by Ian S. Palmer
The NFC Championship game takes place this Sunday, January 24 in Charlotte as the Carolina Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals at the Bank of America Stadium. The Cardinals have made it this far after beating the Green Bay Packers 26-20 in overtime at home last weekend in the Divisional game while the Panthers took care of the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 31-24 at home. The Panthers finished the season with the best record in the NFL this year at 15-1 to capture the NFC South. The Cardinals went 13-3 and took the NFC West. Carolina finished the year with a perfect 8-0 home record and Arizona went 7-1 on the road. Both clubs went 4-1 in their last five regular-season contests.
Cardinals vs Panthers – Pinnacle NFL BETTING LINE:
- Pinnacle currently lists Carolina -3 at -107 with Arizona +3 at -103 with the over/under at 47.5 points with the over at -103 and the under -107
Arizona was second in the league in points per game at 30.6, first in total yards at 408.3, second in passing at 288.5 and eighth in rushing yards per game with 119.8. Carolina was first in points with 31.2, 11th in yards at 366.9, 24th in passing at 224.3 and second in rushing with 142.6 yards per contest. This is the second straight year the two sides have met in the playoffs with Carolina winning 27-16 last year during the wildcard weekend. The Cardinals have played subpar football for the past two games and will need to pull up their socks if they hope to reach the Super Bowl.
Arizona was thumped 36-6 in the regular-season finale by the Seattle Seahawks and came close to blowing their game against the Packers last weekend. They struggled on their ground attack and defense and it didn’t help matters that quarterback Carson Palmer was playing with an injured finger on his throwing hand. In addition, the offensive line wasn’t at its best. Still, they came back from a late Green Bay hail Mary to win the game. They’ll have their hands full again with a tough Panthers squad this weekend.
The Cardinals need big games out of receivers Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Fitzgerald scored the game-winning touchdown against Green Bay and had 176 yards on eight receptions. He’s now played eight playoff games during his career and has racked up 10 touchdowns and 912 yards. If they can play a better defensive game this weekend and Palmer’s hand has healed then they’ll have a chance to leave Carolina with the win.
The Panthers started out like a house on fire last weekend against Seattle by scoring all 31 points in the first half. They then let the Seahawks back in the game, but held them off long enough to reach the NFC Conference title game for the first time since the 2006 campaign. Quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t at his absolute best, but was good enough with 161 passing yards as he completed 16 of his 22 attempts with a touchdown pass. However, the ground attack helped him out by scoring a pair of touchdowns and running for 144 yards. Jonathan Stewart returned to the lineup after missing the final three games of the season and carried the ball 19 times for 106 yards with a pair of touchdowns. In addition, the defense forced the Seahawks into a pair of turnovers with one of them being run back for a touchdown.
Newton, who has a good shot at being named the NFL’s MVP this season, has had a fine year by throwing 35 touchdown passes and rushing for another 10 scores. Since he’s dangerous in the air and on the ground he’ll be hard for Arizona to stop. He passed for two touchdowns and 198 yards in last season’s postseason tilt against the Cardinals and ran for another 35 yards. The Arizona offense is better this year though, but so is the Carolina defense. The Panthers were ranked sixth-best in points allowed per game at 19.3 and led the league with 39 forced turnovers. Carolina has gone 12-0 in their last 12 home games as well as 8-4 against the spread and have scored at a 37.6-point per contest clip in their last five home outings.
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