It's the time of year again. The long awaited two games we have all been looking forwards to - even if our favorite team didn't make the cut. It's the final round of the NFL Playoffs before we head to the Super Bowl.
Last week I made my predictions on who would advance to this round, and wouldn't you know it, I went 4-0 (read that post here). Today, I will make one more round of predictions leading up the Super Bowl, where I will make my final prediction of the year.
Let's get this train rolling.
NFC Championship - Cardinals vs. Panthers: This is what everyone has been waiting for. A marquee matchup between two of the best NFC teams, and arguably two of the very finest in the league. This year, the Panthers will be once again hosting the Cardinals, but with all the marbles on the line.
Interestingly enough, the Seahawks dashed the Panthers' hopes of going to the Super Bowl last year. This year, the Panthers were out for blood and took care of business. In another twist, a Palmer-less Cardinals team was destroyed by the Panthers in the Wild Card last year and now returns out for blood with the Super Bowl on the line.
At 15-1, the Panthers are the top seed, facing the No. 2 seed Cardinals at 13-3. Last week, the Cardinals beat the Packers in one of the best post-season games you will ever see, an OT thriller. The Panthers hung on after almost blowing a 31-point lead at halftime.
Both teams have a resilient and tenured quarterback under center, with Newton able to run like a power back and Palmer being a classic drop-passer. Both are candidates for the coveted MVP title, too. But, Palmer has a lot more weapons on the field than Newton does, and can tap Fitzgerald, Floyd, Brown, Fells and David Johnson to get his work done.
The Cardinals also have a very tenacious defense that is known for sacking the QB often (Rodgers was sacked 8 times in the last regular season matchup). Even though the Cardinals are playing on the road and have a 5-9 record against the Panthers over the years, this is the strongest team they have ever had, one with the deepest depth in the NFL this year. Needless to say, they'll need to be in perfect form to pull out the win this weekend. But, with Palmer vying for a Super Bowl appearance, and a veteran defense waiting to take Newton to the turf, do not expect this to be a one-sided affair. My prediction: Cardinals win 35-32.
AFC Championship - Patriots vs. Broncos: An aging Manning looks to get one last shot at Super Bowl greatness. But his wobbly passes, injury prone frame and lack of power receivers could very well be his undoing. One big hit from the Pats defense line could see him out of the game (and likely his career) for good. Not to mention that Manning has lost to Brady a lot more times than he's ever won, even if they are 2-2 in the post season against one another.
I've been saying it since the opening game of the season this year, and I will say it again: Tom Brady is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Brady is out to prove to the world that he never cheated and that he's perfectly capable of taking an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl title in spite of what everyone around him has said.
The Pats did lose to the Broncos earlier this season. But Manning wasn't starting and the Pats had most of their weapons sidelined for that game. This is an entirely different story. Brady has all of his weapons back. He made short business of the Chiefs last week. He's in the prime of career. Sure, the Broncos are tough on defense. But they lack on offense. My prediction: Patriots win 28-14.