It doesn’t feel like it too much, but today is Championship Sunday, as the AFC and NFC Championships take place to determine the matchup for the Super Bowl. Wasn’t the Hall of Fame game just taking place, like last week? No of course not, but I can’t believe there are only three football games left this season, four if you really want to count the Pro Bowl. The AFC Championship is up first, with the NFC Championship rounding out the Super Bowl matchup. In the AFC, the New England Patriots are one win away from going to the Super Bowl yet again. The defending champs are probably sure wishing they played out the end of the season better and were able to nab home field advantage. If they were healthy, the number 1 seed was all the Patriots to take. They are now healthy though which is ultimately the most important thing. Notably, they will have Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman today for the AFC Championship. Edelman was absent for the first meeting between the Patriots and Broncos, and you could make the argument that Gronkowski was, too. Chris Harris put a helmet into his knee early, and that was the end of Gronk for a few weeks.
The Broncos had to endure their own injuries this season. On their side, Peyton Manning sat out to give way to Brock Osweiler. Osweiler held his own, and a lot of credit should be given to him to get the Broncos the number 1 seed. Manning has had one of the worst quarterback ratings in the NFL this season. Let’s look past his past accomplishments and call it for what it is. If I told you Brandon Weeden had a higher quarterback rating than Peyton Manning, you wouldn’t believe me, but it is true. Actually, it wasn’t even close, Weeden had a 96.8 rating and Manning had a rating of 67.9. By the time you’re reading this, the game might be over already. For the purposes of my pick, let’s get to the Cardinals and Panthers.
Interesting matchup here, which on paper looks dead even. Defensively they are even, and offensively they are even. I should say, statistically speaking. The style of these teams are quite the opposite. Cam Newton is of course the runner and scrambler, he can throw it but run the ball, too. It’s probably quite apparent by now, but I know some of you might be new to the game of American football. Newton had himself a MVP like season and it continued last week against the Seattle Seahawks. It wasn’t a highlight reel kind of game for Newton, but he didn’t turn the ball over and threw for 161 yards and a touchdown with a 108.3 quarterback rating.
The defense nearly gave that game away though, and when the Seahawks discovered a major weakness of the Panthers, they feasted off it. I’ll get into that more below. The Arizona Cardinals got here thanks to a wild one against the Packers. They coughed the game away, and then recaptured it with a touchdown in overtime. It was the second time a Hail Mary paid off for the Packers this season, but unlike the first time against the Lions, it didn’t result in a win.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers NFC Championship Betting Odds:
vs. Panthers -3(-110)
Odds provided by Bovada.lv
Cardinals vs. Panthers Pick:
Like I said, statistically these teams are pretty well copycats of one another. From the offense, to the defense, they are fairly even. So, looking at it from a statistical point of view, the Cardinals and Panthers meeting up with the right to go to the Super Bowl is no surprise here. The Cardinals scored 30.6 points per game, their offense ranked 1st in the NFL with 408.6 yards per game. Conversely, the Panthers scored a hair more points, 31.2 points per game. In other words, combined they averaged over 60 points a game together, but the defenses tell another story. The offenses were producing and the defenses as well, for both clubs. I see both clubs blitzing aplenty in this game. Carson Palmer, who is trying to cap off a tremendous year with a trip to the Super Bowl, has been difficult to slow down when he has time in the pocket. He gets pressured and what happens is last week, a game in which the Packers forced Palmer into a really poor game.
I noted a weak link in the Panthers that the Seahawks discovered earlier in this article. What the Seahawks found is that Cortland Finnegan can’t cover anybody anymore. The Hawks attacked him time after time with success in the second half. Finnegan is only playing due to injuries in the Panther secondary. The Seahawks were just forced into too many errors early last week, that’s why they lost the game. I said after the Cardinals’ win against the Packers that the Cardinals escaped a really bad Carson Palmer performance. He don’t see him playing that poorly again. Larry Fitzgerald will be active, but I see the Cardinals’ role receiver like John Brown having a big game. This is a game where you have to take the points.
PICK: CARDINALS +3 (-110)