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(AP) -- Carson Palmer helplessly watched the Carolina Panthers force the Arizona Cardinals and their third-string quarterback into the worst offensive performance in playoff history last January.

 

It was a dark moment for the injured Palmer, whose competitive drive once led him to threaten retirement if he wasn't traded from a team he didn't feel could contend. He waited 12 years for the first playoff victory of his career and now gets a chance to go head-to-head with Cam Newton, whose MVP-caliber season has the Panthers on the brink of running the table at home.

 

Sunday night's NFC Championship game will be the first-ever meeting between Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in the playoffs, with the winner carrying his franchise to its second Super Bowl appearance.

 

Palmer won all six of his starts for the Cardinals in 2014 but missed three games early in the season with a right shoulder injury and the final part after tearing his ACL. Arizona limped into the playoffs at 11-5 before the 7-8-1 Panthers held the Cardinals to a playoff-record low 78 total yards in a 27-16 victory.

 

Playing in all 16 regular-season games this time, Palmer finished with career highs of 35 touchdown passes and a 104.6 passer rating in guiding Arizona (14-3) to a league-high 408.3 yards per game and the NFC West title. He tossed three TDs in last week's wild 26-20 divisional playoff win over Green Bay, and hit Larry Fitzgerald on a 75-yard catch-and-run to set up a shovel pass to Fitzgerald that won it three plays into overtime.

 

It was a gratifying victory for Palmer, who won the Heisman at Southern California in 2002 and demanded a trade from Cincinnati after a disappointing 2010 season.

 

Palmer's right index finger injury - one he says isn't an issue - pales in comparison to the one that kept him out of last year's playoff meeting. Now he's hoping to help avenge that defeat and bring the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl since they lost to Pittsburgh after the 2008 season.

 

"As I haven't been playing in these games, I've studied it and watched it from afar and gone through it mentally," Palmer said. "As big as this game is, you can't make it bigger than it is. It's win or go home and there's plenty of implications, but we've got a pretty good recipe that wins games and we're going to stick with that recipe."

 

Carolina (16-1) has become a different team with the emergence of Newton. The Panthers, often known for their defense under coach Ron Rivera, averaged an NFL-high 31.3 points to rank just ahead of Arizona's 30.6.

 

Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 35 touchdown passes and run for 10, and along with Palmer will garner plenty of MVP votes. Newton, the 2010 Heisman winner at Auburn, threw for 161 yards and a touchdown in last week's 31-24 win over Seattle.

 

Carolina is the only team to go unbeaten at home this season, but Arizona enters with a 7-1 road record.

 

"We prepared too much to get nervous," Newton said. "In some way, shape or form we played this game numerous times in our head, watched countless film, made this adjustment and that adjustment, so when you're put in the fire you already have what you need to do what you do. Nothing else needs to be done or said. No matter if we're up or we're down, just believe in the plan and keep going."

 

Two touchdown runs from Jonathan Stewart, a Newton TD pass to Greg Olsen and Luke Kuechly's pick-6 gave the Panthers a seemingly insurmountable halftime lead last week, but the Seahawks held them scoreless in the second half.

 

That isn't the first time Carolina has suffered a close call. It blew a 17-point lead against Indianapolis before winning in overtime, led Green Bay by 23 in the fourth before winning by eight and needed a field goal as time expired to beat the New York Giants after coughing up a 28-point lead.

 

"I'll be honest, I get it, I understand," Rivera said. "But, shoot, we won those football games and look at who we played against. Am I concerned? Yeah. But are these things correctable and fixable? Most certainly. Let's stay focused on what we did - we won the football game."

 

Stewart is expected to play despite dealing with an ankle injury suffered against the Seahawks. In addition, Jared Allen returned to practice Thursday and is considered at least a possibility to play despite breaking a small bone in his right foot last Sunday.

 

Arizona had its own issues closing out the Packers last week. Aaron Rodgers completed a 60-yard pass on 4th-and-20 with 55 seconds left before throwing a 41-yard Hail Mary to send the game into overtime.

 

Fitzgerald, who finished with a franchise playoff-record 176 receiving yards, saved the game in OT. Coach Bruce Arians knows the Cardinals can't be that vulnerable against the Panthers, especially early.

 

Arizona blitzes more than any team in the league, and it likely will try to put Newton under pressure from the start even though Carolina's QB threw a league-high 18 TDs in blitz situations this season. Newton wasn't at his best in last year's playoff meeting, finishing 18 of 32 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while rushing for 35 yards.

 

"It's kind of like back in college, getting ready for the wishbone," Arians said. "You don't see the quarterback in this league run (with that) power very often. So they give you so many different, unique sets that you have to account for."

 

Getting the ground game going will be a priority for the Cardinals, too. They rushed for 27 yards in a loss to Seattle in the regular-season finale before finishing with 40 last week, and rookie David Johnson has averaged 2.8 yards on 35 carries over his last three.

 

The playing surface in Carolina has been a talking point all week, but neither team seemed to have an issue running there in the divisional playoffs. Stewart finished with 106 of the Panthers' 144 rushing yards, and the Seahawks averaged 6.5 yards on 12 carries.

 

"I don't care if we're playing in a parking lot," Arians said. "It's the championship. Be aware of it and have the proper shoes."

 

Arizona won 33-13 in Charlotte on the way to its only previous Super Bowl, as Fitzgerald finished with 166 yards while setting the playoff record he broke last week. The Panthers also went unbeaten at home that season.

 

 

 

The matchup that everyone predicted at the start of the season.

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Panthers are susceptible to big plays and that will be the difference.

 

Cardinals 30

Panthers 24

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I think the Panthers defense will absolutely demolish the Cardainals offense. Meanwhile, Cam does just enough as is usually the case with the Panthers this year.

 

:panthers: 23

 

:Cardinals: 20

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I have to imagine Carolina's conservative coaching comes back to bite them in the ass, Relapse Ron Rivera doesn't have the stones to make the aggressive calls he needs to against the Cardinals defense and I think that'll be the deciding factor if both teams perform to the level they should. If they don't... the Panthers can probably play better when they have a bad game.

 

:panthers: 27

:Cardinals: 30

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I firmly believe, unlike the Hawks game, that the Panthers have the better all-around team.

 

That does not mean this is going to be a win, by any means, but matchup on matchup, the Panthers beat Arizona straight up in every category except WRs vs Secondaries, (both ways). Which, granted, is a very important matchup.

 

There is one *huge* factor that is going to play a role: the weather. There is currently a snowstorm in Charlotte. Flights for Saturday and Sunday are being cancelled. Arizona is still going to get in, because they have a private jet, but when its cold and rainy/snowy, it favors the offense with the better run-game, which is, without question, the Panthers.

 

The Panthers are susceptible to big plays, but they were also the #1 pass defense in the league, (in terms of QBR). One of the primary reasons for that is the emergence of Kawann Short. And Star appears to be back to form. I frankly don't see the Cardinals interior line being able to block those two. Arizona must get some sort of ground game going, and I can't see it happening against Carolina's front seven. It's the Panthers back four that is the suspect grouping, and if the defensive line dominates, that becomes much less of an issue.

 

Jared Allen will miss this game, which is a shame, because I know how much he wanted to play. But Kony Ealy is a more than capable replacement, and might actually be the more talented player at this point in their respective careers.

 

Carolina takes it in a ground and pound, ugly ass game.

 

:panthers: 28

:Cardinals: 20

Edited by Thanatos19
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Arizona wins this.

 

And it's not gonna be pretty. Carolina has not yet met a team with such talent all around the board...nor has their defense faced a team loaded with WR's and a back that can do so much more than run the ball.

 

 

:Cardinals: 35

 

:panthers: 17

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Seattle would beg to differ with your assessment of the Cardinals being the first team with talent across the board, especially given the 36-6 ass-kicking they just handed Arizona in week 17.

 

Also, I don't see how a team who has put up 32 points in their last nine quarters is going to drop 35 on the Panthers defense in four.

Edited by Thanatos19

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I have to wonder what happens if David Johnson gets loose at all.

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Panthers historically have problems with shifty backs. We can shut down players like Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, but guys like Darren Sproles and Dion Lewis present problems. If somehow DJ actually gets going, whether via screen or run-play, that would be a big problem for Carolina.

Edited by Thanatos19

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Panthers historically have problems with shifty backs. We can shut down players like Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, but guys like Darren Sproles and Dion Lewis present problems. If somehow DJ actually gets going, whether via screen or run-play, that would be a big problem for Carolina.

Interesting. I don't know if he'll be great tomorrow but I will say that I think David Johnson is the next great running back in this league.

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Interesting. I don't know if he'll be great tomorrow but I will say that I think David Johnson is the next great running back in this league.

I think I would probably go so far as to say that if DJ doesn't have a good game, the Cardinals will not win this game. They have got to get some pressure off of Palmer. Getting the run-game going- or the screen game- is the way to do that.

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Was doing a matchup comparison between these two teams. I give Carolina the advantage overall, but only 6 to 4.

 

QB: :panthers:Albeit only by a narrow margin, Newton > Palmer. They're essentially equal in terms of sheer QB ability, but Newton's mobility gives him a slight edge. I wouldn't argue that much with someone who wanted to call it a wash, though.

RB: :panthers: Jonathan Stewart and Cameron Artis-Payne are a potent one-two punch. The Cards lost their starting two RBs and have now turned to the shifty David Johnson as their leading rusher. He did amazing his first few games, but the last two, versus Seattle and Green Bay, he was completely shut down as the Cardinals run-blocking fell apart. In terms of athletic ability, I might give it to DJ, but in terms of overall run-game between the two teams, which is what we're asking here, Carolina wins easily. They are the best rushing offense in the NFL.

WR: :Cardinals:Larry Fitz, John Brown, and Michael Floyd are a significantly better threesome than Ted Ginn, Corey Brown, and Devin Funchess. No question there. Not to mention JJ Nelson is a scary deep threat and Jaron Brown is a far better 5th WR than most teams have.

TE: :panthers: Not even close. Greg Olsen is the second or third best TE in football.

O-line: :panthers:The Cards pass-blocking is decent and compares favorably to Carolina's, but their run-blocking, as mentioned previously, is highly suspect and this is where the Panthers have the major edge.

D-line: :panthers:Star, Short, Ealy, and Addison form a highy potent foursome that has disrupted QBs all year and helped to lead to the Panthers pass defense giving up the lowest rating to opposing QBs.

Linebackers: :panthers: Zero question here. Luke and TD are probably the best LB duo in the NFL.

Secondary: :Cardinals:Patrick Peterson leads a group of Cardinals DBs that are both overall more athletic and with better coverage skills than the Panthers group in the backend, which basically consists of Josh Norman and street free agents.

Coaching: :Cardinals: Ron Rivera appears to have lost his balls. Bruce Arians plays aggressive and stays aggressive- too much so, in some cases. Still, give me the aggressive coach over the passive one.

Special Teams: :Cardinals:I haven't even looked at the Cards special teams, but they have to be better than a unit that has had five blocked tries. The punt returners are both dangerous, though as the Cardinals know, Ted Ginn is definitely prone to trying to do too much.

Edited by Thanatos19

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A back and forth with more big defensive plays than offensive. Cardinals find a way to edge it out in the 4th quarter. Instant classic.

 

 

:Cardinals: 27

:panthers: 24

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Really excited to see how the Cardinals match up with Turf. Turf got off to an explosive start last week although it let its foot off the gas late, Seattle was completely caught off guard and had no answers for Turf in the opening frames. Turf is undefeated on the season, let's see how Arizona fares.

 

Turf 30

:Cardinals: 23

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David Johnson (toe) and John Brown (shoulder) are active for the NFC Championship Game.

Neither player's status was in doubt, though Johnson's effectiveness has been waning for the better part of a month. He has a monumental test in the Panthers' elite defense.
Inactive for the Cardinals are QB Matt Barkley, OLB Jason Babin, CB Corey White, RB Kerwynn Williams, LB Shaq Riddick, OT D.J. Humphries and DT Xavier Williams.

 

 

 

 

Panthers declared RB Cameron Artis-Payne, CB Louis Young, WR Brenton Bersin, S Dean Marlowe, RB Brandon Wegher, DE Jared Allen, and WR Kevin Norwood inactive for the NFC title game against Arizona.

Artis-Payne lost a fumble in the Divisional Round, and is now a healthy scratch. Allen (foot) may have a small chance to play if the Panthers advance to the Super Bowl.

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I SO got Carolina to win this one...

 

GO PANTHERS!

 

 

:panthers: :panthers: :panthers:

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Wow, Arizona. Talk about pathetic so far

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I really like Vinovich's crews, be it regular season or postseason all stars. They only call the obvious shit.

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:panthers: :panthers: :panthers:

 

Please take a massive shit on Denver.

Dude, dont be mad/jealous that your CHEATriots lost to the Broncos...

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Carson Palmer is a walking shit show right now. It's hard to believe any one player can be so pathetic in a big game scenario, but I don't think Andy Dalton has even shit the bed so badly before.

 

If Drew Stanton had a better arm, I'd damn near consider throwing him in there, but he doesn't. Their only chance is Palmer flipping the switch and the defense making sure they limit Carolina's offense in the second half, which will be the easy task considering Ron Rivera's balls-less schematics.

 

Two consecutive NFC Championship games where the NFC West QB had an absolutely shitty first half. Can Arizona make the comeback, too?

Edited by BwareDWare94

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Brian Hoyer played a game this postseason. As bad as Palmer has been so far today, he hasn't been historic level of shit.

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Thought Chili would be better thus the Cards WRs would be a factor. Crazy how efficient Carolina can be.

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Ya even when Carolina is a little off, they're still way better than you. lol.

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