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NFL Playoff Schedule 2016: Patriots-Broncos, Cardinals-Panthers on Championship Sunday

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USA TODAY Sports

The divisional round of the 2016 NFL Playoffs is complete, with the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, and Carolina Panthers all moving on. The Patriots are the only team among the four to have reached this stage for the second year in a row, and they are also the defending Super Bowl Champions. Here is the schedule for next week's Conference Championship games:

Sunday, January 24, 2016
(2) New England Patriots vs. (1) Denver Broncos, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS
(2) Arizona Cardinals vs. (1) Carolina Panthers, 6:40 p.m. ET, FOX

Schedule

Ranking the Playoff Games

1. NFC Championship - Cardinals vs. Panthers: The premiere game this week is in the NFC, featuring the Carolina Panthers hosting the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers went 15-1 in the regular season, while the Cardinals were 13-3, but they represented the two most dominant-looking teams in the NFL this year. Both teams survived a bit of a late scare in the playoffs, but got a big monkey off their back with a win in the end as WR Larry Fitzgerald stepped up for the Cardinals in overtime against the Packers, and the Panthers simply hung on for dear life after their 31-0 halftime lead slipped to 31-24 by the end of the game.

Both teams are built on tremendous quarterback play and tenacious defense. QB Cam Newton has a rocket arm and runs the ball very effectively, while QB Carson Palmer has seemed to improve with age, winning his first playoff game of his career this weekend. Both players are MVP candidates, but Newton is going to get more votes because he has had his success with a lesser supporting case. Palmer, meanwhile, can rely on Fitzgerald and a young running back in David Johnson.

Carolina has shown a tendency to get off to some fast, energetic starts this year, but to go in a shell later in the game. It's gotten them to 16-1, including the postseason, so it's not a major concern, but the Panthers are also facing their toughest opponent of the season now in the Cardinals. Will the veteran Palmer lead Arizona back to the Super Bowl, or will Newton have some more MVP moments en route to his first one?

2. AFC Championship - Patriots vs. Broncos: When QB Peyton Manning had to sit out this year's Patriots vs. Broncos game, I thought we'd finally have a season where we had to live without his annual clash with QB Tom Brady. Funny enough, in his first attempt, QB Brock Osweiller defeated Brady in a thrilling overtime game while Manning was sidelined with an injury.

Now back in the starting lineup, another edition of Brady vs. Manning will no doubt be entertaining, but the feeling isn't quite what it used to be. It's a story we've seen time and time again, which makes the fresher blood in the NFC Championship a bit more exciting. Also, although Manning is still giving-it-a-go, everyone who watches him quarterback now knows that he is a complete shell of his former self. He was able to get by Pittsburgh despite being victimized by drops, but can he out-shoot Brady and a Patriots defense that is only getting better? And, if he does that, does he stand a chance against either the Cardinals or Panthers in the Super Bowl?

Vote in our poll below on who you think will advance to the Super Bowl!