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? It should be a thriller, but I'll go with the veteran Palmer. Cardinals 31, Panthers 27
Game: Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
Date/Time: Sunday, January 24, 2015 at 6:40 p.m. ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Television: FOX - Joe Buck & Troy Aikman