2016 NFL Playoff Predictions: Conference Championship Round
After a Wild Card round that saw each visiting team win, the Divisional round finished up with all four home teams winning. Not only that, the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games will feature the top two seeds squaring off for a shot at going to Super Bowl 50.
New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
The Patriots, despite reports of various injuries, did what the Patriots always do. They went into their game with the Kansas City Chiefs and dominated most of the game. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edeman all had good games and helped New England to reach its 5th straight AFC Championship game.
The Denver Broncos beat the banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers by a touchdown, but did not look as good as the Patriots in their win. Their best drive was at the end of the game after a fumble by Pittsburgh’s backup running back Toussaint. Peyton Manning managed a decent game but finished with no touchdown passes and nothing to really report about. And the Broncos managed to win but against a Steelers team decimated by injuries.
The AFC Championship game will be surrounded by talks of Brady vs. Manning, but I do not see it being about these two. Will they make their presence felt? Sure. But I believe this game will come down to Denver’s defense against Gronk, Edelman, and the rest of New England’s offense. The Patriots’ offensive line may be the biggest question in this game. But I did not see anything this entire season to make me believe that Paeyton Manning can out duel Brady and that is why I am picking the Patriots to win the game.
Winner: New England Patriots
Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
The Arizona Cardinals beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in what was probably the best game of the weekend. After a late and miraculous Hail Mary allowed Green Bay to tie the game at the end of regulation, the Cardinals took the ball in overtime and drove down the field to score the winning touchdown. It was a close game, but Palmer, Fitzgerald, Peterson, and the rest of the Cardinals got the job done when they needed to.
The Panthers played the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and exploded at the start of the game going up 14-0 in no time. They continued to pour on the points and led 31-0 at the half. Then the roles reversed in the third quarter as the Seahawks rallied to make it a competitive game. But there comeback fell short as time expired and they lost by a touchdown. I believe most expected a defensive battle but both the Seahawks and Panthers showed their offensive firepower with Seattle just falling too far behind to catch up.
The Cardinals will now travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers and that may be the difference in this game. Both teams have tremendous differences that can shut down an offense at any time. Patrick Peterson and Josh Norman will hope to slow down their opponent’s passing attack. So it is my belief that the difference will be in the running game. And while David Johnson has done good for the Cardinals, I think the combination of Stewart, Artis-Payne, and, of course, Cam Newton, have the advantage. And it is that advantage along with the home field advantage that makes me believe the Panthers will get the win.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.