60 Minutes. That’s it.
60 Minutes is all that stands between the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl 50; that and a common playoff opponent in the Carolina Panthers.
It’s hard to believe that it was only a couple years ago that I sat in University of Phoenix Stadium watching Max Hall, no wait…. John Skelton, or was it Derek Anderson… no it was for sure Kevin Kolb, quarterback the Cardinals to another losing season. It was not too long ago that the Cardinals were finishing last in the NFC West, and now they are staring deep into the eyes of the Carolina Panthers for the NFC Championship game.
A crazy divisional game last weekend is what got the Cardinals into this position. A game that had a tipped pass for a touchdown, two Hail Mary passes, and a coin that did not flip all before Larry Fitzgerald took over, proved that anything could happen in the playoffs. The Cardinals seemed lost at times in last weekend’s 26-20 overtime win against Green Bay; Palmer missing wide-open receivers, sloppy play on the defensive side of the ball, and lapses in judgment on special teams. The second half the Cardinals seemed to turn it around, and after the game we found that Palmer and Arians had chose simple plays so Palmer did not “screw-up” and cost the Cardinals a win. He almost did.
Now with the playoff jitters out of the way the Cardinals have a tough opponent to matchup against on Sunday. The Carolina Panthers are 16-1 this season, which includes a playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks last week. The Panthers dominated the first half of last week’s game, going up 31-0 at halftime. In the second half the Panthers lost focus, allowing Seattle to score 24 unanswered points. If the game had only been a few minutes longer we could be talking about hosting the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC Championship.
What team will the Cardinals get on Sunday; the first half or the second half?
Cardinals Offense vs. Panther Defense:
As most already know the Cardinals’ offense is one of the most explosive and talented offenses in the league. With Carson Palmer having weapons like Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, and David Johnson, how can they not be great?
This game will come down to the offensive line of the Cardinals verse defensive line of the Panthers. If you allow Palmer to have time in the pocket and give David Johnson and Andre Ellington room to run, this could be a blowout. We are talking controlling the clock and the tempo of the game, something that the Panthers have not seen this season.
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The Cardinals’ receiving core is no match for the Panther’s secondary, but if the Carolina front-seven are some of the best. They are able to put great pressure on the quarterback and force mistakes. With Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who has 11 sacks on the season, coming up the middle it will be a challenge for the Cardinals. This is not taking into consideration that the Panthers have one of the best linebackers in Luke Kuechly, who seems to command attention with four interceptions this season. One blow for the Panthers is Jared Allen is out for this game with a broken foot.
Bold Predictions: David Johnson has 150-all purpose yards. J.J. Nelson has at least one touchdown. Palmer throws 1 interception.
Cardinals Defense vs. Panthers Offense:
The Cardinals defense has their work cut out for them, they know the task at hand and they have to execute. The key for the Cardinals in this game is to limit to stop the run, which means Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart. The whole Panther offense revolves around those two players. Controlling the offense means stopping Newton and limiting Stewart.
Stewart is a smaller back, but has 10 touchdowns and over 900 yards rushing, averaging over four yards per carry. He controls the tempo when he is on the field, and if the Cardinals are to win they have to bottle him up. He has limited practice time this week, so look to see if that has an effect on his game; will the ankle play a role in the game?
Cam Newton is an MVP candidate, and should be after the season he has had. Newton is one of the best duel-threat quarterbacks in the league. He is built like a tight end and is hard to tackle, but has not faced a team like the Cardinals this season. Newton has found success, even when he is facing the blitz. The Cardinals blitz a lot, but because of their secondary they have been able to have success. This is will probably be the best thing to watch in this game, can the Cardinals’ defense get off the field early and often.
The weather on the east coast has been crazy, with whiteout conditions and freezing rain, in the early parts of the weekend, with fans and media members struggling to make it to Charlotte in time for the game. Thankfully the forecast for Sunday looks to be great, with temperature around game time at mid to low 40s. Though the weather on Sunday looks good, the field may not be in the same condition. It was covered during the blizzard that swept through Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina on Friday, but it could be chunky and wet for the game. The Cardinals practiced in longer cleats, and could wear them for the game.
Battling all inclement weather, the Cardinals and Panthers will square off on Sunday evening. With everything Arizona has been through his season and everything on the line, I chose the Cardinals as my favorite. They have played their best on the road, and in similar conditions blew out Philadelphia in Week 15. Cardinals win this in a nail biter, 35-30.