NFC Championship game 2016 – The Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers were the NFC’s two best teams during the regular season, and by vanquishing their opponents in last weekend’s Divisional round, they have rewarded football fans everywhere with a No. 1 versus No. 2 conference title game matchup.
#NFC Championship game 2016#
At first glance, these two teams are remarkably similar. The franchises are both relative newcomers on this grand stage, with a combined four title game appearances and zero Super Bowl rings entering this season. Arizona’s only other NFC Championship berth came in 2008, while Carolina is here for the first time in a decade.
How to watch NFC Championship game 2016
When: 6:40 p.m. ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Live Stream Online: >> Fox Sports Go HD Stream Subscribe Here (Crazy Low Price offer)
Their quarterbacks are both MVP candidates but are also in uncharted waters, with Cam Newton and Carson Palmer playing in their first-ever conference championship. The two signal callers also share a unique legacy as former Heisman Trophy winners and top overall draft picks. This is the first playoff game in the Super Bowl era with Heisman-winning quarterbacks starting against each other.
Overall, they are perhaps the most complete clubs in the entire league right now. The Panthers and Cardinals rank first and second in scoring offense, respectively, and boast the sixth- and seventh-ranked scoring defenses. They finished 1-2 in wins during the regular season, and had the league’s best and second-best scoring margins.
The Cardinals and Panthers also are among the most versatile teams on both sides of the ball. Arizona is the only club in the top 10 in both rushing and passing yardage, while Carolina is one of five teams that ranked in the top 10 in yards per rush and yards per pass play. On defense, they are equally adept at stopping the ball on the ground and in the air, placing in the top six in Football Outsiders’ defensive ratings against both the run and the pass.
Both teams obviously boast diverse offenses, but differ in their structure. The Cardinals emphasize a high-volume, stretch aerial attack led by the fearless vertical passing of Palmer. They’ll also mix in effective short and intermediate routes to produce an offensive game plan that is nearly impossible to prepare for. Don’t underestimate rookie running back David Johnson, who averaged 132 yards from scrimmage over the final five weeks of the season.
The Panthers hit you with the league’s most creative rushing attack, featuring Newton, tailback Jonathan Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert. They’ll do everything from the read option to power sweeps and traditional inside/outside zone runs. Like the Cardinals, you cannot ignore the other dimension of the Panthers’ offense: their much-improved passing game. Since Week 8, Newton has thrown 27 touchdowns and three interceptions, the best ratio in the league.
One of the most pivotal matchups — and the one that might decide who advances to Super Bowl 50 — pits Palmer (plus his receivers) against the Panthers’ secondary. Coach Bruce Arians is as aggressive a play caller as any in the league, and he is not afraid to push the ball downfield. The Cardinals led the league in yards per pass attempt, ranked second in total passing yards and tied for second in passing touchdowns.
The Panthers counter with one of the NFL’s stingiest and most opportunistic pass defenses. They were second in yards per attempt, first in opponent passer rating and had a league-high 24 interceptions. However, their cornerback depth chart has been depleted by late-season injuries to Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman, forcing Robert McClain and Cortland Finnegan into more prominent roles, and both have struggled at times in recent games.
Another intriguing battle is how effective Arizona’s blitz-happy defense is in trying to neutralize Newton, who accounted for a league-leading 45 touchdowns this season (35 in the air, 10 on the ground). The Cardinals sent extra pass rushers on 45 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, the highest rate in the league.
That added pressure used to be Newton’s kryptonite, but he’s become much better at reading and reacting to blitzes this season. He posted career-bests in completion percentage (59.2) and passing touchdowns (19) while throwing just three picks against the blitz in 2015. Newton also is a threat to escape the pocket at any time, and Arizona will have to balance its aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage with its need to contain the dual-threat quarterback.
One area where Carolina would seem to have the advantage is as the host of this game. The Panthers were the only team to go undefeated at home during the regular season, averaging a league-high 33 points per game, and have won 12 straight games in Charlotte dating back to last year. However, the Cardinals were one of the best road teams this season. They went 7-1 (tied for best record) and also had the NFL’s highest-scoring road offense (33 points per game).
Who to watch
Larry Fitzgerald added another chapter to his legacy as a primetime postseason performer against the Packers last weekend. He hauled in eight passes for 176 yards, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Fitzgerald now has 10 touchdowns and five 100-yard receiving games in just eight postseason contests, the fastest player to reach both those marks in NFL history. There is a good chance he could add to those totals on Sunday, too, facing a banged-up Panthers secondary.
Jonathan Stewart sat out the final three regular season games with a foot injury, then returned to the field last weekend against the Packers and looked as fresh as he has all year (106 rushing yards and two touchdowns). The Cardinals bring the league’s sixth-ranked rush defense, but have struggled recently to stop the run. Green Bay was the third opponent in a row that ran for at least 100 yards on the ground against Arizona’s defense.
The Panthers are 3-point favorites and the over/under is 47.5, according to OddsShark.com.
The majority of the experts are siding with the home favorite in this game. The ESPN panel is leaning heavily toward the Panthers, and over at CBS Sports, five of the eight panelists have Carolina. Here at SB Nation, it’s the same ratio with five of our eight guys picking the Panthers to advance to Super Bowl 50.
To catch up on everything Cardinals, check out Revenge of the Birds. For all your Panthers’ needs, head over to Cat Scratch Reader. Source: SB Nation