Heartbreaking loss aside, Seattle put up a good fight. Obviously, Carolina has been a fairly unstoppable force this season, and its only up to Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals now to stop them from taking the NFC Championship. On the other side of the league, the New England Patriots are approaching an unprecedented fifth straight AFC Championship game. This will be their second time in Denver in the last three years, and their only trip to the Super Bowl was last year when they were accused of cheating using deflated game balls. That conspiracy is well in the past and Tom Brady has proven once again that he is one of the most elite quarterbacks in the history of the game. He’s facing one of the other giants in Peyton Manning. Who’s up for Super Bowl 50? Let’s find out:
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
After the Patriots managed to make it to their record-tying (Oakland 1974-78) fifth consecutive AFC Championship game, it’s easy to call the mishandling of last year’s game a fluke. Brady certainly has proved himself capable of getting to this stage on multiple occasions, so I won’t be surprised if he leads his team to a record 9th Super Bowl appearance. Brady himself led his Patriots to 6 of the current 8, winning 2 MVPs along the way, so I think his supremacy is undoubted by now. On the other end, we have another Hall-of-Fame caliber quarterback in Peyton Manning. His longevity is stellar, but his conference championship record? 3-1, actually, though that loss came in 2003 to the Patriots, while his one win as a Bronco came against virtually these same Patriots. His Super Bowls have gone (boring win against the Bears) to (stumbling loss to the Saints) to (blowout by the Seahawks). So Manning is undeniably a great quarterback who can make it to that final game, but will it matter this Sunday? The Patriots are yet again on a roll, seeing the return of Julian Edelman but also getting contributions from such people as veteran rusher Vincent Jackson. The Broncos actually have faced the Pats quite a bit in the past few years, so they could have their number. I anticipate this to be a magnificent battle, but only one team can come out on top. I’m going with who I’d rather win this time, however. Broncos 30-27.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Of all the teams that have reached the NFC Championship game, only the New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have remained undefeated. Now, Arizona has surprisingly only been in one Championship game before 2016, when they faced off against the Philadelphia Eagles with their stud quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner was on the tail-end of his career, having one last resurgence before retirement. Unfortunately they didn’t cap off that run with a Lombardi Trophy, getting cut down by Ben Roethlisberger amid the peak run of the Steelers in the late 2000s. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers haven’t been to this high a stage since 2005, when they were taken down by Matt Hasselbeck and the neon-less Seattle Seahawks. Now that they’ve crushed those newly impressive ‘Hawks, the Panthers are back here to try and make it to their second Super Bowl. In their first, after defeating – guess who, the Eagles – the Panthers were trounced by….the New England Patriots.
So let’s take a look at the current teams, now that we’ve covered their history. Cam Newton has finally made it to the stage that number ones are expected to reach, while Carson Palmer has struggled through such adversity over his career that it almost seemed unlikely he’d even reach this point. The receiver corps of Arizona has boosted his potential tenfold, while the running game in Carolina is only overshadowed by Newton’s own run. I think that Arizona has a more complete team, while Carolina’s record at 15-1 doesn’t belie all the problems, like the fact that they’re not much of a second half team – as was exposed in Sunday’s defeat of Seattle 31-24. The team was up 31-0 after the first half but allowed the Seahawks back in it. If Arizona’s defense proves better than they did at home against Green Bay, we should be in for a Cardinal return to the Super Bowl. But Carolina has been a bit better at home, so we should be in for a great match. I’m gonna go with my preference here as well, but so you know I’m fine with either of these teams going all the way over either AFC team. Arizona 38-32
So we have a few stories we can follow here, hoping for television gold. The Cardinals and Panthers have both never won before, and the Panthers lost to the Patriots in their only Super Bowl. If we have Panthers-Patriots, you get a revenge story from 2003. Up-and-coming star Cam Newton has his chance at immortality after a run of brilliance in the regular season, against “villainous” Tom Brady and the Yankees of the NFL.
With the Cardinals-Patriots, you’d get Tom Brady getting to prove himself the best of the best yet again opposite another NFC West team, this time led by the redemptive Carson Palmer, back after two nearly career-ending injuries, both tragic in their own right after finally winning his first playoff game ever.
If the Broncos-Panthers happens, you’ll see Peyton Manning pass the torch down to another quarterback with no fear, perhaps the last time you’ll see two great running quarterbacks on the field in a Super Bowl, at least for the time being.
As for Broncos-Cardinals, well, I’ll be certainly happy because they’re the two teams I want the most there, but you’ll also have those same stories, doubled for come-back status, since Manning was thought to be done four years ago after injury took him out of Indianapolis and then again last year when his age slogged him down right at the end, leaving room for Brock Osweiler to come in and prove he’s the quarterback of Denver’s future. For now, though, we’ll have to wait until Sunday night to know who will truly face off on February 5th.
Stay tuned for next week’s edition when we talk about where the other 28 (30 by then) teams go from here, looking to a 2016-2017 season of futility or recovery, while we also discuss what the remaining two teams have to look forward to in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50.