NFC Championship Betting Preview: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

2016 NFL Playoffs
NFC Championship Game
#2 Arizona Cardinals at #1 Carolina Panthers
Bank Of America Stadium – Charlotte, North Carolina
Sunday, January 24, 2016, 6:40 pm Eastern, TV: Fox
Opening Line: Carolina -3 (-112)
Current Line: Carolina -3 (-115)
Opening Total: 47
Current Total: 47 1/2
Opening Money Line: Panthers -175 / Cardinals +155
Current Money Line: Panthers -160 / Cardinals +140

Carolina is a 3 point favorite over Arizona in the NFC Championship game Sunday in Charlotte.
Carolina is a 3 point favorite over Arizona in the NFC Championship game Sunday in Charlotte.

The 16-1 Carolina Panthers take on the 14-3 Arizona Cardinals Sunday in the NFC Championship game. The winner will take on either the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California. Both the Panthers and Cardinals have played in and lost one Super Bowl in their histories.

A major winter storm is hammering the East Coast right now including Charlotte. The city is expecting up to 2 feet of snow and ice, but it is expected to clear out by game time Sunday evening. Temps will be in the 30’s but no precipitation is expected during the game. The Cardinals were scheduled to fly into Charlotte Friday, but moved their flight to Saturday afternoon.

Carolina leads the series 9-5 against Arizona, including 1-1 in the palyoffs. Although the teams did not play in the regular season this year, they met in Charlotte in last season’s NFC Wild Card game. The Cardinals entered that game with 11 wins and Carolina won the NFC South with a 6-9-1 record. Still, the Cardinals were down to third string quarterback Ryan Lindley after knee injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. The Cardinals could only manage 78 total yards in a 27-16 loss. The two teams will play again next season in Charlotte.

Arizona won the NFC West and had the second best record in the league behind only the 15-1 Panthers. The Cardinals are the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. After a first round bye, Arizona hosted the #5 seed Green Bay Packers last week in the Divisional Playoffs. Arizona escaped with a 26-20 overtime win.

Arizona is coached by Bruce Arians. The Cardinals have home losses to the St. Louis Rams 24-22 and Seattle Seahawks 36-6 and a road loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers 25-13. Arizona has home wins over the New Orleans Saints 31-19, San Francisco 49ers 37-7, Baltimore Ravens 26-18, Cincinnati Bengals 34-31, Minnesota Vikings 23-20 and Packers 38-8 along with road wins at the Chicago Bears 48-23, Detroit Lions 42-17, Cleveland Browns 34-20, Seattle Seahawks 39-32, 49ers 19-13, Rams 27-3 and Philadelphia Eagles 40-17.

Arizona lost the regular season finale at home against Seattle to snap a 9 game winning streak. One of those wins included a 38-8 thrashing of the Packers in week 16 in Glendale. It would be a much closer game in the rematch last week in the same stadium. Arizona was a 7 point favorite and the total was 49. The Cardinals took a quick 7-0 lead, but the Packers scored 13 straight points to take a 13-7 lead early in the third. Arizona scored 13 straight points to regain the lead 20-13 with 1:55 left. Green Bay drove down the field and tied up the game on a 41 yard Hail Mary on the last play of the game. It was the second Hail Mary of the season for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers who also threw the game winning touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions on the last play of the game.

On the overtime coin flip, the coin bizarrely did not flip, and had to be redone. Arizona ended up winning the toss and drove 80 yards in three plays for the game winning touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to  Larry Fitzgerald. Despite having only one catch for 7 yards in the first half, Fitzgerald had 8 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. Green Bay had 386 total yards to 368 for Arizona. The Cardinals overcame 2 turnovers to just 1 for the Packers. Arizona is 9-8 ATS and the total is 9-8 as well.

Carolina won the NFC South for the third straight season and are the #1 seed in the NFC. The Panthers hosted the #6 seed Seahawks last week in the Divisional round. Carolina won 31-24 against the two time defending NFC Champions.

Carolina is coached by Ron Rivera. Carolina has road wins at the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37-23, Seattle Seahawks 27-23, Tennessee Titans 27-10, Dallas Cowboys 33-14, New Orleans Saints 41-38, and New York Giants 38-35. The Panthers also have home wins over the Houston Texans 24-17, New Orleans Saints 27-22, Philadelphia Eagles 27-16, Indianapolis Colts 29-26 in overtime, Green Bay Packers 37-29, Washington Redskins 44-16, Atlanta Falcons 38-0, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-10 in the last game of the regular season. The only loss came at the Falcons 20-13 in week 16.

Carolina was a 2.5 point favorite against Seattle and the total was 41.5. The Panthers quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead including a 14 yard pick six in the first quarter. The Panthers would take a 31-0 lead into halftime. The Seahawks would not quit though, and rallied to within 31-24 with 1:12 left. Seattle was unable to recover the onside kick and the rally came up short. The Seahawks had 403 total yards to 295 for the Panthers. Seattle also had the only two turnovers of the game. Carolina is 12-5 ATS and the total is 11-5-1 this season.

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Arizona is outscoring teams 31-20 this season. The Cardinals are #2 in scoring and #7 in points allowed. The Cardinals are averaging 408 total yards per game on offense including 289 passing and 120 rushing yards. The Cardinals are #1 in total offense, #2 in passing offense and #8 in rushing. Arizona is allowing 322 total yards per game including 230 passing and 91 rushing yards. The Cardinals are #8 or better in all three categories. Arizona is 97/207 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 83/227. The Cardinals have forced 36 sacks and have allowed 27 this season. Arizona is +9 in turnovers. The Cardinals have a special teams touchdown and six defensive touchdowns.

Quarterback Carson Palmer has completed 63.7% of his passes for 4,671 yards with 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, along with 24 rushing yards and a touchdown.The 36 year old is an unlikely MVP candidate after tearing his ACL last year. He is probable with a finger injury. Drew Stanton is the back-up.

Running back  Chris Johnson has 196 carries for 814 yards with 3 touchdowns, along with 6 catches for 58 yards.  He is out for the season with a broken leg. David Johnson has 125 carries for 581 yards and 8 touchdowns, along with 36 catches for 457 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is probable with a toe injury. Andre Ellington has 45 carries for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus 15 catches for 148 yards. He is also battling a toe injury but isn’t listed on the injury report. Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor will also get some carries.

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has 109 catches for 1,215 yards and 9 touchdowns. John Brown has 65 catches for 1,003 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is probable with a shoulder injury. Michael Floyd has 52 catches for 849 yards and 6 touchdowns. Tight end Darren Fells has 21 catches for 311 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Nine defensive players are listed on the injury report.

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Carolina is outscoring teams 31-19 this season. The Panthers are #1 in scoring and #6 in points allowed. Carolina is averaging 367 total yards per game including 224 passing and 143 rushing. The Panthers are #2 in rushing but #24 in passing. On defense, Carolina allows 323 total yards including 235 passing and 88 rushing yards. The Panthers are in the top six in total and rushing defense. Carolina is 92/213 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 101/243. The Panthers have forced 44 sacks and allowed 33 this season. Carolina is +20 in turnovers. The Panthers have 5 defensive touchdowns and have allowed 3 special teams/defensive touchdowns.

Quarterback Cam Newton has completed 59.8% of his passes for 3,837 yards with 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, along with 132 carries for 636 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Newton is considered the MVP favorite despite the Panthers not really having a number one receiver after Kelvin Benjamin suffered a torn ACL in the pre-season.

Tight end Greg Olsen has 77 catches for 1104 yards with 7 touchdowns. He is probable with a stinger. Receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. has 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jerricho Cotchery has 39 catches for 485 yards and 3 touchdowns. Devin Funchess has 31 catches for 473 yards and 5 touchdowns.   Corey Brown has 31 catches for 477 yards and 4 touchdowns. Ed Dickson has 17 catches for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Running back Jonathan Stewart has 242 carries for 989 yards and 6 touchdowns, plus 16 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. He is probable with an ankle injury as is Foswhitt Whittaker. Mike Tolbert and Cameron Artis-Payne will also get some carries. Tolbert has 18 catches for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns. Seven defensive players are listed on the injury report.

Arizona is 4-1 ATS in road games, 15-5 after failing to cover, 20-8 after allowing more than 250 passing yards, 9-4 after gaining more than 350 total yards, 21-10 after a straight up win, and against NFC teams, 3-8 on grass, 1-5 in January, and 1-6 against teams with winning records.

Carolina is 6-0 ATS on grass and after allowing more than 250 passing yards, 7-2 after allowing less than 90 rushing yards, 9-3 against NFC teams, 18-7-1 at home, 10-4 overall, and 9-4 after a straight up win. The home team has covered the last 4 games in this series.

Arizona and Carolina have been the best teams in the NFC since the beginning of the season. Both teams have some injuries especially on defense. Despite the cold weather, I think this will be high scoring game. I just think Carolina is slightly better and wins a close game at home.

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