It makes sense that the top two teams in the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals (13-3) and Carolina Panthers (15-1) meet to determine which will represent the conference in this year’s Super Bowl. The same is the case with the AFC Championship game, as the New England Patriots (12-4) play the Denver Broncos (12-4). One thing is for certain, this year’s Super Bowl will not include a dark horse.
We’re going beyond the stats in this analysis, as the Cardinal and Panther statistics are fairly close. Instead, we’re taking a look at some determining factors that.will decide the outcome of Sunday’s NFC Championship game.
Carson Palmer has had a stellar season. Interesting to note that in the playoff game against Green Bay last week, he was fairly conservative in the first half. Palmer kept his tosses short. He also threw two picks. At times, he’s struggled as was the case against Seattle in the final regular season game.
Cam Newton is not a stellar passer, but he seems to be a very strong leader. Note, while Palmer had a tough time against Seattle, Newton handled their defense in last week’s playoff game easily. He hit more than 72% of his passes, did not throw a pick, and earned a rating of over 100. Plus, Newton is a powerful runner who can turn a broken play into a big gain or a score.
Give the Panthers an edge at quarterback.
Pressure and Poise
Green Bay managed to rattle Palmer last week. He was off kilter for at least half of the game and had to win in OT. Newton is prone to the sack, but he’s also very good on his feet. Newton has an X-factor that makes him very dangerous.
The Panther defensive frontline should be able to control the Cardinal O-line and get to Palmer. At the same time, look for the Carolina offensive line to stop the Cardinal rush attack. The Panther line matches up well against Arizona’s defensive line. Plus, the Carolina running backs are a powerful force and should occupy the minds of the Arizona front men, allowing Newton some extra time to throw the ball.
The Panther defense gets a small edge here.
The Panthers have a great home record going 11-1 over the past dozen games. The crowd will help, and the Panthers should go into the game loose and confident, but not cocky. They know that they have their work cut out for them. Of course, if Arizona can take the crowd out of the game, that will help Palmer and company. But that won’t be easy to do.
Give the Panthers the benefit of home field.
The Better Team
Records indicate that overall Carolina is the better team. They certainly have not run away with every game they’ve won. Instead, they’ve shown that they can go 15-1 by dealing with some very tough situations where they had to make major adjustments to get by some very tough opponents.
The Cardinals put an amazingly rich squad of pass catchers on the field and their running game is very good. But some key players are questionable and the Carolina defense has some dominant players who can negate or at least undermine the best offensive players in the league.
Our pick is Carolina at -3.5 and the under, which is at 47.5.