New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
Monday January 25, 7:05am
The New England Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs last week to make their fifth AFC Championship game in a row. They now go to Denver to face the Broncos in a repeat of the Championship game of 2013 when Quarterback Peyton Manning led the Broncos to a 26-16 win. The Patriots also went to Denver this season and lost again, 30-24, so it’s perhaps surprising that they are currently the market favourites, giving away three points on the spread.
Manning made his return as starter last week in the 23-16 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and despite only throwing one touchdown, his decision making actually looked better than it had done this year prior to his injury. His receivers were the problem against the Steelers as they dropped too many passes, particularly in the first half. A Manning led touchdown drive in the fourth quarter was enough to get the Broncos over the line and set up another playoff match against rival Tom Brady.
A lot is made of Brady’s playoff record as opposed to Manning’s but look a bit closer and it’s not so clear cut. Brady is just 3-3 in post season games played away from his home stadium compared to 15-3 when in the comfort of Foxborough. These two rivals have faced each other in the playoffs four times with two wins apiece and in the three AFC Championship games they’ve met in, Manning actually leads 2-1. You have to go back 10 years to find the last time Brady beat Manning in the playoffs, Peyton has won the last two, in 2007 with the Colts and in 2014 with the Broncos.
Taking all the above into account and added home advantage, we see no reason not to back Peyton and the Broncos to win this match outright at quite generous odds of 2.52. They have an excellent defense and as long as Manning can manage the game like he did last week they’ll score enough points to win the game.
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
Monday January 25, 10:40am
The NFC Championship game sees Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals travel to Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers in what should be a fiercely contested match up. These two were without doubt the two best teams in the NFC (maybe the NFL) this year so it is a fitting way to end the NFC season. Both teams have very good defenses and yet they were the two highest scoring offenses in the NFC so it’s all set up for a great match.
Arizona almost missed out on being here as they needed overtime to dispatch the Green Bay Packers after Aaron Rodgers’ ridiculous Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of regular time. Carolina meanwhile flew out the blocks in their home match against Seattle, racing into a 31-0 lead at half time. They didn’t score any points in the second half but held off a spirited comeback by the Seahawks to win by seven and progress.
Carolina nearly became the second team to have a perfect 16-0 regular season record but they shockingly lost in Atlanta in their penultimate match and had to settle for 15-1. They did however win all eight home games which became nine last week. Seven teams have won at least 15 regular season matches with only three making it to the Super Bowl. Arizona went 13-3 with an impressive road record of 7-1 but Panthers are worthy favourites giving away three points on the spread.
This is a tough game to call, since December 2014 the Panthers are 21-2 and since October 2013, with Palmer as quarterback, the Cards are 26-5. These are two very good teams with QBs who are playing at an extremely high level. Newton threw 45 touchdowns in regular season and will surely be league MVP yet it’s the running game that could be the key here. Arizona have given up nearly 400 yards on the ground over the last three games and we think Carolina will take advantage of that early on.
We see a tight close game here with two good defenses on the field. Panthers on the spread is tempting but we slightly prefer Under 47.5 Points.