Conference Championship Round Preview/Predictions
After an unforgettable Divisional Round, NFL fans cannot wait for the Championship games. The Patriots knocked off the red-hot Chiefs while the Broncos handled a beat-up Steelers team. The Panthers built a strong lead on the Seahawks and held on, while the Cards barely defeated the Packers after a tremendous Aaron Rodgers’ comeback. New England gets a rematch against Denver in what may be the final Brady vs Manning matchup. Which teams will advance to Super Bowl 50?
New England Patriots (12-4) at Denver Broncos (12-4)
- Kickoff: Sunday at 2:05 PM CST
- Location: Sports Authority Field at Mile High (Denver, CO)
- Odds: NE -3
- Over/Under: 44.5
Case for New England:
Just like every other year, New England is again competing for a spot in the Super Bowl. Just like every other year, Tom Brady is leading this team. The Patriots started this season 10-0 before injuries of key players costed them a loss (of course, to the Broncos). Following that loss, the Patriots won 2 of their final 3 to finish 12-4 and a second place finish in the AFC. Last week, with many players coming back from injuries, the Patriots handled the Chiefs fairly well in 27-20 win. Going into this week, New England looks like an early favorite for this game. New England has been outstanding on offense, averaging 29.1 points per game, good for 3rd in the NFL and 1st in the AFC. Defensively, this team finished in 10th for yards allowed, but New England is always known for playing it’s best on the defensive side of the ball in the playoffs. This looks like good news after watching the Bronco’s offense struggle against a weak Steeler’s defense. If the Patriots play their best game, they should be competing in Super Bowl 50.
Case for Denver:
After claiming the #1 seed for the playoffs in week 17, Denver gets to host New England for a chance at another Super Bowl. Going into the playoffs, the Broncos didn’t know who their starting QB would be until Manning was called up to lead this team. This team is feeling very confident against a New England team they defeated earlier in the year, a 30-24 overtime win. Offensively, this team has been inconsistent. Some weeks, they are able to score a lot of points, but others, they fail to score a touchdown. While Manning has had trouble scoring, he does have something on this team that he has never had before in his career: An offensive rushing attack. CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will be able to take some weight off Manning’s shoulders. Defensively, it is hard to argue that the Broncos do not have one of the league’s best. With Demarcus Ware and Von Miller rushing the quarterback, Chris Harris Jr and Aqib Talib locking down receivers, it will be a challenge for any quarterback. Brady has been known to struggle against good defenses. Denver’s defense ranks 4th in points and 1st in total yards (1st against the pass and 3rd against the rush). If the Broncos are able to stop New England when the run the ball, they will able to force Brady into making tough throws when they expect it. This may lead to turnovers, giving Manning and the offense extra chances to put points on the board.
Prediction: Denver 23, New England 20
Confidence: Very, very low
Difference of Game: Denver’s defense being able to stop Brady and give Manning chances on offense.
Arizona Cardinals (13-3) at Carolina Panthers (15-1)
- Kickoff: Sunday at 5:40 PM CST
- Location: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, NC)
- Odds: CAR -3
- Over/Under: 48.0
Case for Arizona:
After a crazy game that finished in Arizona’s favor last week, the Cardinals are looking for another Super Bowl appearance. Carson Palmer is having an MVP-type season and he proved that last week leading his team down in overtime. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald continues to dominate after having 176 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime last week. David Johnson has also been great this year as this team’s running back. This team also finished 1st in total yards and points per game. Defensively, this team has been tremendous. Cornerback Patrick Peterson leads this squad that finished 5th in yards allowed. Even though defensive back Tyrann Matheiu is out for the remainder of the season, the Cardinals still have great players that cause havoc for most quarterbacks in the NFL. Even though Aaron Rodgers brought his team back in the final seconds of last week’s game, this team still maintained him for a majority of the game.
Case for Carolina:
After leading the game 31-0 at halftime last week, the Panthers were able to stop a Russell Wilson comeback and seal the 31-24 win. The Panthers offense scores more than every team but one in the first half of games this season. Cam Newton, with the lack of weapons he has, has dominated all season long. It’s hard to argue that he isn’t the front running for MVP. Running back Jonathon Stewart has played his best year, helping the Panthers finish 2nd in league rushing yards. Carolina has been extremely efficient this season, finishing +20 in turnovers this season. Defensively, led by DPOY candidates Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short, and Josh Norman, have played fantastic this season. This defense has a knack for forcing turnovers and turning them into points. While this team looks like the NFL’s best at some points (First half of last week’s game), they have played poorly at other times. If Cam and his team play as good as they are capable of, no team will stop them from reaching their goal.
Prediction: Carolina 27, Arizona 23
Difference of Game: Cam Newton and his explosive offense being able to score quick points on the Cardinal’s defense.