NFC Championship Game 2016: Cardinals vs. Panthers TV Info, Odds and Predictions

Michelle BrutonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2016

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) has his pass deflected by Arizona Cardinals' Sam Acho (94) during the second half of an NFL wild card playoff football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. The Panthers won 27-16. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone/Associated Press

It's the matchup that we've been waiting for all season.

The Carolina Panthers, after their 31-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, will host the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 24.

The two teams were the clear heavyweights in not only the NFC but also the league as a whole during the 2015 season, finishing with the two best records in the NFL at 15-1 (Carolina) and 13-3 (Arizona).

In many ways, this meeting for the conference title felt inevitable, though the Seahawks and Green Bay Packers put up good fights in the divisional round.

The bracket below contains all of the TV information you need to know ahead of the big game. After you've reviewed it, we'll list the Vegas odds for each team and predict who will win and advance to the Super Bowl on Feb. 7:


Game Details

Date: Sunday, Jan. 24, 6:40 p.m. ET

TV Info: Fox

Line: Carolina (-4)



While the Cardinals have been one of the league's most explosive offenses this season, the Panthers have been remarkably consistent from week to week.

What makes this matchup especially compelling, however, is that the stout defenses.are sure to temper the high-scoring offenses.

The Panthers averaged a league-high 31.3 points per game during the regular season, while the Cardinals were right behind them, scoring 30.6 per contest. Yet on the other side of the ball, both Carolina and Arizona held opponents under 20 points per game with the No. 6 and No. 7 scoring defenses, respectively. 

So rather than a shootout, this championship game could be a hard-fought, low-scoring affair. 

A big question heading into the matchup is whether Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer can keep his head in the right place as he attempts to lead his squad into February.

Palmer looked off against the Packers in the divisional round, throwing two interceptions and completing 60 percent of his passes, down from his regular-season rate of 64 percent. And that was against a Packers defense that, while ranking in the top five in sacks, isn't as stout as the Panthers' unit.

However, the same Carolina defense that allowed just 19.3 points per game during the regular season struggled in the second half against the Seahawks.

After holding Seattle to zero points by the end of the second quarter, Carolina allowed 14 points in the third quarter and another 10 in the fourth, though Seattle's comeback attempt fell short.

And as the defense was giving up score after score, Carolina's offense was quiet in the second half, failing to score another point after putting up 31 in the first half.

The Panthers won't be able to get away with that against Palmer and the explosive Cardinals offense, which features playmakers at wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown and at running back in David Johnson.

While Panthers shutdown corner Josh Norman will undoubtedly shadow Fitzgerald next week after the 176-yard, one-touchdown performance he put up against the Packers, the rest of the secondary will have its hands full while trying to cover Floyd and Brown.

While Cam Newton may not have as many pass-catching weapons, he has the support of tight end Greg Olsen and a strong run game (Jonathan Stewart rushed for 106 yards against Seattle). Of course, Newton can use his own legs to make things happen as well.

As NBC Sports' Tony Dungy opined, Newton could be the X-factor in the contest:

Ultimately, this is a delicious matchup between two evenly matched teams, but the Panthers, who have remained consistent all season, seem to have the edge.

Prediction: Panthers win, 31-27. 


NFL odds via Odds Shark and current as of Jan. 17.