NFL’s NFC Championship Preview: Arizona at Carolina

carolina-panthers-quarterback-cam-newtonWhen it goes for ideal match-ups in the playoffs, What more could NFL fans ask for than the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the NFC meeting up to play for the right to go to Super Bowl 50? The Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals will collide on Sunday evening. This should shape up to be a fantastic game, where either team has a fighting chance to advance to the Super Bowl.

All year long, the Panthers and Cardinals have been the NFC’s top two teams. With amazing records of Arizona (13-3) and Carolina (15-1), the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring offenses will now face off against each other’s formidable is not scary defense.

An interesting twist for the two dominating teams is that neither of the two starting quarterbacks have played in a Super Bowl. Even more surprising, each team has only been to the Super Bowl once in franchise history, and strangely enough both teams went to the big show and lost.

Carson Palmer just got his first playoff win last week against Green Bay! Cam Newton only has two under his belt. When you compare it to the Manning-Brady matchup in the AFC championship game, there is a lot of inexperience in the NFC side of the playoffs. That means that nerves or the intensity of the game will play a huge factor in their performances.

The journey the two teams took to get this far? Carolina came out blasting on all cylinders last week against Seattle, scoring 31 straight points before sitting back on the lead and almost allowing the Seahawks to a mount a large comeback. Arizona had a back-and-forth battle with the Packers that included two Hail Marys, which forced overtime, and a great Larry Fitzgerald play locked up the win for them.

We’ve looked at both teams and we think that in this game, it’s a good bet that the No 1 team wll come out on top and go to the Super Bowl. So here are a few reasons why we think the Panthers will beat the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game.

The number one reason would be that it looks like it’s Cam Newton’s year to shine. Newton will probaby win the Most Valuable Player of the year award and deservedly so. He is making huge plays with his arm and using his feet. And when he’s playing in his groove, it’s almost impossible to stop him. He had a combined 40 touchdowns this season with just 10 interceptions. Even though he doesn’t have a big selection of wide receivers to throw to, Newton always seems to make more plays than the opposing quarterback, and that adds up. He has awesome chemistry with tight end Greg Olsen so that will be a key to a win on Sunday.

Since the game is happening in Carolina it’s necessary to state that the Panthers have been perfect this year at home, with a stunning 9-0 record. Coach Ron Rivera’s team has not lost on home field at Bank of America Stadium, and that creates confidence. One of those wins was the huge victory last week over the defending NFC Champions Seattle Seahawks. The Cards have to travel from Glendale, Arizona to Charlotte, North Carolina which is roughly 2,500 miles, so that should cause some wear and tear. Charlotte won’t be warm and cozy like Cardinals are used to in a closed dome back on the West coast. Also the power of the home crowd noise is notable. Newton will be causing a ruckus as he hands out a few footballs after finding the end zone.

Carolina’s defense is also spectacular. And everyone knows in the NFL that “Defense wins championships” and it’s actuallu true. The Panthers have put a lot of resources in their defense over the last few years, by way of free agency, trades and a lot of good draft picks. It’s all paying off now. Thus their defense has no obvious weaknesses. Luke Kuechly is probably the best linebacker in the league and Josh Norman is considered an elite cornerback. The Panthers defense ranks No. 6 in total yards and No. 6 in points allowed. They also rank No. 4 in rushing yards against and No. 11 in passing yards against. And by the way, the Panthers forced the most interceptions during the regular season. So getting past them will be very daunting.

Their line of scrimmage is taking care of business as they take care of the details and win the battles that win and lose games in the trenches. The Panthers have both a good offensive and defensive line, and that defines them. This year they ranked sixth in the league in sacks, forcing 44. On the otherside the Cardinals ranked just 20th. The Panthers know how to force turnovers in the secondary, but they can also reach the quarterback consistently. Carson Palmer isn’t the most agile or mobile QB in the league, so he might be taking a beating on Sunday.

Carolina has a solid ground game. They are solid in the trenches, have a great defense, and believe it or not they have a nice running game too. That’s why they are No 1. They’re an old school football team. The Cardinals have an excellent passing attack, but many times the best defense is a good offense. The Cards problem could end of being that if the Panthers control the clock with their efficient running game, Larry Fitzgerald and that offense won’t get a lot of time to score points. The Panthers rushing attack ranked second in the league this year with Jonathan Stewart leading the way. Carolina also ran the ball more than any other team in the NFL this season. Their QB, Newton has 10 rushing touchdowns this year, and that’s more than anyone on the Cardinals.

So with weapons like that, it’s almost a sure bet that Carolina will be heading to the Super Bowl. The cats will eat the birds.

Our Pick: Panthers over Cardinals, 21-6