Super Bowl 2016: AFC, NFC Conference Championship Predictions and Vegas Odds

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2016

FILE - At left, in an Oct. 23, 2014, file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning calls a play against the San Diego Chargers during an NFL football game in Denver. At right, in a Sept. 29, 2014, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady points on the line of scrimmage during an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. New England has little time to savor its fourth straight win, a 51-23 pounding of the Chicago Bears. Tom Brady versus Brock Osweiler just doesn't have the same Hall of Fame ring to it. Still, when Brady leads his undefeated Patriots into Denver on Sunday night, Nov. 29, 2015 the game will have plenty of significance. (AP Photo/File)
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The four teams that will face off in the final hurdle en route to Super Bowl 50 have emerged from a divisional weekend packed with action, and they represent the heavyweights in each conference. 

The first-seeded Denver Broncos and the second-seeded New England Patriots represent the balance of power in the AFC Championship Game, while the NFC will be represented by the first-seeded Carolina Panthers and the second-seeded Arizona Cardinals. 

The bracket below includes all the information you need to know about the schedule and television broadcasts for championship weekend.

In addition, let's break down predictions for each matchup and the Las Vegas odds heading into the games. 


AFC Championship Game: Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots

DateStart TimeBroadcastOdds
Sun., Jan. 243:05 p.m. ETCBSNE -2.5
Odds via Odds Shark

The Broncos may be the top seed heading into the AFC Championship Game, but the Patriots are the Vegas favorites to win the conference title and advance to Super Bowl 50.

It's surprising that the Patriots aren't bigger favorites heading into the matchup.

New England ranked higher in passing offense (fifth) and points scored per game (third) than Denver (14th and 19th, respectively) during the 2015 regular season and looked more convincing in its win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round than did Denver versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

The Broncos featured a more productive run game than New England, mainly because they have been leaning on C.J. Anderson rather than taking a committee approach as the Patriots do. 

As for the defensive side of the ball, though Denver finished first in the league in total defense in the regular season, the Broncos had a turnover differential of minus-4, the worst in the league.

Simply put, the Broncos defense could not create enough opportunities to make up for the mistakes of the offense. 

And as Paul Hembekides of ESPN Stats & Information pointed out, that makes the Patriots an especially bad matchup for the Broncos considering that under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, New England has never lost in the postseason when it has won the turnover margin.

Moreover, Peyton Manning had the worst ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions in the regular season at 0.53 after throwing nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. 

Unless the Broncos front seven can severely disrupt Tom Brady and prohibit him from getting the ball out, this matchup leans heavily toward New England. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Broncos 24


NFC Championship Game: Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals 

DateStart TimeBroadcastOdds
Sun., Jan. 246:40 p.m. ETFoxCAR -4
Odds via Odds Shark

Carolina is the clear favorite heading into the NFC title game, but in truth, the Panthers and Cardinals are much more evenly matched and will make for a compelling championship game.

While the Patriots-Broncos matchup features the classic clash of Brady vs. Manning, the Panthers-Cardinals tilt is the first title-game outing for both Carson Palmer and Cam Newton.

The Panthers bring a run game that can attack a team in multiple ways and a mobile quarterback who also happened to be one of the league's best passers in 2015. 

But while the Cardinals' strengths fall mostly on the arm of Palmer, the development of rookie running back David Johnson has made them a multidimensional offense that will prove a worthy test for Carolina's stout defense. 

A big question for the Cardinals heading into the matchup centers on Palmer's injured finger, which clearly gave him a lot of trouble in the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers.

Though it's hard to separate how much of his below-average performance against the Packers was due to the injury versus playing on the big stage, he'll have to get it together against the Panthers or this game could quickly turn ugly. 

Don't expect anyone to get left in the dust in this game, but it will be clear by the end, as it has been all season, that the Panthers are the cream of the NFC crop. 

Prediction: Panthers 28, Cardinals 24


Odds via Odds Shark and current as of Jan. 19.