Championship weekend is upon us. And as should be the case, both the AFC and NFC Championships games have given us plenty to talk about. So let’s take a look at an NFL Conference Championship preview and see who’s likely to head on into Super Bowl 50.
New England Patriots Vs. Denver Broncos
Perhaps the above heading should instead read Brady Vs. Manning? Whenever a conversation is started about this game, Brady Vs. Manning is pretty much where the conversation starts and where it ends up.
But then it is difficult to talk about anything else. Brady and Manning are two legends of the game who have faced off 16 times prior to this encounter, with Brady being victorious in 11 of those. And although no-one seems certain if Manning is going to retire at the end of this season, it is extremely likely that this time will be the last time we’ll see both players on the same field .
But unfortunately for the Broncos, this has also been Manning’s worst season on record. He has only thrown nine touchdown passes, and has been intercepted 16 times from 331 attempts. A torn plantar fascia meant that Manning only played in 10 regular season games and he has clearly lost his ability to make big passing plays.
The Broncos were also lucky to win last week against the undermanned Steelers. Denver struggled to find the end-zone and instead had to rely on five field goals before a rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter put them in-front.
Meanwhile, although Brady is only a year younger than Manning, he is still performing as good as at any other point in career. The pin-point accuracy that Brady is known for has continued this season, and last week against the Chiefs he managed 28 completions from 42 attempts despite Julian Edelman dropping six catches.
But while Edelman’s dropped catches raised questions about his fitness (although it is worth noting that he still took 10 catches), the Patriots are otherwise fit and healthy. And despite concerns surrounding Rob Gronkowski in the lead up to last week, he showed with 2 touchdown and 83 yards that he remains a force to reckoned with.
If the Broncos have any chance of winning it will lay in their ability to stop the Patriots from scoring: This will meaning stopping their passing plays. The Patriots have favoured passing plays all season and are ranked only 30th in the NFL for rushing yards. And last week against the Chiefs was no exception only accumulating 38 rushing yards for the game, and not even attempting a rushing play until the final 30 seconds of the first quarter.
But while stopping Tom Brady is a massive feat, perhaps the Broncos are the team to do it – they are after all the top ranked team for stopping passing yards this season. But still, the biggest problem for Denver will be finding a way to score, and if Manning can’t throw the ball into the endzone at least twice, then it’s unlikely the Broncos will get enough points on the board.
Patriots to Win – Three touchdowns to The Gronk
Arizona Cardinals Vs. Carolina Panthers
With Manning and Brady facing off, probably for the last time, it’s easy to forget that the Panthers and the Cardinals have been the two best performing sides in the NFL this season. For that reason, this is a Championship game that is worthy of attention.
But despite this, both of these sides showed that they had some gremlins last week against teams that on paper should have been much weaker.
Firstly, while Carson Palmer overcame his hoodoo and had his first ever post-season win, it wasn’t without some jittery moments. Palmer was sacked three times and intercepted twice, and although he threw three touchdown passes, one of these was very nearly another interception. Had Damarious Randall managed to hold onto this interception instead of causing a deflection, the game could have easily gone another way.
Carson Palmer finds Michael Floyd for the #Cardinals TD!
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) January 17, 2016
And likewise, although the Panthers skated away to a 0-31 lead at half time over the Seahawks, they were unable to score in the second half and gave up 24 points – three of which were touchdowns thrown by Russell Wilson. The Panthers allowed the Seahawks back into this game, and if they give the Cardinals the same opportunity, they’re not likely to be as lucky.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Panthers are missing two of their best three cornerbacks in Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman. The fact that both of these player sit on the injury reserve is likely to ease any of Carson Plamer’s nerves knowing that there will be a weaker coverage of his wide receivers.
So this remains a difficult game to pick. No team had a rough patch during the regular season, but both teams looked shaky at times last week against lesser oppositions. But this game won’t be about who loses it or who make the most mistakes. Both teams have proven that they know how to win against quality opposition throughout the season and are able to step up when it’s needed. This game is sure to be a close one.
Panthers to Win – Jonathan Stewart to (again) get over 100 rushing yards