Due to scheduling conflicts, The Men Up North Sports’ Podcast will not air this week. However, Matt Bushnell and Felipe Melecio did have a conversation about the upcoming AFC and NFC Championship games. Here is how they broke things down beginning with the National Football Conference.
Felipe: Well, it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for; after this weekend, we will find out who is going to the Super Bowl. Matt, you’re the football guy, how do you think the games will break down?
Matt: Well, let’s take a look at the NFC first. And let’s take a look at the Arizona Cardinals defense to start out.
They have it all defensively when we look at the structure of the team. They are better on the defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back positions then what you would originally think. They are the epitome of the old adage “the sum is greater than its parts.” Outside of Patrick Peterson, they don’t have players that will make you think, “hey, this guy is a potential future hall of famer.” Yet, no one plays the “34” defense better than these guys in all of football.
Felipe: They play a better 3-4 than the Denver Broncos?
Matt: I’m telling you, as a unit, they play it better, although the Broncos are right there. Arizona flies to the football and creates havoc. Lately, the Cards have let some big running plays happen, but I think that’s more fluke so I wouldn’t worry too much about these isolated plays. When they stuff teams with their run defense, they almost dare you to beat them with the pass. They challenge your offense to make plays in man coverage and a variety of confusing zone packages. This defense can make you regret showing up.
Felipe: What about Carolina’s offense? You’ve mentioned before that the Panthers’ offense lacks a big-play wide receiver. What can they do to overcome that weak area in their offense?
Matt: Well they have two guys! Cam Newton and Greg Olsen and they better show up and show up big in this game. Cam can do it all but even those who can do it all need help. Greg Olsen is really good as a tight end but he is not going to be enough to really stretch this secondary.
The running backs are really going to have to show up big and I am not sure if they are capable.
Felipe: What about the Panthers’ defense vs the Cardinals’ offense? How does that stack up?
Matt: First of all, the Panthers’ defense are a threat to score at any time. They finished first in takeaways and have players that can take it to the house. That being said, I still think they’re a notch below the Cardinals, mainly due to scheme.
Nevertheless, Carolina does make things difficult for opposing offenses and that’s mainly due to the main man in the middle, Luke Kuechly. Matter of fact, I think their linebackers are superb. Kuechly and Thomas Davis remind me a lot of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, especially in 2006 when the Bears were at their peak.
Felipe: Hey, that defense had some defensive coordinator named Ron Rivera! The Bears led the league in takeaways in 2006. Almost ten years later, the Panthers led the league in that same category.
Matt: You are correct, Riverboat Ron runs a tight ship, but the secondary is suspect outside of Josh Norman. They cover that up well, but I can’t help but get the feeling that when push comes to shove this team will get exposed.
As we saw in the Seattle game this group can be exposed with big plays, however the defensive line can create pressure so you better not let the play take too long to develop. Overall, their front seven is the strongest part of their team
Felipe: So who do you give the edge on defense between the two clubs.
Matt: I’m going with the Cardinals. They’re both good, but I’ve seen the Cardinals destroy opposing offenses and Carolina can get exposed in the secondary.
Felipe: Which may happen against a very potent Cardinals’ aerial attack.
This is where it gets fun: we have Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd and David Johnson. Just a full arsenal of weapons that will create matchup problems for Carolina’s defense. The Panthers were exposed by a Seattle Seahawks’ team that did not have the offensive tools that the Cardinals have.
Carolina will have to pick their poison:
- they can either sit back in the zone and see the Cardinals attack the middle of the field and the sidelines to exploit the space the Panthers’ will create with their soft zone;
- or they can be aggressive and, well, we see what happens when you give these skill-position players space. And Palmer can definitely throw bombs with his arm.
Felipe: So it appears that you give the offensive edge to the Cardinals as well.
Matt: Yes, the Cards should have the edge here. The weaponry is fully loaded and they have a more than capable quarterback to take advantage.
Felipe: As far as coaching goes, I have to imagine Bruce Arians is unquestionably the better coach here.
Matt: I love Riverboat Ron, but Arians is far superior here.
Felipe: As far as intangibles go, as I mentioned last week, if there is one quarterback who can single-handedly win games for his respective team, Cam Newton can do it. They are at home and seem to be a team of destiny.
On the other hand, the Cardinals have impressed all season long and seem to always be in full attack mode. They certainly are not shy about “running up” the score, but in the NFL, you have to keep attacking otherwise you risk a huge comeback by the opposition. That “killer” mentality is perfect for these playoffs.
Matt: I like the fact that the Panthers have the “it” factor going for them, but will that dream come to an end on Sunday? Yes! The Cardinals are too well-coached and may have the overall better talent.
And let’s not forget, both starting quarterbacks, Newton vs Palmer, will be the first time two Heisman Trophy winners will square off in a championship game. So there’s some bragging rights on the line from a college football standpoint.
Felipe: As far as predictions go, I’ve had the Cardinals as my Super Bowl champion and I’m not going to change it now. So I will go ahead and say the Cardinals win 29-23. It should be a fun one.
Matt: I’m going to go with the Cardinals as well. Final score: Arizona 31, Carolina 24.
Felipe: There you have it. The Men Up North like Arizona to advance to the Super Bowl. Cannot wait to see if they can make this outcome a reality.