Projected starters and key players for the Super Bowl at Santa Clara, California:
Cam Newton, QB (1), 6-5, 245, 5th season, Auburn
A front-runner for MVP honours, passed for 35 TDs and ran for 10 ... Has been dynamic in playoffs with three TD passes and two runs ... Strong in the pocket, elusive and powerful outside of it ... Likes to show off how much fun he is having, especially after Panthers touchdowns.
Jonathan Stewart, RB (28) 5-10, 235, 8th season, Oregon
Became the true No. 1 runner this season when DeAngelo Williams departed ... Rushed for 989 yards and six TDs during season, had 59-yard sprint on Panthers' first play of post-season ... Strong runner with a burst to break big plays.
Mike Tolbert, FB (35), 5-9, 245, 8th season, Coastal Carolina
All-Pro fullback who is solid blocker and receiver ... Can play halfback when needed and did when Stewart was injured during season ... Scored four times during season.
Ted Ginn Jr., WR (19), 5-11, 185, 9th season, Ohio State
Resurrected his career in second stint with Carolina ... Has overcome penchant for drops to use his speed and improved routes to have his best season ... Also a dangerous punt returner with 32-yarder to set up own 22-yard TD run vs. Arizona.
Philly Brown, WR (10), 5-11, 185, 2nd season, Ohio State
Real name is Corey, got nickname in college from then-Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel ... Speed is his strength, broke an 86-yard TD reception against Cardinals ... Scored four TDs in regular season, has one in playoffs.
Greg Olsen, TE (88), 6-5, 252, 9th season, Miami
Among the most valuable tight ends in football, Newton's favourite target ... Versatile, can get open deep or short, over middle or outside ... Already has 12 catches in post-season, one TD ... Made 77 receptions for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns in regular season.
Michael Oher, LT (73), 6-4, 315, 7th season, Mississippi
Yes, the “Blind Side” guy ... Already has won a Super Bowl, with Baltimore in 2013 game, but has never become a star ... Had one mediocre season with Tennessee after five years with Ravens before Panthers added him.
Andrew Norwell, LG (68), 6-6 325, 2nd season, Ohio State
Has emerged quickly on a vastly improved blocking unit ... Undrafted free agent who became starter for nine games in 2014, then started 13 times this season.
Ryan Kalil, C (67), 6-2, 300, 9th season, Southern California
All-Pro for a second time (2013) ... Excellent in pass protection, smart and durable ... Rarely is overpowered ... Has started every game he's played since 2008 ... Brother Matt plays tackle for Vikings.
Trai Turner, RG (70), 6-3, 320, 2nd season, LSU
Most-improved blocker on Panthers ... Had strong regular season and has been even better in playoffs ... Third-round pick who took over position for good midway through 2014 ... Strong, aggressive, doesn't get intimidated.
Mike Remmers, RT (74), 6-5, 306, 3rd season, Oregon State
Has been with half-dozen teams in short career ... 2015 his first season as starter after mostly being on practice squads ... Some considered Remmers weakest link on line, but he's been steady in post-season.
Charles Johnson, DE (95), 6-2, 282, 9th season, Georgia
One of NFL's highest-paid defenders ... Has two sacks in the post-season, but has been inconsistent as pass rusher ... Was activated from injured reserve/designated for return in November after missing seven games (hamstring).
Kawann Short, DT (99), 6-3, 315, 3rd season, Purdue
Among the league's best, his 11 sacks tied for most for position in NFL ... Became starter for nine games in '14 and hasn't looked back ... Made 55 tackles in regular season, impressive for a DT.
Star Lotulelei, DT (98), 6-2, 320, 3rd season, Utah
Sometimes overshadowed by Short, but is very reliable ... First-round pick in 2013 who doesn't pile up statistics - he helps his teammates do so by occupying blockers.
Jared Allen, DE (69), 6-6, 270, 12th season, Idaho State
Veteran seeking first ring ... Was traded by Bears after three games this season, found a home in Carolina ... His 136 sacks rank ninth all-time, and he says he remembers nearly every one ... Missed NFC title game with broken foot, expects to play in Super Bowl.
Kony Ealy, DE (94), 6-4, 275, 2nd season, Missouri
Second-round pick who had so-so rookie season, came on in 2015 but has not been a dominator ... If Allen is hobbled, Ealy will need to play more and pick up his game.
Mario Addison, DE (97), 6-3, 260, 5th season, Troy
Has had strong playoffs after good season ... Can get to passer, had six sacks during regular season ... Played for three teams in first two pro seasons, has been in Carolina since 2012.
Thomas Davis, LB (58), 6-2, 235, 11th season, Georgia
Terrific leader, All-Pro outside backer who broke right forearm in NFC title game ... Had surgery and expects to suit up for Super Bowl ... Has overcome series of knee surgeries, was NFL's Man of the Year in 2014 ... Was in on 105 tackles ... Longest-tenured Panther.
Luke Kuechly, LB (59), 6-3, 238, 4th season, Boston College
A tackling machine, the All-Pro linebacker also has two interception returns for TDs in playoffs ... Perennially among league leaders in tackles, had 118 this season while missing three games ... 2012 Defensive Rookie of Year and won top defensive player in 2013.
Shaq Thompson, LB (54), 6-0, 230, 1st season, Washington
Rookie who played safety in college ... Panthers drafted him 25th overall and moved him to linebacker ... Came on at end of season, seems to have settled in at position.
Robert McClain, CB (27), 5-9, 195, 5th season, Connecticut
Journeyman who has been with two other teams after being selected in seventh round in 2011 by Panthers ... Returned in December when Bene Benwikere was lost for season, has been solid ... Peyton Manning will be looking his way often.
Josh Norman, CB (24), 6-0, 195, 4th season, Coastal Carolina
Manning might not be looking Norman's way. All-Pro has been among best shutdown cornerbacks this season ... Sometimes gets too aggressive - remember ugly feud with Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. in December - but has superb coverage skills ... His matchup with either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders will be highlight.
Cortland Finnegan, CB (26), 5-10, 190, 10th season, Samford
Rugged veteran who helps best when he keeps his cool ... No longer a great coverage guy, but hits hard, understands positioning and reads QBs well ... Released by Miami in March, was out of football until Panthers called in November.
Roman Harper, S (41), 6-1, 205, 10th season, Alabama
Veteran who damaged eye against Arizona but has returned to practice ... Durable and dependable, has started all 16 regular-season games since joining Panthers ... Forceful tackler, especially coming forward.
Kurt Coleman, S (20), 5-11, 200, 6th season, Ohio State
Having by far the best season of previously checkered career ... Played for Panthers defensive co-ordinator Sean McDermott for one season in Philadelphia ... Tied for NFC lead with seven picks, then had two in conference championship.
Graham Gano, K (9), 6-2, 205, 6th season, Florida State
Gano finished second in NFL in points with 146, and is good, not great, from long range ... Missed three PATs in 2015 ... Went 30 of 36 on field goals, with long of 52.
Brad Nortman, P (8), 6-2, 215, 4th season, Wisconsin
Middle of the road punter who had fine gross (45.4 yards per kick), but a 39.8 net, which says something about coverage teams ... A rare punter who was drafted (sixth round, 2012).
Peyton Manning, QB (18), 6-5, 230, 18th season, Tennessee
Is this the final game for the Hall of Fame-bound Manning? ... Only player to win five MVP awards ... Came off torn plantar fascia, took back job in season finale from Brock Osweiler, and led two playoff victories ... Never should be underestimated ... This is fourth Super Bowl for Manning, who won with 2006 Colts.
C.J. Anderson, RB (22), 5-8, 224, 3rd season, California
A godsend for Broncos, who came from nowhere to seize starting job in 2014 ... Short but stocky and powerful, also has nice burst ... Knows how to find end zone.
Ronnie Hillman, RB (23), 5-10, 195, 4th season, San Diego State
Not as consistent or reliable holding onto ball as Anderson ... Led team with 863 yards rushing, but has been used sparingly in post-season ... Third-round pick in 2012 who hasn't broken out.
Demaryius Thomas, WR (88), 6-3, 229, 6th season, Georgia Tech
When he holds onto the ball, Thomas is among most dangerous receivers in NFL ... Tall and rangy, uses his size well ... For much of recent seasons, was favourite target of Manning ... Made 105 receptions for 1,304 yards and six TDs this season.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR (10), 5-11, 180, 6th season, SMU
Also had some drops vs. Pittsburgh, but was much better against New England ... Best deep threat for Manning ... Has 10 catches for 147 yards in post-season ... Plays bigger than his size.
Bennie Fowler, WR (16), 6-1, 212, 1st season, Michigan State
Manning's confidence in the newcomer has grown ... Fowler has ability to make big plays, averaging 17.5 yards on two playoff catches ... Rookie free agent in 2014 who was on practice squad and appears to have learned his trade.
Owen Daniels, TE (81), 6-3, 245, 10th season, Wisconsin
The perfect tight end for Manning, who loves to throw over the middle and in the red zone to TEs ... Daniels was a standout in Houston for eight seasons, played one year with Baltimore, then joined Broncos ... Had 46 catches, three touchdowns during season, and already has two TDs in playoffs.
Ryan Harris, LT (68), 6-5, 302, 9th season, Notre Dame
Harris has had to replace Pro Bowl tackle Ryan Clady, a difficult chore, and protect Manning's blind side ... Uses savvy and experience as much as physicality ... Played four years in Denver, two for Houston, one for Kansas City before returning to Broncos this season.
Evan Mathis, LG (69), 6-5, 298, 10th season, Alabama
An All-Pro in Philadelphia who forced his way out, rarely gets beaten in passing game ... Versatile, good fundamental blocker ... Can get worn down.
Matt Paradis C (61), 6-3, 300, 1st season, Boise State
Imagine being a first-year guy snapping the ball to Manning. That's Paradis, a practice squad player in 2014 after being drafted in sixth round ... Struggles at times as blocker and might have issues with Short and Lotulelei.
Louis Vasquez, RG (65), 6-5, 335, 7th season, Texas Tech
Signed away from division-rival San Diego in 2013 as free agent ... Was All-Pro that year as Broncos made Super Bowl ... First Denver guard to make All-Pro.
Michael Schofield, RT (79), 6-6, 301, 2nd season, Michigan
First-year starter after spending rookie season without an appearance ... Third-round pick who does his best work in the running game.
Derek Wolfe, DE (95), 6-5, 285, 4th season, Cincinnati
Has best season with 49 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks in 12 games ... Benefits from single blocking by opposition ... Already has two sacks in post-season.
Vance Walker, DE (96), 6-2, 305, 7th season, Georgia Tech
Highly serviceable rotation player ... With fourth pro franchise ... Only season as a starter was 2013 in Oakland ... Signed as free agent before this season.
Sylvester Williams, DT (92), 6-2, 313, 3rd season, North Carolina
Massive space-eater who is beginning to justify first-round selection in 2013 ... Won't get many stats, but clogs the middle vs. run game, frees up linebackers to make plays ... Has career-high three sacks this season.
Malik Jackson, DE (97), 6-5, 293, 4th season, Tennessee
Underrated defensive lineman with a knack for big plays ... Had 45 tackles and five sacks in 2015 ... Started every game this season.
Antonio Smith, DE (90), 6-3, 290, 12th season, Oklahoma State.
Veteran who brings savvy and aggression to the D-line ... Productive wherever he has played (four teams) ... Was on 2008 NFC champion Cardinals.
Von Miller, LB (58), 6-3, 250, 5th season, Texas A&M
All-Pro and one of best defenders in league ... Hellacious pass rusher, but also can drop in coverage ... Made life miserable for Tom Brady in AFC title game ... Second overall draft pick in 2011 - behind Cam Newton.
DeMarcus Ware, LB (94), 6-4, 258, 11th season, Troy
Ware's name already in Hall of Fame conversation for down the road ... Spent first nine pro seasons in Dallas, getting 127 sacks ... Made only 25 tackles in 11 games this season, but 7 1-2 were sacks, has 1 1-2 sacks in post-season.
Brandon Marshall, LB (54), 6-1, 250, 4th season, Nevada
Jets WR with same name gets more publicity, but this Brandon Marshall is a stud, too ... Became starter in 2014 and had sensational season, was nearly as productive in '15 ... Drafted by Jaguars in 2012, went to Denver practice squad before breaking through.
Danny Trevathan, LB (59), 6-1, 240, 4th season, Kentucky
Like Marshall, Trevathan doesn't always get his due, but he's solid ... Had breakout 2013 season when Broncos made Super Bowl, was injured for most of '14, made strong comeback this season ... had 109 tackles and two picks in 2015.
Aqib Talib, CB (21), 6-1, 205, 8th season, Kansas
Physical, aggressive cornerback ... Sometimes loses focus, but when on his game, he excels ... Could wind up covering Greg Olsen at times ... Despite playing past four seasons with either Broncos or Patriots, has not been to previous Super Bowl.
Chris Harris Jr., CB (25), 5-10, 199, 4th season, Kansas
Talib gets much of the notice, but Harris is the Broncos' top CB ... Undrafted free agent in 2011 who has consistently made his mark in NFL ... Tore ACL in 2013, yet has started every game in past two years.
Bradley Roby, CB (29), 5-11, 194, 2nd season, Ohio State
Hard-hitter with knack for finding ball ... First-round draftee who supports run defence well ... Pretty versatile ... Had habit of overpursuing early on, seems to have licked it.
T.J. Ward, S (43), 5-10, 200, 6th season, Oregon
Has started every game he's played (81) ... Second-round pick by Cleveland in 2010, signed as free agent by Denver in 2014 ... Good tackler, disruptive in opposing backfields.
Darian Stewart, S (26), 5-11, 214, 6th season, South Carolina
First season with Denver after four with St. Louis, one with Baltimore ... Solid contributor who had 63 tackles, 10 passes defenced, two fumble recoveries ... Works well with Ward in middle of secondary.
Brandon McManus, PK (8), 6-3, 201, 2nd season, Temple
Very strong leg ... Coaches have faith in him from long distance ... Has made seven field goals in post-season ... Went 30 for 35 on FGs, with a 57-yarder.
Britton Colquitt, P (4), 6-3, 205, 7th season, Tennessee
High-priced punter so-so season, but has performed well in playoffs ... Career punting leader for Denver ... Brother Dustin kicks for Chiefs.
Andre Caldwell, KR (12), 6-0, 200, 8th season, Florida
A fourth wideout, Caldwell took over role on kickoff returns previously held by injured Omar Bolden ... Actually had a better return average (23.1 yards) than did Bolden (22.8).