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These two teams owned the best records in the NFL this season, as Carolina ran rampant through the competition en route to a 15-1 record, while the Cardinals went 13-3 and had the league’s best point-differential up until a hiccup in the final week of the season. Everyone left playing at this point in the year is obviously good, but this is truly a clash of heavyweights.
Here’s a complete look at the all the betting info, along with a prediction and pick against the spread for the NFC Championship:
Cardinals vs. Panthers Betting Info
Spread: Carolina (-3.5)
Moneyline: Arizona (+145), Carolina (-165)
Cardinals vs. Panthers Prediction
The big storyline here is what happens when the Cardinals possess the ball. In terms of yards per play, Arizona finished the season No. 1 on offense, while Carolina was No. 2 on defense. If you want to go with more advanced numbers, Arizona was No. 4 in Football Outsiders’ offensive rankings, and Carolina was No. 2 defensively.
It’s elite strength vs. elite strength.
Interestingly enough, though, both units have struggled a bit down the stretch. Carson Palmer, who played MVP-level football for most of the year, has thrown four interceptions in his last three games, while the Panthers defense has allowed 300 yards passing to opposing quarterbacks in three straight.
The latter is important, because it coincides with the injury to slot cornerback Bene Benwikere. Since he was replaced by Cortland Finnegan, the Panthers’ secondary has allowed 7.3 yards per passing attempt, which is more league average than league best. Making matters worse for the Panthers, Finnegan is likely to see a lot of work against Larry Fitzgerald, one of the most prolific wide receivers in playoff history.
They can bring Luke Kuechly to help out on Fitz, but that opens the field for Arizona’s array of other offensive playmakers like David Johnson and John Brown or Michael Floyd (whoever isn’t being covered by Josh Norman). Ultimately, Arizona’s offense will get the best of Carolina’s defense.
The Panthers can clearly put up points, as well, but with Patrick Peterson on Ted Ginn, and converted safety Deone Bucannon having the athleticism at linebacker to match up against Greg Olsen, the Panthers’ best target in the passing game, Arizona will be able to do enough defensively to return to the Super Bowl.
PICK: Cardinals 27, Panthers 24 (Cardinals SU, Cardinals ATS, Over)