s my job to cover sports, not pick games. Those guys are called Handicappers.

I have to say that Broncos defense vs. Panthers offense is a push and I have to go Panthers defense over the Broncos offense. Sorry, Denver.