Arizona @ Carolina, Sunday 6:40 pm
Line: Carolina -3, O/U 48
The final game before the Super Bowl, although you have to wonder: does anyone care? With the raging hard-on that everyone (the league, the media, even Roid Rage) has for the Brady/Manning showdown, will there be anything left in the tank after the collective money shot that gets dropped during the early game? Well, I’m here to tell you to take a blue pill and get back on that horse, there’s still work to do.
Seriously, all the talk this week is about the Patriots and Broncos. As if I need another reason to hate Tom Brady or ESPN. And, not for nothing, but the NFC Championship game features the better teams. Both Arizona and Carolina have better records than Denver and New England (Christ, the Panthers are 15-1), better defenses, and better quarterbacks. Sorry, but this isn’t 2004. I’ll take (league MVP) Cam Newton and healthy Carson Palmer over aging Tom Brady and noodle neck Peyton Manning. Anyway, let’s get to the real game.
Carolina and Arizona are pretty evenly matched. They rank 1st and 2nd in overall offense, and 6th and 7th in overall defense. Need more proof? How about Cam and Carson. Each threw 35 tds during the regular season, and were one int apart (10 to 11 in favor of Cam). And both have fast, aggressive defenses. On paper, this game’s a toss-up, and with Carolina at home and only giving 3 points, the odds makers seem to agree as well. So who wins?
Despite being the old man on this website (seriously, what the hell is dabbing? Roid Rage won’t tell me) I’m embracing youth and rolling with the Panthers. For several reasons. First, they haven’t lost at home all year. A perfect 8-0 (9-0 including last week’s playoff win). Second, Cam Newton is no longer just an “athletic” quarterback. He’s a bona fide stud. Sure, he’s brash, obnoxious, and wears questionable clothing (see below), but so do all kids. Cam has grown right before our eyes this year, and so have the Panthers. This was most evident last week against Seattle. The Panthers jumped out to a commanding 31-0 lead, and then held on to win 31-24. The Panthers won despite Cam not having a great game. He only threw for 161 yards with one touchdown, and rushed for a season low 3 yards. And his touchdown came after they were already up 24-0. But while his stats weren’t that amazing (sorry, completion percentage doesn’t wow me), he didn’t do anything to hurt his team (e.g. drive killing interceptions). And, he makes everyone around him better. That’s the mark of a true leader and a complete team.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are no slouch, but you get the feeling that they’re playing with house money at this point. They are lucky to be playing on Sunday. They did everything they could do to lose last week. Carson Palmer threw not one, but two endzone interceptions, and it should have been 3. He looked lost out there, and Arizona’s defense completely collapsed, especially during Green Bay’s final drive that had not one, but two Hail Marys. However, Arizona only needed one man to show up: Larry Fitzgerald. Larry reminded us in a big way that he’s still got it…hauling in 12 passes for 176 yards and a game winning overtime touchdown. For Arizona to have any chance, Larry will have to bring his A game once again.
On defense, Carolina will shadow Larry with Josh Norman, and will sit back and dare Arizona to run the ball. Losing Jared Allen will hurt Carolina up front, but second year stud Kony Ealy is up to the task to slide in as the starting DE. And don’t forget about Luke Kuechly. Fresh off last week’s pick 6, Luke will be all over the field.
For Arizona to win, they will need to play perfect football…and even that may not be enough. This game comes down to who do you trust more: Carson Palmer or Cam Newton? Or, better phrased, playoff Carson Palmer or Cam Newton? After watching the Cardinals last week, we just don’t trust playoff Carson Palmer. The Panthers play with the perfect blend of carefree attitude and focus. This game will be close, but our money’s on Carolina to pull away in the end. Get ready to see a lot of this, whatever it is:
Prediction: Carolina 31, Arizona 20