Story by Sport Editor Connor Ulrey and Assistant Sports Editor Caleb Luketic // Photo courtesy of NFL
We’re just two weeks away from the Super Bowl, and it’s down to the final four teams vying for a spot in the big game. There are two great matchups this weekend: the classic Brady v. Manning game in the AFC Championship and the new rivalry between the Panthers and the Cardinals in the NFC Championship. Sports Editor Connor Ulrey and Assistant Sports Editor Caleb Luketic give insight into who they think will make it to the Super Bowl after today.
Ulrey: In the classic, yet a bit played out, Brady v. Manning game, I’m looking at whether one of the offenses is going to step up this week. Last week the Patriots showed out early and struggled late, but they came away with a win over the favored Chiefs. Manning and the Broncos played well when it mattered against Big Ben and the Steelers and escaped with a narrow win.
This week, I’m going with the Broncos. Multiple people have said this week was their best week of practice, and Manning seems to be getting back to his old self. I look for the Broncos defense to step up like they did last week and for Manning to do what he does and get back to the Super Bowl for what could be his final season.
Luketic: This is the 17th rendition of Manning V. Brady and the fifth time these Hall of Fame quarterbacks have faced off in the playoffs. Manning has been crippled with injuries all season long, but Brady has looked revived and reenergized throwing the ball to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots have battled injuries like no other team all season long. Their offensive line has been banged up, but they have had to use no-name running backs, and Brady’s top receivers, Edelman and Gronkowski, have been hurt.
Manning reentered in the Broncos last regular season game to lead his team to victory to secure the top seed in the AFC. This is likely Manning’s last rodeo, and he wants to go out with another ring on his finger. The Broncos defense will have their hands full trying to cover Gronkowski and Edelman, which will be the key matchup to watch in today’s game. If the Broncos can create turnovers, they will be able to neutralize Brady and his high-powered offense. I am going with an upset, of sorts; Give me the Broncos over the Patriots in a low-scoring contest.
Ulrey: This is the matchup I’ve most waited for, and it’s the one we all wanted. Cam Newton has dominated this year, and should be a shoe-in for the MVP award. The Panthers cut it close last week after leading 31-0 at halftime. The Seahawks impressed late, coming within a touchdown of forcing overtime late. Russell Wilson impressed me with how he responded in the second half, and it’s cause for concern heading into championship weekend.
The Cardinals won what was the most exciting game last week in overtime over the Packers. Larry Fitzgerald put up a vintage Fitzgerald game by setting up and scoring the game-winning touchdown on the first possession of OT.
I think Arizona is going to find seams Sunday if the Panthers struggle defensively like they did in the second half last week. The Cardinals defense wasn’t what we’ve seen all year, and it’s going to be a test for them against a strong Panthers offense. This week I’m taking the Cardinals, by the slimmest of margins, and maybe it’s time for them to get past that last Super Bowl loss.
Luketic: The Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals, the top two seeds in the NFC, square off in snowy Charlotte Sunday afternoon. This is the first time in NFL history two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks have faced each other in a playoff game. Carson Palmer got his first playoff win last weekend, which should provide some relief for Palmer heading into Sunday. Cam Newton got his second postseason win last weekend, after demolishing the Seattle Seahawks in the first half.
The Panthers have been practicing outdoors in Charlotte to get acclimated to the cold, snowy conditions. Temperature at game time will be in mid-30s, which will be a difficult task for both teams. The Cardinals went 7-1 on the road this season, tying the Panthers for the best road-record in the league. The Cardinals are going to have to air the ball out on Sunday if they hope to beat Newton and the Panthers. The Panthers are 9-0 at home this season, including the playoffs, which leads me to believe they will make it a perfect 10-0 at home Sunday. Whatever team scores a defensive touchdown is going to win this game, and I think the Panthers will take care of business.
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