The Carolina Panthers have plenty of stars on this roster with players like Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short and Josh Norman but the deciding factor in the Super Bowl may be players the team acquired mid-season the past two years.
On Sunday, the Panthers will have four players starting for them that were acquired during the season with right tackle Mike Remmers signed last year, defensive end Jared Allen acquired earlier this season and cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain signed towards the end of the regular season.
All four players saw opportunities for playing time present themselves due to injuries and the front office, led by GM Dave Gettleman, has done an excellent job of finding quality players to fill the void.
The team signed Remmers last season off the St. Louis Rams practice squad when they were hit hard by injury. The plan at that point in the season was to have Amini Silatolu replace the injured Nate Chandler at right tackle however Silatolu was dealing with a knee injury and he was not able to play. This presented an opportunity for Remmers to step in as the starter and role he has not relinquished.
Fast forward to this year, the Panthers' were hit hard by injury at the defensive end position. The team lost Charles Johnson in the first part of the season due to a hamstring injury and placed him on injured reserve. The front office wasted little time and swung a trade with the Chicago Bears for veteran Jared Allen.
That would quickly change.
Over the final month, the secondary would lose both Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman to season-ending injuries and these two free agents, who hadn't played any football that season prior to signing with the Panthers, would become starters on the top team in the NFC.
This certainly raised a number of question marks heading into the most important part of the season but both have risen to the occasion and played better than anyone could have imagined.
This Sunday, these four players are going to be playing pivotal roles for the Carolina Panthers and could be the difference between a win and loss for the NFC Champions. The Broncos have excellent pass rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and it will be Remmers responsibility to protect Cam Newton as well as open running lanes for Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team is expected to get Allen back on Sunday, who missed the NFC Conference Championship Game with a fractured foot, and he will be focused on getting pressure on Peyton Manning. A strong game from Allen could help McClain and Finnegan win the battle against the Broncos' wide receivers.
Injuries are an inherent part of the game and the Panthers have had their fair share of injuries this year. One of the reasons this team has gotten to this point is because they believe in 'Next Man Up'.
However, this philosophy doesn't work if the right players aren't ready to step in when the opportunity presents itself. Dave Gettleman and the team's front office has done an excellent job finding the right players at a time that the pool of players is at its shallowest and seen them play key roles to help the team reach Super Bowl 50.