With home field advantage and excellent regular seasons comes more pressure. The Carolina Panthers (hosting the Seattle Seahawks) and the Arizona Cardinals (hosting the Green Bay Packers) are favorites to win their NFC divisional playoff games, but they have more riding on these games as well.
Going by what we saw in the regular season, it’s easy to see why they’re the favorites. The Cardinals crushed the Packers in week 16 38-8 while hounding Aaron Rodgers all game long. It was something of a low point for the Packers, but whatever there was to learn for Green Bay from that game, they managed to pull through two consecutive losses on the final two weeks and beat the Washington Redskins, on the road, in the wild card round.
The Panthers didn’t dominate the Seahawks in their win against them in the regular season, but their fourth quarter comeback win early in the season was like a punch in the jaw to the proud, arrogant team that struggled early on before a very strong finish, that included beating the Cardinals in garbage time in a game that meant nothing. The Seahawks escaped a snowy Minnesota thanks to Blair Walsh missing a 27-yard field goal, making people think that once again there is someone looking out for the Seahawks.
The Panthers had a bye week and home field advantage two years ago heading into the divisional round but lost to the San Francisco 49ers. But this is a team with a 15-1 record, that’s faced all kind of difficulty this season and except for one time, found a solution on every occasion. Cam Newton was MVP-like this season, just like Carson Palmer. There are a lot of similarities between the teams, from the potent offenses to the aggressive, punishing defenses.
But there’s also the matter of experience in these situations and handling the pressure that comes with facing the challenge. The Seahawks have been to the Super Bowl these last two years, heading for a third in a row, something no one has done since the tragic 90’s Buffalo Bills. The Packers went to the NFC championship game last season. Some of these players, including Aaron Rodgers, won a Super Bowl five years ago. This isn’t completely new to most of them.
Both the Cardinals and the Panthers need to make these games be about quality and strike quickly. While the Seahawks (especially) seem to be a team that can recover from anything, the Panthers rolling early and not letting go might be a knockout blow. The Vikings defense (and the weather) gave them a lot of problems. The Cardinals can do the same to the Packers, who don’t have the same bounce back ability like Seattle.