Give the Denver Broncos credit for coming through with a semblance of an offense in the fourth quarter.
That's because they didn't show much of one for the first three quarters. Thanks to a solid showing from the defense that included producing the game's only turnover, the Broncos used a fourth-quarter one-yard touchdown run by C.J. Anderson to score the go-ahead touchdown against the game, but undermanned Pittsburgh Steelers.
Aside from that game-winning drive, the Broncos could not put the ball in the end zone against Pittsburgh, and that may explain why they are a three-point home underdog against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, according to Odds Shark.
Peyton Manning's presence in the Denver lineup did not help the Broncos put on a consistent offensive show. Manning completed 22 of 37 passes for 222 yards, but he did not throw a TD pass. He appears panicky in the pocket, and he may have a difficult time getting away from the New England Patriots defensive front.
The Patriots advanced to their fifth straight AFC Championship Game when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20. The Chiefs scored a late touchdown to make it a seven-point game, but New England scored early and appeared to be in charge throughout the majority of the contest.
The Patriots offense got a lift from the return of wideout Julian Edelman (foot), and that helped Tom Brady impose his will over a very good Kansas City defense.
Brady completed 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards, and Edelman caught 10 passes for 100 yards. Edelman's presence also seemed to help Rob Gronkowski, as the tight end caught seven passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
The fact that the Patriots scored on the first possession of the game, while the Broncos struggled to move the ball consistently until the fourth quarter, explains why the Patriots are favored on the road.
The Patriots appear to have the better offensive team, but they have never won a playoff game in Denver. They are 0-3 in the Mile High City in the postseason.
Look for the Patriots to end that streak in this game and survive by a touchdown or more.
The point spread in the NFC Championship Game is also three points, but the home team is favored in this game.
|Conference Championship Game Point Spreads and Predictions|
|Game||Date, Time (ET)||TV||Point Spread||Prediction|
|Arizona at Carolina||Jan. 24, 6:40 PM||Fox||Carolina -3||Carolina|
|New England at Denver||Jan.24, 3:05 p.m.||CBS||New England -3||New England|
|Odds Shark; Silverman prediction|
The Carolina Panthers emerged with a 31-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoff, and they were lights-out in the first half, as they rolled to a 31-0 lead at halftime.
While they clearly gave ground in the second half, their ability to make big plays early told the story in this game. Those big plays came from Jonathan Stewart in the running game, Cam Newton and Greg Olsen in the passing game, and Luke Kuechly on defense.
The Panthers will host the Arizona Cardinals, who needed to survive a tying Hail Mary TD pass from Aaron Rodgers and an overtime period to outlast the Green Bay Packers.
The Cardinals had the No. 1 offense in the NFL this season, and one of the primary reasons for their success was the big-play passing ability of Carson Palmer. However, Palmer looked shaky against Green Bay, and that victory proved to be the first postseason win of his career.
While Palmer threw for 349 yards with three touchdowns, he also threw two interceptions, and he had several other questionable passes that could have turned out to be disastrous. If he doesn't pick it up against Carolina, it may be quite difficult for the Cardinals to get the road win they need to earn a spot in the Super Bowl.
Look for the Panthers to take advantage of their home field and earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
SUPER BOWL PREDICTION
If our conference championship predictions of New England and Carolina hold up, those two teams would meet February 7 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, in Super Bowl 50.
This would be the game that many football fans have anticipated for the large majority of the season, because the Panthers have been so dominant in the NFC, while the Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Panthers have the likely MVP in Newton, although it appeared Brady was giving him a run for that honor in the first 10 weeks of the season. But even if Brady slowed down, he is clearly one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.
The game would also feature compelling matchups between head coaches Bill Belichick and Ron Rivera, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen, and two hard-hitting defenses.
The likelihood is that Belichick might come up with one or two wrinkles in his game plan that he has not shown before, and those surprises could cause trouble for the Panthers.
But while they may fall behind at some point, the Panthers have been the best team in the league all year, and they will find a way to pull out one of the most compelling Super Bowls in memory.
If the Broncos beat the Patriots, we like the Panthers or Cardinals to win the Super Bowl.
If the Cardinals upset the Panthers, the expectation is that the Patriots would win their second consecutive Super Bowl.
A tweet from Odds Shark has the Panthers listed at plus-200, the Patriots at plus-225, the Cardinals at plus-350 and the Broncos at plus-400 heading into the conference championship games.