Even without the New Orleans Saints participating, the 2016 NFL Playoffs have been quite entertaining. Now, the NFL's final four take the stage to determine who moves on to Super Bowl 50. The AFC title matchup features two of the most dominant quarterbacks in the conference over the past decade while the NFC title matchup features two teams that haven't represented the recent establishment in the conference, like Seattle and Green Bay have, and will crown a new conference champion. These games should be very interesting.
Last week I went 3-1
I told you so: Broncos over Steelers!
What do I know: Seahawks over Panthers?
#2 New England Patriots at #1 Denver Broncos
Sunday, January 24th - 2:05 pm CST - CBS
Denver enters the AFC title game as a 3-point home underdog and seems even less likely to win by the public. The easily digested narrative states that Peyton Manning is absolutely finished and the Patriots will once again own him on their way back to the Super Bowl. The thing is, Tom Brady himself has never won a playoff game in Denver, and New England has already lost at Mile High this season. Denver has the top-ranked defense in the NFL, couple that with a raucous home field and they are as well-equipped to once again beat the Pats in Mile High.
Unsurprisingly, the key to this game will be Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and how the Broncos handle him. Wade Phillips should put Aqib Talib on Gronk and try to take him out of the gameplan. If the Broncos are beat because Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola have a huge performance, so be it, but you can't allow the single best player on the team to beat you with the Super Bowl on the line. Denver's offense will need to get the most out of their running back tandem of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman in order to control the tempo of the game along with their stout defense.
I'll take the Broncos defense forcing a huge interception to seal the game and the AFC title. Just two seasons after Peyton Manning led a record-breaking Broncos offense to the Super Bowl, Denver's defense will now lead Manning and the Broncos back there. New England will see why it is so difficult to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, as it hasn't happened in over a decade.
Final Score: 27-20
#2 Arizona Cardinals at #1 Carolina Panthers
Sunday, January 24th - 5:40 pm CST - FOX
This is the game that both teams have seen coming for most of the season. The two strongest teams in the conference, Arizona and Carolina have been on a collision course all season. Carolina enters this game behind the strength of their top-ten defense and their lethal second-ranked rushing attack featuring Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton. Arizona enters this game with the NFL's best offense and a top-five defense. This should be a tremendous matchup in the Queen City.
Carolina is already taking a bit of a victory lap this week as they are winning big during the NFL's awards season. Cam Newton was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player while Ron Rivera has been named Coach of the Year. The encouraging news for Cards fans is the fact that the last time the NFL MVP reached the Super Bowl was 1999, when league MVP Kurt Warner and Coach of the Year Dick Vermeil reached Super Bowl XXXIV. Winning these awards hasn't been a good omen for ultimate success.
I've been firmly with the Cardinals winning the NFC since midseason and see no reason to move from that position now. Fielding the top-ranked offense in the NFL, paired with their fifth-ranked defense, Arizona is perfectly suited to take down the top overall seed in the playoff field. No team in the NFL is as balanced, as well coached, and as underrated as the Arizona Cardinals. Carolina can always rest on 16-2 as their consolation prize.
Final Score: 24-20
Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen, your potential conference champions. Although the Saints have been done for some time now, football goes on and there's still plenty to root against this Sunday. Get ready for some intense action in these two games this Conference Championship Sunday. Leave us your picks, insight, and comments below!