clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2016 Championship Game Predictions

For the first time in a decade the 1's and 2's from each conference square off.

Yes, Mr. Newton. We understand you're #1.
Yes, Mr. Newton. We understand you're #1.
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The histories of the four quarterbacks at heading up the Championship contenders could not be much more different.  Manning and Brady have done this all before: each has a number of AFC Championships to their name.   Each is one of the most successful postseason quarterbacks ever.

The most important player in this game is Manning, but not for the reasons that have always held true in the past.  He is no longer the reason the Broncos will win, but he could very well be the reason they lose.  The Broncos have the best pass defense in football this year; they're one of the best defenses overall.  The running game has finally gotten on track throughout the last few games.  If Manning can scrape together enough magic, he can keep this team running.  Otherwise the Patriots, who are a top 10 team in almost every important category (from the NFL's measurements to Football Outsiders') will simply steamroll the Broncos.  Brady has barely fallen from his pinnacle performances; his weapons have all returned, if a little worse for wear.  This is either going to be a close game that somehow Manning pulls out, just to save his legend, or the Pats will blow away the Broncos by at least double digits.

In the NFC it's a pair of incredibly different circumstances.

Cam Newton, the boisterous, braggadocios entertainer and icon (and he is), is perhaps the most physically gifted quarterback ever.  Even if Andrew Luck has similar measurables (and he does, from height and weight to footspeed) Cam has agility and acceleration which are incomparable for his size.  His arm is not as video-game strong as Matt Stafford's or Aaron Rodgers, or even Flacco, but it's close.  His touch and precision have improved out of recognition from his first few stellar years.  If RGIII was the potential to change the way we perceive a position, Newton is the realization of that goal.

Carson Palmer is his polar opposite.  He's relatively quiet, a pure pocket passer, and is as old as Newton is young.  He is best known for long bombs, but Palmer's best passes are touch-perfect ropes he places carefully where only his receiver can get them.  The disadvantage there is that they're mid-range passes without killer zip--if Newton has a cannon, Palmer has a long-barrel shotgun.  More accurate than you'd expect, but really made for short range.

They're the only two Heisman winners to ever face off this deep in the Playoffs, and both owe a lot to their defenses.  Each defense even has a very different approach--Arizona has a bevy of flexible defenders in the back 7 which allow their front four to blitz frequently.  One of their best players, Deonne Bucannon, should have his own designation: Back-End.  Not because he's unpleasant, but because he splits almost equal time between safety and linebacker.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have arguably the best front 7 around.  Legitimate arguments could be made for two of their linebackers and both starting defensive tackles to be on the All-Pro list.  Running the ball against them is basically not an option.

Look for the Cardinals and Patriots to throw the ball far more than they run.  For the Patriots this will work; for the Cardinals not.  The Panthers will be able to pound their way through the Arizona defense using their size, their talented fullback (the underrated Mike Tolbert) and of course, their Superman at quarterback.  Expect a relatively low score.

Carolina 24, Arizona 21

Think the Patriots will steamroll the Broncos.  The Denver defense will hang in as long as they can, but eventually Brady will work some magic with either Edelman or Gronkowski, and blow the doors off.

Patriots 34, Broncos 17