NFC Championship Preview: Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers

It’s all come down to this: A battle of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the NFC for the right to play in Super Bowl 50.

Following last week’s thrilling divisional action, we’re taking a look at Sunday’s NFC Championship pitting the No. 2 Arizona Cardinals vs. No. 1 Carolina Panthers (6:40pm, FOX). The game features a rematch of last year’s NFC Wildcard game where the Panthers ousted the Cardinals in what wasn’t an entirely fair match-up with Carson Palmer on the bench. This time, we’ll get a rightful game. A game we deserve.

Here’s a preview and our picks for today’s NFC Championship game:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 6:40pm, FOX

Cardinals Panthers

When the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals met last year in the NFC Wildcard playoffs, the Panthers buried the Cardinals in a 27-16 victory. But the Cardinals played that game without starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who was out with a torn ACL, as third string quarterback Ryan Lindley turned in one of the worst offensive performances in playoff history.

But this time Palmer, fresh off his first career playoff victory in last week’s 26-20 divisional win over the Green Bay Packers, will be under center determined to rewrite the narrative. But to do so he’ll need to be not only at his best, but he’ll need some help from his defense as they face a well-rounded and dominant offensive Panthers team led by quarterback Cam Newton.

It’s no secret that the Panthers and the Cardinals have been the NFC’s best and most consistent teams all season, so it’s only fitting that the conference’s best meet in the ultimate win-or-go-home game with a Super Bowl appearance on the line.

Why Arizona Will Win

Under coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals have become one of the conference’s most consistent and legitimate threats. Last season the Cardinals rode to an 11-5 record with a severe quarterback handicap with starter Carson Palmer going down and using third string quarterback Ryan Lindley in a wild card loss to the Panthers. But with Palmer the Cardinals offense has been the league’s second best only to the Panthers averaging 30.6 points per game. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has emerged as one of the league’s most potent threats at age 32. Arizona is 7-1 on the road this season, which means if any team can beat a Carolina team that’s unbeaten at home it’s the Cardinals.

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Why Carolina Will Win

Carolina is a dominant team known for its defense, but this season they’ve emerged as one of the league’s most potent offenses under quarterback Cam Newton. The former Heisman winner became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 35 touchdown passes and run for 10. With weapons like tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart on offense, Newton’s unit is nearly unstoppable. Defensively, the Panthers are a team that knows how to get after the quarterback. And if they’re to win they’re going to have to stop the deadly duo of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, who were a key component in their divisional victory last week. But the Panthers are the only undefeated team at home this season, which bodes well headed into today’s game in Carolina.

Alyssa’s Pick: Carolina 24, Arizona 23

While I believe this will be a close game, I have to go with the Carolina Panthers because they just seem unstoppable right now. I want to say Arizona, I really do, but I have to pick with my head instead of my heart. Because Cam Newton. But I’m totally okay with the Cardinals defying the odds and my pick and win this game. In fact, I encourage it.

Lizzie’s Pick: Arizona 30, Carolina 27

I’m going with my gut on this one, and my gut says if the Cardinals escaped that miracle come-back from the Packers, it might just be their year. Though maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s just that I don’t even want to consider the possibility of Cam Newton at Super Bowl Media day. There IS such a thing as too much Cam.
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