Predicting the AFC and NFC Championship Games
The NFL Divisional Round has come and gone. After a series of exciting games, we now know the identities of the four teams that will contest this season’s round of Conference Championships. The Divisional Round games were riddled with drama; the Panthers put an end to the Seahawks’ hopes of contesting another Super Bowl, while the Packers’ last-minute heroics weren’t enough to overcome the Cardinals. Meanwhile, an unfortunate fumble from the Steelers allowed the Broncos through to the Championship round while the Patriots sent the Chiefs home empty-handed.
On January 24th and 25th, two huge clashes will be taking place between the victors. The Cardinals and Panthers will be going up against each other for the first time ever in an NFC Championship game. Over on the AFC side of things, people are already labelling the Broncos and Patriots matchup as a clash of quarterbacks. Two of the NFL’s most impressive veteran signal callers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, will be pit against each other for perhaps one last time. Let’s take a closer look at these two matches and make some predictions about the outcomes.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
We’ll begin with the Cardinals and Panthers game. First up, let’s compare the two teams’ quarterbacks and offensive lines. In this area, we have to give the edge to Carolina. The Panthers have one of the league’s most exciting young signal callers in Cam Newton, who has really enjoyed an impressive season and finally seems to be fulfilling his potential. Carolina also has some great offensive strategies and has been one of the best attacking teams in the nation. The Cardinals can’t be underestimated though. Carson Palmer has been excellent since Week 1 and performed very well in the divisional clash against the Packers.
When it comes to receivers, running backs and tight ends, it’s quite hard to find a real winner between these two teams. The Cardinals can boast of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd; tall, strong players who are more than a match for their Carolina counterparts, Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr. However, the Panthers may just have the edge in the running back department. Andre Ellington and David Johnson have been reliably solid for the Cardinals, but haven’t quite reached the same heights as James Stewart. Stewart was one of the Panthers’ star men in the divisional game against the Seahawks, with more than 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns too.
Taking a look at the defenses of these two teams, it’s once again quite hard to pick a winner. In terms of raw stats, the Cardinals are stronger defensively but the Panthers really aren’t far behind. Both teams have excellent defensive players and strategies, so it will be interesting to see which one blinks first. That also means that this game risks to be very close and could even be decided by the kickers. The Panthers’ Graham Grano has been more impressive than the Cardinals’ Chandler Catanzaro, so he could give his team an extra boost. Overall, our prediction is for a solid Carolina victory. The Arizona defense is strong, but Cam Newton is stronger and the Panthers should be able to reach the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Next up, let’s take a closer look at what is sure to be an explosive game of football: the Broncos vs the Patriots. Clearly, there’s only one place to start when we talk about this game: Manning vs Brady. At 39 and 38 years old respectively, Manning and Brady are coming to the ends of their careers. This will probably be the last time they meet on the field and both men will be desperate to overcome their rival and reach the Super Bowl once more.
Interestingly, despite the similarities in terms of age and stature of these men, their performances of late have been very different. Put simply, Manning hasn’t looked his best this season. Meanwhile, Brady put in an incredible performance in the Patriots latest win against the Chiefs, and Tom Terrific has looked as valuable as ever. Brady also holds the advantage in terms of his record against Manning, which currently stands at 11-5.
The Patriots might have the edge in the QB department, but what about the rest of the field? Well, they can also boast of the finest tight end in the game in Rob Gronkowski. Gronk got another couple of touchdowns against the Chiefs and is a vital part of the New England machine. The Broncos, meanwhile, will look to their star WR Demaryius Thomas to put up some big numbers once again. The Patriots’ Julian Edelman is a decent match for the Broncos’ Emmanuel Sanders, so some special individual performances may be required to help one team surpass the other. Players like Owen Daniels and Danny Amendola could make the difference.
In terms of the running backs, the Patriots aren’t overly-reliant on the run game at all. They are very focused on throwing the ball as much as possible. On the other side, players like Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson have been very important to Denver’s strategy this season and will need to play well once again. The Broncos will also be relying on their famously strong defense to see them through. The team has been very impressive defensively and has better stats in that area than the Patriots. Our overall prediction is for a very narrow Denver victory. This game could go either way, with Brady being the better QB this season. However, if Manning can lead and motivate his teammates, and the Broncos can utilize important aspects of their game like their strong defense and the speed of C.J. Anderson, Denver could be heading to another Super Bowl.