NFC Championship Game 2016: Winner, Score Predictions for Cardinals vs. Panthers

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2016

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 3: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers takes a snap against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game on January 3, 2015 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It would be difficult to create an NFC Championship Game matchup between teams with less history than the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers, which is part of what makes this an exciting showdown. 

The Cardinals and Panthers have combined for just two Super Bowl trips (both losses), and their limited success in recent years gives fans an opportunity to see plenty of new faces on the biggest stage. 

MVP candidates Carson Palmer and Cam Newton are the stars of this showdown, both seeking their first trip to the Super Bowl.

Here's a look at all the info you'll need to prepare for the game followed by a preview of the matchup:  

NFC Championship Game
DateTime (ET)Matchup (Spread)TV
Sunday, Jan. 246:40 p.m.Cardinals at Panthers (-3)Fox
Spread from Odds Shark

NFC Championship Game Preview

Winning in Carolina has been a tough task this season, but if any quarterback is up for the challenge, it is Carson Palmer. 

Since taking over as the Cardinals' starting quarterback in 2013, Palmer is a remarkable 13-4 on the road, and he is in the midst of a stretch in which he's won 11 of his last 12 road starts. 

An underrated matchup in this game could be between the head coaches, especially on the offensive side of the ball. 

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is a former defensive coordinator, so the offensive construction primarily falls to offensive coordinator Mike Shula. 

In his seventh year as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, this is the first season in which Shula's unit has ranked higher than 18th in scoring offense. 

In eight career postseason games, Shula's offenses—both in Carolina and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the late 1990s—have been held to 10 points or fewer on three occasions. 

Mike Shula Playoff Losses as OC
Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

After the Panthers were shut out in the second half against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, their offensive production is a minor concern entering the NFC Championship Game. 

On the other side of the field, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has a fantastic track record in the playoffs, making multiple appearances with the Pittsburgh Steelers, including as offensive coordinator in their most recent Super Bowl victory in 2008. 

Arians even helped lead the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs in 2002 as their OC with Kelly Holcomb as his quarterback; the team scored 33 points in a playoff loss to the Steelers.

Regardless of the coaching, with two MVP candidates at quarterback and two of the league's most dominant defenses, the NFC Championship Game has the potential to be a classic.

Given Palmer's road success, a slight edge in coaching for Arizona and an otherwise even matchup on defense, the Cardinals enter this game with a slight advantage.

Prediction: Cardinals 27, Panthers 24 


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