NFL Championship Week Odds and Picks: Who Faces in the Super Bowl?
It’s always fun to predict the winners for the AFC and NFC title games, as you’re really predicting three things in one. Obviously you’re picking the winner of each of the two conference championship games, but you’re also predicting who will be facing off in the Super Bowl two weeks later.
Duh, right? Okay, perhaps it’s just one of those things that goes hand in hand when making a pick, but let’s face it: if you can’t see a specific Super Bowl matchup, why would you pick those teams to win to get to that point?
That’s certainly a dilemma in the years where odd teams make it to their conference title games, but the bigger issue is this year that’s not a problem. In fact, the real problem is that all four of these teams feel right in regards to being suitable Super Bowl participants.
The Patriots were 10-0 and looked to be on a mission for 16-0 before getting hit hard by injuries. The Panthers got even further, as they went 15-1 on the year and didn’t lose their first game until week 15. Denver faltered with a regressing Peyton Manning succumbing to injury, but he still led them to a 7-0 start and played a hand in securing the AFC West and the AFC’s #1 overall seed. Arizona has felt like a fit the whole time, too, as they looked dangerous before losing Carson Palmer to a torn ACL in 2014 and all year looked the part of an elite playoff contender.
So, all four teams in this week’s conference title games deserve to be here, and when two come away with victories on Sunday, no matter which teams they are, we won’t be that surprised.
But we still have to make our picks and we still have to lean on Vegas for the odds. With that, let’s take a look at both games and see if we can’t accurately predict this year’s Super Bowl matchup:
New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
The AFC title game offers up another (and likely final) meeting between two legendary NFL quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Manning wasn’t even around for the first meeting earlier this regular season, when Brady fell to Brock Osweiler and the Broncos in overtime.
That OT loss was more about C.J. Anderson and New England’s defense failing on the road, though, as Brady actually had a terrific game with 280 yards and three scores. That could happen again, even against Denver’s stout pass defense.
There is legit concern about the Patriots ability to run the ball, but the bigger question is whether or not Peyton Manning can get the job done against a solid defense. He wasn’t even that sharp at home last week against a very bad Steelers secondary, so to imagine him suddenly ripping up a better New England secondary is rather difficult.
The real deal here is that the Patriots have been the better team all year and the Broncos have been just squeaking by because of a good defense. That figures to expose them this week, as Brady has all of his weapons to use and Manning isn’t likely to be able to keep up.
Pick: Patriots 27, Broncs 20
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
The AFC Championship is much easier to call, as the NFC title game feels like a total toss-up. Carolina and Arizona looked like the NFC’s two best teams all year, but at no point was there an obvious sign that one was for sure better than the other.
The Panthers look the part with a 15-1 record and a home game this week, while their defense is elite and Cam Newton has shown an innate ability to get them out of numerous jams. That being said, Arizona began their mission over a year ago and now thanks to a healthy (and MVP level) Carson Palmer, they could easily be the better team.
That didn’t exactly look like the case when the Cards barely got past the Packers in overtime last week, but Arizona still provides a very potent offense and a defense that can stop the run.
Between the two, there could be a lot of magic that could have this game going either way. With the Panthers being at home and having just one loss on their schedule, though, they get the mild edge.
Pick: Panthers 20, Cardinals 17
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