By Hamish Girvan
Last weekend in the divisional playoffs all the home teams won – a complete turnaround from the previous wildcard weekend. Drumroll please for the two games that will determine who competes in Superbowl 50 – and it features the 4 top seeds from each conference.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos – Monday 9.05am
It’s Manning versus Brady chapter 17. These two have one of better quarterback duels in recent history with Tom Brady having the upper hand. This time the Patriots travel to Denver where they have only won 2 out of 6 matchups – odd that the Patriots are the favourites though, being given a 3.5 point state. The other odd fact is that there is a lot of media that Manning is old and now beginning to reflect that in his game. Tom Brady is a year older at 38 – go figure.
The Patriots efficiently put away the Kansas City Chiefs last week and did it with relative ease even though they only won by 27-20. They move the ball down the field with simplicity using their two main offensive targets, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski (beats me why the Gronk is never double covered). Here they face a menacing Denver defence that has been one of the best in the NFL this season. They also depend of a running game so the New England rush defence will have to be on song. The Broncos beat the Steelers last week in a bit of a dogfight – it will be a different struggle this week. On paper the Patriots look the better team – it will depend how they cope with the altitude in Denver and what could be Peyton Manning’s final home game for the Broncos. Sports bookmaker Paddy Power has the Patriots at 20/31 for victory, whilst the Broncos are placed at 13/10.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina panthers – Monday 12.40pm
The Cardinals made the NFC Championship game by playing in one of the games of the season last weekend, where they overcame a Green Bay Packers team in a thrilling overtime battle. Meanwhile across in Carolina the Panthers scored 31 points in the first half leaving Seattle with an uphill battle – they did score 24 unanswered points however it was too much of a mountain to climb. Carolina Quarterback Cam Newton will be the MVP this season having only tasted defeat once this season and last week in the first half, he drove his team down field time after time to get the momentum – helped by the fact that Seattle were intercepted twice. Their defence is rugged however Defensive End Jared Allen’s injured foot may have an impact in their effective rush defence
The Arizona Cardinals veteran Wide Receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, shone last week in one of the biggest performances of his career. He will be wanting to have the same sort of performance at Carolina however being used to a perfect indoor field versus a muddy field in Carolina could be a difference maker.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer won his first ever playoff game last week and has less post season experience then his opposite, Cam Newton. Hard to believe considering Palmers 12 year NFL career across three different teams.
This could be a real spectacle with two offensive teams in the right frame of mind – Carolina have a 3.5 point start – hard to pick however home ground advantage could count.
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