Last weekend we had the Divisional round, and it certainly didn’t disappoint, with some cracking and unforgettable games. Arizona dispatched Green Bay 26-20 in OT, with Larry Fitzgerald having a game that will long be remembered – 8 catches for 176 yards – sending his Cardinals to the NFC Championship game. Here they will play Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, who defeated the Seahawks 31-24 in a game of two halves, as the Panthers raced out to a 31 zip lead at halftime, with Seattle nearly doing the impossible in scoring 24 unanswered points. But it wasn’t enough, and Carolina advances to their first NFC Championship since 2005. In the AFC, the Patriots calmly dispatched the Chiefs 27-20,with the game never looking like slipping out of New England’s fingers. In Denver, the Broncos’ defense came up big, forcing a fumble from Steelers’ back up running back Fitzgerald Toussaint with only 5 minutes left, to seal the game, beating the Steelers 23-1. Moving onto the AFC Championship game, they will now play the Patriots in Denver.
AFC Championship Game : Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots
This might be the longest game, grinding and tumultuous for both Brady and Manning, but somehow we have arrived at the same conclusion – the AFC Championship – with both playing for what seems like ” their last opportunity ” at a Lombardi trophy. This is the 17th meeting between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and mostly likely the last one as Manning is 39 years old and his play has rapidly declined this season.
Both teams this season have had their problems, but we will start with New England, who have been – at about every point of the season, since week 4 – decimated by injuries, with key players seeming to go down like flies in Foxborough. This ultimately hasn’t stopped Tom Brady from leading his team to a 12-4 record and a deep playoff run. This season, he has worked wonders with the players that were left on the roster, such as James White and KeShawn Martin, and deserves the majority of the credit if the Patriots are to reach the Super Bowl.
The Denver Broncos this season have been led by their dominant defense which ranks as the first in the league in total yards, yards per game and top three in points allowed per game. So it was to many people’s surprise that Peyton Manning started off this season so poorly and was benched (with 9 TDs and 17 INTs) in week 12, in favour for Brock Osweiler. The Broncos defeated the Patriots in week 12, this season 30-24, with their running game clinching the win with over 160 yards. Peyton has recently entered the fray again, after recovering from his injury, to guide his team to the title game and perhaps ultimately the denouement of his esteemed career.
As everyone knows the quarterback position is the most important in the game. So the Patriots should be encouraged by the fact that Brady has played every game this season and is in such good form, just as they get their star players back. In contrast, Peyton has had his worst statistical season since he entered the league and doesn’t look like being back to his superlative best. Brady will win this game for the Patriots, beating Peyton for the 12th time and in turn reaching his 7th Super Bowl.
NFC Championship Game : Arizona Cardinals vs Carolina Panthers
These are the two teams that have been the the best all season, which is why it’s a shame this game isn’t happening as the Super Bowl. With the Cardinals having won 13 games and the Panthers 15 games, their seasons have been eventful to say the least. They have a combined 17 Pro Bowl players and I think, if it weren’t for the look of bias and other players going in on reputation, then there should have been more in the Pro Bowl.
The Panthers have been the number one team this season , going 15-1 in the regular season, with Cam Newton “Dabbing” his way to an MVP trophy after his amazing 45 combined ( 35 throwing and 10 rushing ) touchdowns this season, making this the most touchdowns in a season since 2013. The Cardinals are going to have a tough time stopping this man who’s in the form of his life. The Panthers defense this season, has turned up to play ranked as the 6th best overall and they lead the league in interceptions with 24. They have a strong spine on defense with 4 Pro Bowlers ( Josh Norman, Thomas Davis, Kawaan Short and Luke Kuechly ) and Cam Newton, who some are putting as the ultimate dual threat quarterback: this should be a tough game for Arizona.
The Cardinals, this season, have been immense on both sides of the ball as their offence, led by Carson Palmer, was ranked 1st in total yards, average yards per game and 2nd in points per game only behind to Carolina. Arizona I believe has the most complete roster in the NFL, with star players at every level on each side of the ball: on offence they have game changers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, not to mention their quarterback Carson Palmer who finished the season 4th in yards and 2nd in touchdowns. But what might put them ahead is the fiery, competitive and daring nature of their coach Bruce Arians. He has managed to put this Arizona team into another gear this season, especially with the ” Next Man Up” mantra. Rookie David Johnson has replaced Chris Johnson amazingly well and more with over 1000 all purpose yards this season, after CJ2K fractured his tibia in week 12, but has said that if they reach the Super Bowl he will be “ready to go”.
In conclusion, I believe the Cardinals will win a tight game in Carolina, because they have a healthier squad at the moment: Carolina’s star running back Johnathan Stewart has been limited in practice this week. I think he will play because you only get so many opportunities to get to the NFC Championship game. But not being 100% will hinder this run-focused Panthers offence, leaving their defense out on the field for longer, making them more tired and vulnerable to big plays and a lot of points. Also, let’s just see what Josh Norman is made of in this match-up with Larry Fitzgerald. Having been playing out of his mind this season, we will see if Norman can cope with a fired-up Fitzgerald, who’s desperate to make it to his second Super Bowl.