With only three (3) games left in the 2015 NFL season, everyone except the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, and Carolina Panthers has begun the interminable slog of the offseason. Come Sunday night, the matchup for Super Bowl 50 will be set. Who will it be? Predictions from various BRB masthead types are below and should, of course, be taken as gospel.
First, everything you need to know about the AFC Conference Championship Game and the NFC Conference Championship Game.
Patriots vs. Broncos
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High (Denver, CO).
When: Sunday, January 24th, 2:05 p.m. CST.
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms.
Radio: Patriots Radio Network | Broncos Radio Network
Online Streaming: CBS Sports.
Odds: The Patriots opened as a 2.5-point road favorite. The line climbed to 3.5, but has settled between 3 and 3.5 points, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.
Patriots blog: Pats Pulpit.
Broncos blog: Mile High Report.
Cardinals vs. Panthers
Where: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, NC).
When: Sunday, January 24th, 5:40 p.m. CST.
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman.
Radio: Cardinals Radio Network | Panthers Radio Network.
Online Streaming: FOXSportsGo.
Odds: The Panthers opened as a 4-point favorite. The line dropped to a field goal and has settled there, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.
Cardinals blog: Revenge of the Birds.
Panthers blog: Cat Scratch Reader.
On to the predictions!
New England Patriots v. Denver Broncos: There's a big part of me that would love to see Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips in the Super Bowl. While there's no doubt it was time for a change in Houston, both men did good things here and were nothing but class acts throughout their time at NRG Park. Although I think Denver's defense is outstanding, Texans fans know all too well how Wade's defense, even with standout players, can struggle against offenses that spread it out. I'm riding with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Patriots 27, Broncos 20.
Arizona Cardinals v. Carolina Panthers: The way Carolina simply throttled the Seahawks last week shocked me. The Seahawks made it a bit of a game in the second half, but still...that was a beating. I don't see the Panthers getting turnovers from Carson Palmer & Co. the way they did last week. Yet I was also rather surprised Arizona had such difficulty dispatching Green Bay, even with Aaron Rodgers doing what he does. Before the games last week, if you'd told me the NFC Championship Game was Cardinals-Panthers, I would have taken the Cardinals without hesitation. After last week (and I say this knowing how foolish it can be letting a single performance guide a prediction), I have changed my mind. Panthers 24, Cardinals 21.
Patriots 30, Broncos 17.It's not Brady vs. Manning. It's Brady vs. sh*tty Manning, AND playoff Manning, who is already sh*tty regardless of his health. I'm rooting HARD for the Patriots in this game because I feel like the Broncos will get ROLLED UP against either remaining NFC team in the Super Bowl. Much as I hate Julian Edelman, I think he has a huge game and Brady is on to yet another Super Bowl appearance.
Panthers 30, Cardinals 24.
I've felt all year the Panthers have been treated as "yeah, great in the regular season but eh". I don't get it. I see a complete football team and I'm sure many have come around since last week's half-a-beatdown over Seattle. Cam Newton is so far and away the MVP, and while I feel like the Cardinals are as good a team as any left in the tournament, the Panthers are just that good. Plus I'm not sure about Carson Palmer in his first career ROAD playoff game.
Patriots 24, Broncos 16.
The score might technically only be one possession, but I don't think this game will be particularly close when it comes to the eye test. Tom Brady is playing out of his mind once again now that all of his weapons are healthy, while Peyton Manning is very clearly on the last gasp of his career. To make matters worse for Denver, arguably their best defensive player - Chris Harris - is a game-time decision with a shoulder injury. Harris is basically the only person on the Broncos' roster who could hope to stop Julian Edelman in the slot, so if he doesn't play, this could get pretty ugly.
Cardinals 30, Panthers 20.
The Panthers have been nigh unstoppable this season, but for whatever reason their second half defense has been quite leaky against the league's more potent passing offenses. The Giants, Saints, and of course the Seahawks all mounted furious second half rallies against Carolina this year, but Cam Newton was always able to bail them out in the end. The Cardinals certainly qualify as "potent", so I worry a bit for their ability to stop John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and David Johnson all at the same time with only one high quality (and healthy) defensive back left on the team in Josh Norman. If Newton can carry this team to yet another victory late in the fourth quarter, more power to him, but I'm just not so sure he can pull this one out in the end.
Patriots v. Broncos: This ain't the same Peyton Manning. Everything he throws looks like a dead duck falling out of the sky, even screens. If it wasn't for Fitzgerald Toussaint's fumble, the Broncos wouldn't even be in this game. On the other hand, Tom Brady's weapons have had a week to get better. As much as I would love Wade Phillips and Gary Kubiak to get a shot at the Super Bowl, I don't think this game will be close. Patriots 34, Broncos 10.
Cardinals v. Panthers: This is going to be a heckuva game. For me, these are two of the most fun teams to watch in the NFL today, and I have absolutely no clue or insight to how it will turn out. Cam Newton and the Panthers' defense are machines. The Cardinals' defense is nothing to snicker at either. Ultimately, I'm going with the Cardinals because Carson Palmer simply has more weapons than does Cam. Cardinals 23, Panthers 17.
If you're feeling froggy, leave your predictions in the Comments.