NFL Weekend Preview: Conference Championship Weekend
AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
Odds: -3.5 New England
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face each other – for potentially the final time ever – Sunday afternoon, with Brady’s Patriots coming to Denver as the favourites – only the fourth time in AFC conference championship history the road team has been favoured. Brady has a 11-5 edge over Manning in his career, but they are 2-2 versus each other in the playoffs and Brady is a very poor 2-6 all time when playing in Denver. The Broncos – who play much different than most other Peyton Manning teams – will look to “upset” New England through strong defense and a potent douse of the run game – which will slow down New England’s offense. With the air being thin and defense being strong, the Broncos can upset the Pats and head to their second Super Bowl in three years.
NFC Championship: Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
Odds: -3.5 Carolina
The top two candidates for this season's MVP award square off - in what could be a - snowy Charlotte, North Carolina. Cam Newton for the Panthers leads all players in the MVP race with 45 total touchdowns leading Carolina to a 15-1 record. Not far behind is Arizona's QB - Carson Palmer - with 35 passing TDs and over 4600 passing yards. Since both quarterbacks are such stars the different makers in this matchup will need to be found elsewhere. This is where Arizona has a slight edge. Arizona's deep secondary and strong pass rush will try to shut down Cam and company, while their strong group of wide receivers will look to spread the field and create mismatches all game long. Because of these aspects, Arizona gets the edge in what will be a fun and exciting game to watch.
Quarterback: Tom Brady vs. Denver Broncos - Even though the Broncos have one of the top defenses in the NFL, Brady can produce against any opponent when he has a healthy receiving core - which he does. Brady also loves to call his number at the goal line - evident from his 6 post season rushing TDs. This coupled with the fact the Patriots do not have a productive running game - with running backs carrying the ball only 8 times last week - Brady is likely to throw the ball upwards of 45 times.
Running Back: C.J Anderson vs. New England Patriots - For Denver to win they will need a big day from their running backs - and the last time this played the Pats that's what they got. Anderson ran hard back in November against the Pats for 113 yards and two scores. Look for him to have another big day as the Broncos will depend on their running game on Sunday afternoon.
Wide Receiver: John Brown vs. Carolina Panthers - With Carolina's top cornerback locking down Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd's somewhat inconsistent production, it will be John Brown having the big game for the Cardinals on Sunday. Brown has developed into one of the league's top slot receivers - cracking 1000 yards and 7 TDs this season. Look for him to have a big game against Carolina's third and fourth string corners.
Tight End: Greg Olsen vs. Arizona Cardinals - In the biggest game of Cam Newton's career, the MVP calibre quarterback will need to rely on his favourite target - Greg Olsen. Olsen posted a career high in yards this season with 1104 yards on 77 catches with 7 TDs. Arizona's has been mediocre at stopping tight ends this season and with Carolina's receivers dealing with some tough matchups, look for Olsen to be heavily involved in the passing game.
Defense: Arizona Defense vs. Carolina Panthers: Arizona's defense has been quietly one of the best this season - with it pass rush turning up the heat in recent weeks. Carolina - out of the remaining four teams - seems most susceptible to a kickoff/punt return TD.
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