Here we go, the divisional round games are all behind us and it is on to the NFC Championship. Things are getting more fun and more stressful by the week. Teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers have earned their right to battle each other with a Super Bowl spot on the line.
Cam Newton and the top seeded Carolina Panthers roared out to a 31-0 halftime lead against the Seattle Seahawks before holding on to win 31-24. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals fought off some Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers fourth down magic. Coin toss aside, they found a dynamic win 26-20 in overtime. But what comes of this week? Let’s take a look at 2015-16 NFC Championship Predictions, Picks Cardinals vs Panthers
Arizona Cardinals over Carolina Panthers
This is how it is supposed to be, the two best teams in the NFL will square off in the NFC Championship game. That is right, the two best teams in the league are both in the NFC and that takes nothing away from the Broncos or the Patriots, reality is just reality. Regardless, fans get what they want, the two best battling for a Super Bowl spot.
Off the bat you have to look to the quarterbacks in this match-up with the prototypical pocket passer in Carson Palmer set to face off with the unique skillset that is Cam Newton. Both quarterbacks threw 35 touchdowns this season but Palmer threw for almost a thousand more yards. Newton however, rushed for almost 650 yards and 10 more touchdowns. The offense in Carolina runs through their quarterback more than almost any team in the NFL.
Both squads have effective running games but in different ways. The Panthers utilize Jonathan Stewart mixed with Newton is many traditional sets and they do it effectively. Overall Stewart is more serviceable than dynamic but that is the role he needed to play in this offense. He still would have rushed for 1,000 yards if it was not for a late season injury. Newton is the X-Factor when it comes to running the ball in Carolina.
Meanwhile, the loss of Chris Johnson is exactly what the Cardinals needed. That loss allowed them to finally let rookie David Johnson lose. Johnson is the triple threat that bothers defenses. He has the ability to run strong between the tackles, he can also take a toss or sweep to the outside while exploding up field, and he has incredible hands to catch out of the backfield.
The receiving corps in Carolina is thinner than they would like but they have arguably the second best pass catching tight end in the NFL in Greg Olsen, who led the Panthers in receptions and yards. Ted Ginn is dynamic but it is crap shoot whether or not he will catch the pass from Newton. When he does it contributes to one of his 10 long touchdowns but he is just as likely to let it drop through his hands. Jerricho Cotchery is a veteran but nothing special and rookie Devin Funchess is still learning but has improved as of late.
The Cardinals have more weapons than they know what to do with. In fact, only the Pittsburgh Steelers can even rival the wide receiver depth in Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald reminded the league just how good he is when there is a true quarterback throwing. John Brown and Michael Floyd could battle for the number one spot on a lot of teams in the league and they are the second and third options in the Cardinals passing attack. Add to the mix David Johnson out of the backfield and JJ Nelson as the fourth wide receiver and most teams do not have enough defensive backs to get the job done.
The Carolina defense is really good, I mean really good. But they have a tendency to let teams back into games like last week against the Seahawks and earlier in the year against the Giants and Packers just to name a couple. In their defense, pun intended, they won each of those games. The Cardinals defense is no slouch either and ranks near the top of the league. Just ask Aaron Rogers how good they are.
In a match-up of two closely matched teams, you need a couple of factors to sway the game. First, will the Cardinals play Patrick Peterson on Greg Olsen all day or will they put him on Ginn to shut down the deep ball. I would bet the latter which means long sustained drives are needed against an aggressive and talented defense.
On the flipside, with the Panthers secondary facing injury concerns and Cortland Finnegan not getting the job done, will the Cardinals employ a mixture of slot receivers and abuse the middle all day? If not and the Panthers drop two into the middle will that allow Palmer to unleash downfield in quick bursts? Utilizing quick passes to the slot could help mask the protection issues in Arizona and negate the bull rush of the talented Carolina front. Both of these match-ups will be interesting to watch.
In what amounts a coin flip when picking a favorite I like the options in Arizona over the Cam Newton show. I will take the Cardinals on the road in a close one. Weigh in below on what you think we will come of the Cardinals vs Panthers NFC Championship game this weekend or even on the breakdown of 2015-16 NFC Championship Predictions, Picks Cardinals vs Panthers . Let’s hear it.