THE OUTCOME HINGES ON A SERIES OF ONE-ON-ONE SKIRMISHES
Olsen is Cam Newton's most reliable target, especially on third down. He has a great feel for finding space and can thrive against any coverage. At 5'10" and 200 pounds, Ward hits like a linebacker and loves a challenge—witness his work against Rob Gronkowski for the first three quarters of the AFC title game.
The Panthers' offense is based on a ground game that uses everything from traditional two-back iso runs to zone reads to QB power sweeps. Turner is their best lineman, a 320-pound butt-kicker with strong hands. Wolfe, whose forte is stopping the run, needs to play Turner to a draw despite giving up 35 pounds.
In six of his nine playoff appearances, Thomas has been basically a no-show, including in both of his games this postseason. A three-time Pro Bowler, he has to make plays, especially when lined up against McClain (signed on Dec. 15 after being out of the league) and not lockdown corner Josh Norman.
Something's got to give. Daniels had both Broncos touchdowns in the AFC championship game, and Kuechly has returned two picks for TDs this postseason. No linebacker is better at reading the QB's eyes than Kuechly, who can thwart Peyton Manning's plans for Daniels on third down and in the red zone.
TED GINN JR.
Neither team is known for its special teams, but Ginn—who ran a 4.37 40 in 2007, when he entered the NFL—is dangerous on punt returns and can change momentum quickly. Webster, a gunner with 4.41 speed, knows coverage angles and is an explosive tackler. He's been terrific in this postseason.
CHRIS KEANE FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
RON CHENOY/USA TODAY SPORTS (WARD)
JEFF HAYNES FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DANIELS)
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (KUECHLY)