With a trip to Super Bowl 50 on the line, the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers will meet Sunday evening in the NFC Championship Game. The game will kick off at 6:40 p.m. ET, and you can catch it on Fox.
As we have come to learn, injuries can play a major role in the outcome of an NFL game. However, both participants in Sunday's game are mostly healthy.
Per Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com, defensive end Jared Allen will not play after suffering a fractured foot last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
After hearing he'll be in street clothes, Allen was peeved. "Not happy, plain and simple," he said. "I'm ready to rock. Coach's decision, and I have to live with it. I respect Coach, so I have to respect his decision. ... I'll support my guys and be the best cheerleader I can be this week."
Head coach Ron Rivera said that if the Panthers win the game, Allen would be in line to play in the Super Bowl.
"That's the thought process behind it. If there's an opportunity, that would be great, especially for him," Rivera said.
Rivera added that Kony Ealy will start in Allen's stead. To round out the injury report, Strickland noted that running backs Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and Fozzy Whittaker (ankle) are probable, as is defensive lineman Dwan Edwards (foot).
On the other side, the Cardinals appear to have their full complement of players. There are some notable names on the official injury report, including quarterback Carson Palmer (finger) and wide receiver John Brown (shoulder).
However, each player on the injury report is probable and fully participated in practice Friday. So barring any unexpected setbacks, you can expect everyone to be ready for Sunday's game.
Let's move on to a prediction for the game. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, recent history shows that the NFC title game is always competitive:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Last 8 NFC championship gms all decided by 7 pts or fewer. Before this stretch, longest such streak in one conference in SB era: 2 gms1/20/2016, 7:55:06 PM
In addition, snow has been pounding much of the East Coast, so the weather could be a factor and impact both teams.
The NFL playoffs are more complicated than this, but the games often come down to quarterback play. Both Palmer and Cam Newton have been great this season, but Newton is playing at another level.
Palmer got the win last week against the Packers, but he did throw two interceptions, including one that came on an awful decision in the red zone and took potential points off the board.
Newton is infinitely more trustworthy and, combined with the Panthers defense and running game, should give the home team the edge.
Prediction: Panthers win, 20-13.
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