The AFC title game earlier on Sunday is going to get all the hype. It's two marquee franchises in the Broncos and Patriots as well as the two biggest stars in the NFL and the best players of this generation: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
And that's fine. That game might even draw bigger ratings despite the 3:05 p.m. ET start. But if we are being honest, the 6:40 ET start from Charlotte between the NFC No. 2 Cardinals and top-seeded Panthers is the better matchup. Manning and Brady never won a Heisman, for example. I know, that matters little in the NFL. But Carson Palmer vs. Cam Newton is the first time ever that two Heisman-winning quarterbacks have faced off in an NFL postseason game. When I first saw that statistic, I couldn't believe it. Newton also is going to be your NFL MVP this season and Palmer most likely second in the voting.
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The Panthers led the NFL with 15 wins during the season and were the only home unbeaten. The Cardinals were second with 13 wins and tied the Panthers for the NFL's best road record at 7-1. In fact, by many statistics the Cards were better away from home this year. While reaching the Super Bowl is old hat for the Patriots and Broncos, the Cardinals and Panthers have each made it just once -- each losing the title in the final minute in spectacular games.
At Bovada , Carolina is +200 to win Super Bowl 50, behind New England (+190), and Arizona +375. At BetOnline, you can get the field at -500 against the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl (+400). The field is -230 against the Panthers (+190). At 5Dimes, Arizona is +1.5 vs. New England right now and -2.5 against Denver. Carolina is +1 against the Pats and -3 vs. the Broncos.
Cardinals at Panthers Betting Story Lines
These teams advanced in quite different fashion. Carolina totally dominated the Seahawks in the first half of last week's divisional-round game to the tune of a 31-0 halftime lead. Seattle made it interesting with 24 second-half points. And if you want to criticize Carolina for one thing this season, it has been a tendency to perhaps lose focus after leading big. The Panthers nearly lost to the Colts and Giants, for example, during the regular season after doing so. Carolina has won 12 straight games at home overall.
Arizona's divisional-round game with Green Bay was one of the most entertaining playoff games you will ever see. I love Cardinals coach Bruce Arians because he's the most aggressive play-caller in the NFL. When most coaches would run to eat clock late in the game with a lead, Arians isn't afraid to pass. It nearly cost him against the Packers as an incomplete Carson Palmer pass ahead of the two-minute warning essentially gave Aaron Rodgers another 35 seconds or so when Green Bay got the ball back down seven following a Cardinals field goal. Those extra seconds meant everything as Rodgers shockingly hit Jeff Janis on a Hail Mary to tie on the final play of regulation. Well, tie after the extra point; I still stay Coach Mike McCarthy should have gone for two points there. Arians' aggressive style was costly on that Hail Mary, too, as the Cardinals blitzed Rodgers, leaving just four guys back. You never see that. But Arizona won it on the first possession of overtime thanks to a tremendous 75-yard catch-and-run from Larry Fitzgerald. He would end it two plays later on a shuffle pass from Palmer from 5 yards out. Fitzgerald had had eight receptions for 176 yards and that score. He now has 10 playoff TD catches in his career, good for No. 3 all-time. Ahead are John Stallworth (12) and Jerry Rice (an uncatchable 22).
Injury-wise, the Cardinals got out of the Packers game in good shape. The Panthers saw Jonathan Stewart, who rushed for 106 yards and two scores on 19 carries, tweak an ankle but he's expected to be fine. Defensive end Jared Allen fractured his foot in the fourth quarter but might still play. The NFL's active career sacks leader has to prove he can be effective and play through the pain. The 33-year-old Allen isn't half the player he used to be but still fairly effective. He will play if at all possible as this might be his last chance at reaching his first Super Bowl. Kony Ealy will start at right end if Allen can't play.
These teams played in Charlotte in the wild-card round last year, but throw that game out because the Cardinals started third-stringer Ryan Lindley at quarterback and I think he's selling timeshares in San Diego these days. Carolina won 27-16 as the Cardinals set an NFL playoff record with all of 78 total yards (12 in second half). Lindley was predictably horrid. Newton threw for 198 yards and two scores with a pick. Stewart rushed for 123 yards and a score. Both teams are much better this season.
Cardinals at Panthers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Carolina is -3 (-115) with a total of 47.5. On the moneyline the Panthers are -163 and Cardinals +143. On the alternate lines, the Panthers are -4 (+118), -3.5 (+110) and -2.5 (-140). Arizona is 9-8 against the spread (6-2 on road) and 9-8 "over/under" (5-3 on road). Carolina is 12-5 ATS (7-2 at home) and 11-5-1 O/U (6-2-1 at home).
Arizona is 4-1 ATS in its past five road games. The Cards are 1-5 ATS in their past six January games. They are 1-6 ATS in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. Carolina is 9-3 ATS in its past 12 vs. the NFC. The under is 6-1 in the Cardinals' past seven overall. The over is 12-3 in Carolina's past 15 vs. the NFC. It is 4-0 in the Cats' past four at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The home team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings.
NFL Championship Game Picks: Cardinals at Panthers Betting Predictions
It will be in the low 20s in Charlotte around kickoff with potentially icy conditions. Isn't expected to snow. I would say the cold benefits the Panthers as they are the more physical, run-heavy team. Plus the Cardinals are an indoor/warm-weather club. Thus I like the under here even though it's the two highest-scoring offenses in the regular season. Both are so dependent on their QBs that an injury would destroy either offense. History says it will be a close NFC title game as the past eight have been decided by seven points or fewer. That's amazing. Four of those eight have gone to overtime, including last year. Give the 2.5 points.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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