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AFC and NFC Championship Preview
Larry Fitzgerald (11) Celebrates His Over Time Touchdown and Win against Green Bay in the Divisional Round. Picture via

In the NFL, nothing is guaranteed. Over the past few weeks, we have had some crazy playoff finishes, and the NFC and AFC championships rarely disappoint. That being said, there will be many factors that will help determine the final victors, and eventual Super Bowl teams.

The NFC championship will be held at Bank of America Stadium in North Carolina, home of a team that finished the season 15-1 and undefeated at home. The Panthers sport the top offense in terms of points scored, and defensively are second best in terms of run defense, led by All-Pro Linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is not the only playmaker on this vibrant defense, as they also feature Pro-Bowl Players in Thomas Davis, Josh Norman, and Kawaan Short. The Panthers are just the eighth team in NFL history to finish the season 15-1, and for good reason, as they carry one of the strongest rosters in the playoffs this year. Not to mention they are led by Cam Newton, the MVP favorite for this past season. But with all of these things going for Panthers, the Arizona Cardinals are strolling into Bank of America stadium with their own level of momentum.

Arizona finished with the best offense in yards gained, led by their extremely well balanced attack; causing their offense to finish in the top ten in terms of rushing and passing yards. Veteran wideout Larry Fitzgerald is coming off of his ninth Pro-Bowl season, and a game where he gained 176 total yards in the divisional matchup against Green Bay. The Cardinals are soaring high and actually finished the season 7-1 away. Arizona sports a stingy defense which ranks fifth in the league in yards allowed, led by Pro-Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson who will do his best to make the top receiver in Carolina disappear for the matchup. There will be many factors in this one, but the biggest factor will likely be whether Carolina can limit the Cardinals offense. If the Cardinal’s quarterback Carson Palmer is able to easily get to his arsenal of receivers in Fitzgerald, Floyd, and Brown, then their offense will not be easily stopped. Josh Norman may be an elite corner, but he can only cover one receiver at a time and the drop in talent behind him has a rather large margin. If the Panthers can somehow stop Bruce Arians’ offense, then they can win this game. In the end though, I think the Cardinals win this one 31-24.

The road to the Super Bowl for the AFC is through Denver this year, and there is not a single team in the conference that is happy about it. Denver features nasty weather conditions and an air pressure that consistently exhausts opposing teams. This team is headed by future Canton quarterback Peyton Manning who, four years ago, tossed 55 touchdowns and led the best offense of all time. This time around, however, the real reason Denver finished the season with the number one seed is their historic defense. The Broncos are the first team in NFL history to finish first in sacks, yards allowed, points allowed, and feature perhaps the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. Their defense, led by Pro-Bowl linebackers Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, carried four pro-bowlers and every starter was considered one of the top players at his respective position. Yet, the game against New England may prove to be a bit too much for them to handle.

The Patriots are led by four time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, coming off of a season where he led his team to a 12-4 finish, practically off of the strength of his right arm. The Patriots have the 6th best offense, and a very good defense led by pass rusher Chandler Jones and Pro-Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler. Jones is coming off of a season where he finished 5th in sacks with a career high 12.5, and Butler solidified himself as more than just a “Super Bowl Hero”. Malcolm Butler consistently covered elite receivers and established himself as the best cornerback on the New England roster. The 17th matchup between Brady and Manning has a lot of buzz, but the factors dictate that it will be a game determined by which defense plays better. The Patriots have not played their best football with top receivers Edelman, Amendola, and Gronkowski all out with injuries. But with these receivers returning to full health, the defense of the Broncos will have to contain an extremely efficient New England offense, and they must stop Tom Brady from picking them apart, like he has done to so many other good defenses. On the offensive side of the ball, Denver’s Manning has to manage the game better than he has been. Manning finished second in the NFL in interceptions with 17, and he’ll likely be throwing against a healthy defense in terrible weather. I think New England tops the Broncos this time 28-17.

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