NFL Conference Championship preview


Blake Krantz

by Blake Krantz
Following a divisional round of the playoffs which included a game-winning drive from Denver veteran quarterback Peyton Manning and another miraculous Hail Mary from Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the stage is set for conference championship weekend in the NFL. Despite the Hail Mary at the end of regulation, the Packers fell to the Cardinals in overtime, and both Tom Brady and Cam Newton’s convincing performances sent the Patriots and Panthers to face off against the Broncos and Cardinals, respectively.
New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos—For what seems like the 300th time, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are set to face off in the playoffs. While both the Broncos and the Patriots will have indubitable hall of famers under center for this one, Brady has proved likely to win the matchup throughout his career, with an 11-5 record against Manning. However, Brady has a 2-6 career record in Denver, and this Broncos defense should prove to be a formidable challenge to New England’s goal of returning to the Super Bowl this season.
For Manning, this has been an erratic season to say the least. Partially due to injuries, Manning was sidelined in favor of Brock Osweiler for a sizable portion of the season. What has remained steady for Denver, however, is the explosive play-making ability of its defense. For the Broncos to win this one against a suddenly healthy Patriots offense which includes weapons Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, Von Miller, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, the Denver defense must be as stingy as ever Sunday.
Although they are relatively heavy underdogs according to many, I see the Denver Broncos winning this game at home. Although Manning’s play has been weak and his arm often seemingly unable to get his receivers the ball in a tight spiral, he will do enough on Sunday to win this one. C.J. Anderson will give the running game a lift for Denver, and the Broncos will emerge victorious by a field goal late in the AFC Championship.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers– This game will likely depend on two commonly critical factors: quarterback play and defense. Quarterbacks Carson Palmer and likely MVP Cam Newton have had great seasons for the Cardinals and Panthers respectively this season, and whoever proves most dominant in leading his offense could very well be heading to the Super Bowl. Both defenses have been similarly formidable this season. The Cardinals secondary, with the likes of Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, and pass rush have at times been seemingly impossible for opposing offenses to overcome.
On the other side, Carolina linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and rookie cornerback Josh Norman have led a Panthers defense which aided Carolina’s 15-0 start, to say the least. I see Cam Newton’s versatile playmaking ability rushing and passing being the difference in this game, with a game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen in the fourth quarter to send the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.