The Cardinals will face the top seeded Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The NFC Championship is scheduled to kickoff at 6:40 PM. ET.
The NFC Championships is set. This matchup pits the top two teams in the NFC against each other for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The stakes don’t get any greater.
The Panthers enter the NFC Championship with arguably the most momentum of any team remaining in the playoffs. In the Divisional Round, Cam Newton and company faced down the two-time defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers took a huge early lead in the game. They led 31-0 going into the second half of the game. The Seahawks mounted a furious comeback, running of 24 unanswered points late in the second half. The deficit, however, was too much to overcome. The Panthers will now face Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals.
Now that was a classic. On paper, the Cardinals were clearly the better team. This season, the Packers have struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers. Without Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers has been average looking. The lack of talent, however, did not effect Rodgers this week. Rodgers targeted Jeff Janis and the two shredded the Cardinals secondary. Janis had 145 yards receiving and two touchdowns versus the Cardinals secondary, including a game tying touchdown as time expired in regulation to force overtime. Carson Palmer struggled throughout the game, but managed to hookup with Larry Fitzgerald twice in overtime for 80 yards and the game winning score. It wasn’t pretty, but the Cardinals move on.
Going into the NFC Championship, these two teams look headed in different directions. The Cardinals offense looked like a juggernaut throughout most of the regular season. The last few weeks, however, Carson Palmer has made questionable decisions in the pocket. He has forced throws in the red zone that have resulted in turnovers. Against the Packers, Palmer threw two critical interceptions. The turnovers helped keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in control for most of the game. Against the Panther’s opportunistic defense, Carson Palmer must capitalize on every red zone possession. Most importantly, the Cardinals cannot afford to turn the ball over.
The Panthers’ defense is elite. They’ve carried the Panthers to this point, as much as Cam Newton has. Against the Seahawks, the Panthers forced two turnovers that helped build an early lead. The Panthers’ defense played with a level of intensity that the Seahawks early on could not match.
A player to watch in the NFC Championship for the Cardinals is John Brown. Against the Packers, Brown was tied with the second most targets on the team. He’s had a few underwhelming games this year, but if Cardinals are going to upset the Panthers at home, Carson Palmer needs more than Larry Fitzgerald to show up. Fitzgerald was huge against the Packers, hauling in eight receptions on twelve targets for 145 yards and the game ending score.
The Panthers are a formidable opponent, but they’ve found themselves in a few shootouts this year and that’s the type of game the Cardinals will need to win. Without a formidable running attack, the Cardinals will have to rely on Carson Palmer’s arm. John Brown’s contributions, or lack thereof, will go a long way in determining the NFC Championship.
On the other side, Jonathan Stewart is the key to a Panther’s victory. The Panthers have the best remaining running attack in the playoffs. A big part of that is Jonathan Stewart. Against the Seahawks, Stewart rushed for 106 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Panthers ability to control the game by running the ball is vital to a Carolina victory. In the Panther’s lone loss on the season, the Panthers rushed for 155 yards, but most of those yards were Cam Newton scrambles. The Panthers need a consistent ground attack to manage to clock and keep Carson Palmer on the sidelines.
Panthers Vs Cardinals NFC Championship Betting Lines
The Panthers secondary versus the Cardinals receiving core is the biggest matchup. The Panthers will have to get pressure on Palmer to prevent him from targeting the Panther’s secondary deep. The Cardinals will look to exploit Cortland Finnegan and the Panthers secondary. The Panthers are the most talented team left in the playoffs, but the Cardinals poise a tremendous challenge. If Larry Fitzgerald can take over the game, then look for Arizona to advance to the Super Bowl.
Play: Cardinals +3 @ BetOnline.ag