With the NFC & AFC championship games set (Patriots @ Broncos, Cardinals @ Panthers), it’s hard picking clear favorites to make it to the Super Bowl, but it’s probably the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers.
Why? The Panthers are playing at home, are 16-1 this season and dominated the Seattle Seahawks for enough minutes to win 31-24 in the divisional round. The Seahawks, a team that made two consecutive Super Bowls, and was one of the hottest teams in the NFL over the last couple of months, which included scorching a less than interested Arizona Cardinals team in week 17. A Seahawks team that never folds, and pretty much can’t be blown out. And the Panthers still shook them in a way no one has in a very long time.
The Cardinals posted very similar numbers to the Panthers in the regular season. The issue with them isn’t just playing on the road, but the fact that Carson Palmer is turning the ball over when he doesn’t have to. He has done a better job this season of avoiding turnovers, but he threw two interceptions against the Green Bay Packers, who were able to do their homework and almost steal the game following their drubbing in the desert late in the regular season.
And why are the Patriots favorites against the Broncos, despite their poor record when playing in Denver, including the AFC Championship game two years ago? Maybe the most important difference: Tom Brady over Peyton Manning. The two are old, but Brady for the most part looks like the years haven’t affected him, having an MVP-like season, and with his favorite receivers and tight end healthy, the offense is going to be a big problem, even for a good defense like the Denver Broncos.
But the lack of our faith in Denver is Manning, or overall the Denver offense. Yes, the running game had its moments against the Steelers and the Patriots struggled at time slowing down the Kansas City Chiefs on the ground. But Manning can’t win this game with his arm. In fact, it’s better for the Broncos he hardly throws at all unless there’s really a big can’t miss opportunity, or simply no choice. When you’re quarterback is something of a liability going up against such a difficult opponent, it probably means the Broncos need more to happen in their favor in order to beat the Patriots for a second time this season.