Last season, the Carolina Panthers eliminated the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round, giving Cam Newton his first ever playoff win. This season, the Panthers will face the Cardinals again in the NFC Championship just one week after Carson Palmer notched his first post season victory. With a trip to the Super Bowl at stake, the point spread is favoring the Panthers at -3.5 favorites, but they’ll face a more complete team in the Cardinals than they’ve seen all season.
2015/16 NFL Playoffs: Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
Point Spread: Panthers -3.5 Over/under: 48 Date: Sunday, January 24, 6:40pm ET Location:Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
This Arizona offense has proven they can put up points, but face a Panthers defense that is capable of shutting down even the best the league has to offer. Carson Palmer will need to play mistake-free football against Carolina’s stifling secondary, throwing too many balls last week that were intercepted, or should have been. With arguably the best receiving corps in the league, the +3.5 underdog Cardinals have a slight advantage, forcing the Panthers to pick their poison in pass protection.
On defense, the Cardinals have shown some vulnerability in their secondary late in the season due to several injuries. They’ll need to come together against the Panthers, who have thrived when passing deep. With several talented pass rushers in Calais Campbell and Dwight Freeney, finding a way to contain a mobile Newton will help in neutralizing the Panthers speedy receivers. More importantly, they’ll need to find a way to stop Newton from picking up his own yardage on the ground.
With an opportunistic defense, the -3.5 favored Panthers stand a good chance of matching up with the likes of the Cardinals’ receivers, but need the pass rush to get consistent pressure if they hope to come out with a win. Palmer is prone to some bad throws and the defense needs to be ready to capitalize. With little margin for error, the secondary needs to have their best game of the season if they hope to advance to the Super Bowl.
Consistency will be key for the Carolina offense that failed to score in the second half of the Divisional round. They’ll need to find balance with running back Jonathan Stewart if they hope to open up a passing game that was held to just 161 yards through the air last week. With a ground and pound game plan, they can wear down Arizona’s pass rush to give Newton the time he needs to find his receivers deep.
NFC Championship Prediction
It’s been a dream season for the Panthers, who went 15-1 in the regular season and would only be made better by defeating the Super Bowl 50 favorite Cardinals. With a roster every bit as talented as the Cardinals and home field advantage on their side, the scales appear to be tipped in Carolina’s favor, but there’s something about this Arizona team that’s hard to count out.