Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers: Preview, Prediction

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The Arizona Cardinals continue their journey to Super Bowl 50 in a rematch of 2015’s Wild Card  with the Carolina Panthers.

The Arizona Cardinals have landed in Charlotte, NC to take on the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game. The Cardinals are coming off of a wild divisional round win against the Green Bay Packers in overtime, 26-20. The Panthers are entering this game after beating the Seattle Seahawks, 31-24, in a game where the Panthers at one point had a 31 point lead. The Cardinals are looking to avenge their quick playoff exit from last season.

History: The Cardinals and the Panthers have faced each other 12 times in the regular season, and two times in the postseason, soon to be three times. Arizona has an all time 5-9 record against Carolina. The last win against the Panthers came back in Week 5 of the 2013 season. The Cardinals held Cam Newton and the Panthers offense to 0 second half points, and scored 19 unanswered points to win 22-6.

What: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

When: 4:40 PM Arizona Time (6:40 PM EST)

TV: Fox

Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM

Keys to victory:

First things first: The monkey is off Carson Palmer’s back. He finally got his first playoff victory that has eluded him his entire 13 careers. If you think he will play like he did in last week’s game, forget about it. There’s a different type of pressure on him this time around; the pressure of going to the Super Bowl. He will do all he can to lead this team to victory.

Carson Palmer will have a long day ahead of him against the staunch Panthers defense which is ranked 6th overall, just one spot below the Cardinals. Carson Palmer needs to spread the ball around to many different receivers as Josh Norman is expected to cover John Brown, and I expect some sort of safety help to contain Larry Fitzgerald. Palmer can not force any throws like he did countless times last week and needs to take care of the ball, especially in the red zone.

Asking the offensive line to keep Carson Palmer on his feet is easier said than done. Carolina ranks 9th in the NFL in total sacks with 44 on the season. Surprisingly, Palmer has shown he is able to make plays with his feet as evident by his 75 yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald in overtime. However, it’d be much more preferable if the Cardinals offensive line is able to contain the Carolina pass rush and provide Carson Palmer with ample to get rid of the ball.

Another thing the offensive line will need to do is get David Johnson going and make him become a focal point of the offense. In last week’s game against the Packers, Johnson was only able to gain 35 yards on the ground on 15 carries. Carolina has the fourth ranked run defense and are expected to fill up any running lanes quick. However, Johnson was able to gain 43 yards through the air (10 of these coming on crucial 3rd and 10 in the fourth quarter) on 6 catches. If David Johnson can become a focal point of the offense, it spells good things for the Cardinals.