2016 NFC Championship Picks – Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
The second game this Sunday features the Arizona Cardinals (13-3) at the Carolina Panthers (15-1). The Cardinals, who finished first in the NFC West, beat Green Bay last week 26-20, while the Panthers, the NFC South top finishers and the team with the best record in the NFL, were victorious over the Seahawks 31-24. The last time these two teams met was last January in the playoffs when Carolina beat Arizona 27-16.
These two teams are evenly matched in many ways. Carolina, with its solid ground game and fine defense, is at -3.5. Arizona will be looking to utilize their stellar passing attack, while controlling the line of scrimmage with their sound defense.
Stats and Facts
These two teams are just about even when it comes to points for and points against. Arizona scores an average of 30.6 PPG and Carolina 31.3 PPG. On defense, the Cardinals are holding teams to 19.6 PPG and Carolina to 19.3 PPG. Carolina offers a more balanced attack than their opponents, while the Cardinals favor the pass while posting a healthy ground attack, resulting in a huge number of yards gained. Carolina is averaging a healthy 142.6 YPG on the ground and 234.3 YPG in the air. The Panthers are good for 288.5 YPG in passing and 119.8 YPG rushing. Total offensive yards per game for Carolina is 376.9 YPG, while the Cards are good for 408.3 YPG.
Pass and rush defenses are very close. The Cardinals are holding teams to 230.4 YPG in the air, while the Panthers are keeping teams at 234.4 YPG. Carolina is a bit better versus the run, keeping clubs at 88.4 YPG, while Arizona is at 91.3 YPG. That makes total yards allowed by the Panthers 322.8 YPG and by the Cardinals 321.7 YPG.
When it comes to recent performance, again, these two clubs are neck-and-neck. Over their past five games both teams are 4-1. These numbers indicate a very close contest on Sunday.
Defense is Key
The Panthers come into this game with 44 sacks, 24 interceptions, and 24 forced fumbles. They have recovered 15 of those fumbles. Three players have four picks, including LB Thomas Davis who also has four forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks. DB Kurt Coleman is especially dangerous with seven interceptions, and corner Josh Norman has four picks, three forced fumbles, two recoveries, and two TDs. On the line, look for Kawann Short, who has 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, two recoveries, and four passes defended, to be a major force on Sunday.
The Arizona defense, with 36 sacks, 19 interceptions, 25 forced fumbles, and 14 recoveries, also offers some standout performers. Safety Tyrann Mathieu leads the team with five interceptions and 17 passes defended. He also has one each of sacks, forced fumbles, and touchdowns. LB Dwight Freeney is tops in sacks with eight and also has three forced fumbles. Corner Justin Bethel, with two picks, four forced fumbles, and one score, can be a difference-maker. Finally, safety Rashad Johnson has made five picks and defended seven passes.
Newton vs. Palmer
Forget the stats and look at what these the two quarterbacks bring to the field. Newton has some trouble with accuracy, although he’s improved throughout the season. But he is a major running threat and can score when rushing. Palmer is a dead-on target passer and is an expert at picking apart defenses. But can he pick this D apart? Both quarterbacks are strong leaders.
Cam Newton can be a major factor in this game. He seems to be the defining element. Home field can be a huge help to Carolina. The effect of the major rain and snowstorm that’s hit the area will be interesting to see. Game time temperatures will be around 37 F. That should not make a big difference in this game. As long as they get the field cleared, which they should, weather effects should be minimal.
Finally, consider the placekickers in this game. Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro is 0-2 from 50+ and six of seven from 40-49. For Carolina, Graham Gano is two for four from 50+ and 13 of 16 from 40-49 yards. He’s also missed one from 30-39 yards. Gano gives the Panthers a chance from 50-plus yards, while Catanzaro is more consistent overall.
Take the Panthers at -3.5. The over/under is at 48. Take the under as we expect that defense will control this contest. Final score 24-20.