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2015-16 NFL Playoffs Conference Championship Picks, Predictions and Preview

2015-16 NFL Playoffs Conference Championship Picks, Predictions and Preview

The top-seeded teams from both the AFC and the NFC appear to be destined for Super Bowl glory indeed, as the four remaining playoff contenders are all set to battle it out this coming Sunday in the NFL’s conference championship games.

[sc:NFL-AFC250 ]As impressive as all four teams have been throughout this 2015-16 season, only one team from each conference will have the privilege of travelling to Santa Clara on the 7th of February for one last clash to determine this season’s Lombardi Trophy winner.

Will the AFC have Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, or Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos as its representatives once again at the big dance? And who will be solidified the next definitive force in the NFC: the Carolina Panthers or the Arizona Cardinals? Let’s break down the two upcoming blockbuster matchups below.

Then, for a more in-depth look at each of those games, check out our complete preview for the AFC and NFC championship games after this.

[sc:Football ]

NFL Playoffs Conference Championship Predictions and Preview

AFC Championship Game

New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos

Now who doesn’t want to see another chapter added to the already compelling Brady vs. Manning saga?

[sc:NFL250 ]Tom Brady fulfilled his end of the bargain on Saturday by leading the New England Patriots to a gritty 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs for the team’s fifth-straight AFC championship game appearance.

Brady was as surgical as he has been throughout his storied postseason career against the Chiefs, converting 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The three-time Super Bowl MVP finally had a healthy receiving corps in that game, particularly wideout Julian Edelman, who played his first game in over two months (broken foot). Edelman led all Patriots receivers on Saturday with his 16 targets, 10 catches and 100 receiving yards, and instantly became Brady’s top option downfield without missing a step.

Meanwhile, standout tight end Rob Gronkowski dealt most of his damage in the end zone by catching both of Brady’s TDs and finished with seven receptions for 83 yards. In turn, New England completed six of their 12 third down opportunities, making their offense look like the juggernaut that it was this season when both Edelman and Gronk were simultaneously healthy.

However, and speaking of being healthy, the same cannot be said about the status of the Patriots’ defense. The team’s front seven is quite battered-up to say the least as Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower are all nursing injuries. Jones’ possible absence on Sunday will hurt the most, as he led his team in sacks in the regular season (13.5) and can create all sorts of pressure against Manning and the Broncos’ passing game.

Then again, with the Pats’ offense in full force already, the team can probably absorb some lapses on defense. That’s probably why they’re the current (-3.5) favorites of advancing to the Super Bowl.

2015-16 NFL Playoffs Conference Championship Predictions and Preview

Not one to be outdone by his notorious rival, though, Peyton Manning – in his first start since November 15 – did just enough on offense to vault his Denver Broncos past the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, 23-16, to advance to the AFC championship game. The future Hall-of-Famer didn’t throw a TD or a pick, but did still efficiently run Denver’s aerial attack with 222 yards on 21-of-37 passing for just his second-career game-winning drive in the postseason.

Much had already been documented about Manning and Brady’s rivalry. For one, Brady has more game-winning drives in the playoffs with nine. He also leads the 39-year-old in head-to-head victories overall, 11-5. But in the postseason, both of them have won two games against each other, with the fifth (and possibly final) installment under way to settle the score once and for all.

As we all know, though, football is ultimately a team game. Luckily for the Broncos, their running game has given the offense the necessary balance to succeed. The team had seven games with 130 or more rushing yards this season and won all of those contests, including the 179-yard outing in Week 12’s victory over the Patriots. Denver had 109 yards on the ground against the Steelers on Sunday.

And let’s not forget about the Broncos defense, one that was the top-ranked unit in the NFL by the end of the regular season. Denver’s D actually had a tough time with the Steelers’ depleted offense (312 total yards allowed), but that unit still managed to force and recover a late fumble from Pittsburgh’s third-string running back Fitzgerald Toussaint that led to the go-ahead touchdown with just three minutes left in the game.

Should this coming Sunday’s showdown against the Pats go down the wire, the Broncos will be ready as well. They have a 10-3 record (and a perfect 3-0 in OT to boot) this season in games decided by seven points or less, counting the most recent win over Pittsburgh. Manning will also relish the fact that his team will be playing in Mile High, as he has a solid 98.9 passer rating in home postseason games against Brady, versus a dismal 51.5 in the contests that were held in Gillette Stadium.

Writer’s Prediction: Manning’s last hurrah lives on as the Broncos outlast Brady and the Patriots, 28-24.

NFC Championship Game

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers

Not even a botched coin flip in overtime could’ve stopped the Arizona Cardinals from advancing to their first NFC championship game since 2008.

Battle-hardened wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald owned the extra period’s opening drive with a dazzling 75-yard catch shortly followed by the five-yard, game-winning touchdown to crush the Green Bay Packers’ hearts, 26-17 on Saturday. With 176 total receiving yards from that win, Fitzgerald now has five 100-yard outings in just eight playoff appearances.

Fitz was such an integral cog in that victory, especially considering that quarterback Carson Palmer did not have the best of performances for his first-career postseason victory. Although he threw for 349 yards and three TDs, Palmer did also throw two costly picks, or maybe even more if it wasn’t for several lucky breaks.

Palmer will need to play the game of his life this coming weekend if he wants to prevent last season’s disastrous 26-17 loss to the Panthers in the Wild Card round from happening again. In that contest, Arizona only mustered up 78 yards of offense – the worst in NFL playoff history. Granted, it was Ryan Lindley and not Palmer who was the team’s starting QB then.

The Cardinals shouldn’t be too fazed about having to play in Carolina on Sunday, as they have won seven of their last eight games on the road (6-2 ATS). Then again, the postseason is another beast of its own, as the Cards are just 2-8 away from home then, scoring an average of just 18 points per contest.

2015-16 NFL Playoffs Conference Championship Predictions and Preview

On the flipside, the Carolina Panthers defeated the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, 31-24, in a game that was more lopsided than what the final score indicates. The Panthers jumped on the Seahawks in the first half with a 31-0 lead and never looked back, even though Seattle tried to put together a monstrous rally down the stretch.

MVP frontrunner Cam Newton didn’t really have to do much through the air in this contest (16-of-22 for 161 passing yards and a touchdown) considering how superb Carolina’s ground game and defense was.

After sitting out the first last three games due to an injured foot, running back Jonathan Stewart kick-started the Panthers’ first-half scoring barrage by rumbling for 59 yards on the opening play.  He was undoubtedly his team’s MVP on offense as he finished with 106 rushing yards and a pair of TDs on 19 carries. Give a ton of credit to Carolina’s offensive line for Stewart’s breakout performance too, which also only gave up one sack to the Seahawks’ supposedly intimidating defensive front.

And how could we forget about the Panthers’ defense? Oh, all that unit did was sack Russell Wilson five times and pick him off twice, including a back-breaking, 14-yard pick-six by outstanding linebacker Luke Kuechly to put Carolina up 14-0 just less than four minutes into the first quarter.

Plus, that Panthers D is pretty stout against the run just as well. They ended the regular season with the fourth-best run defense, allowing 88.4 rushing yards per game to the opposition. If the Cardinals ran for just 40 yards against Green Bay’s 21st-ranked run defense this past weekend, just imagine what Carolina’s defensive front is capable of doing on Sunday.

To top it all off, the Panthers are still in the midst of a 12-game winning streak at Bank of America Stadium, counting last season’s playoff victory over Arizona mentioned earlier. For as good as the Cards have been on the road, the Panthers are just that much better playing in front of their home crowd.

Writer’s Prediction: The Panthers (-3) advance to the Super Bowl for just the second time in franchise history by handily dispatching the Cardinals, 33-23.

Create a betting account now to cash in from both of these stellar NFL playoff matchups before its too late.

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Mark
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