If you aren’t sure which side to bet in Sunday’s games, thankfully we’ve enlisted the help of expert NFL bloggers to debate why their favorite team covers the spread in the Conference Championships.
Rich Hill of New England blog Pats Pulpit stands toe-to-toe with Kaptain Kirk of Denver blog Broncos Planet, while Jess Root of Arizona blog Revenge of the Birds trades blows with Bill Voth of Carolina blog Black and Blue Review.
AFC Championship – Patriots at Broncos (+3, 45)
WHY THE PATRIOTS WILL COVER
Richard Hill is an editor at Pats Pulpit. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @patspulpit.
Julian Edelman can’t be stopped
The New England offense was in pieces for the second half of the season, but the addition of wide receiver Julian Edelman to the Patriots offense seemed to provide a necessary spark. The Chiefs defense was the closest to the Broncos over the back half of the season, and the Patriots cut through it like butter. If Broncos cornerback Chris Harris is hurt, there’s no one in that defense that can match up with Edelman.
Peyton Manning isn’t very good
The Steelers were without their top two running backs and their top wide receiver. Their quarterback had torn ligaments in his shoulder. The Broncos still struggled to win because their offense was unable to produce, even though the Denver defense and special teams generated incredible field position. The Patriots are a much more difficult challenge.
The Patriots are much different that earlier in the year
When the Broncos won earlier this season, the Patriots were without receivers Edelman and Danny Amendola, and tight end Rob Gronkowski was injured before overtime. Linebackers Jamie Collins (the whole game) and Dont’a Hightower (the second half) missed time with injuries as well. These are the most important non-Tom Brady players on the Patriots. All of them will be available on Sunday.
WHY THE BRONCOS WILL COVER
Kaptain Kirk writes for Bronco Planet. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @broncoplanet.
Home field matters
The Broncos are 7-2 at Home this season and 3-1 at home against the Patriots in postseason play. Yes, Tom Brady is 11-5 head-to-head against Peyton Manning, but the only number that matters is this: Manning is 2-0 against Brady at Home in AFC Championship games.
Running the ball
Denver has their Run game going. They have averaged 134 yards over the last 4 games and ran for 179 yards and 3 Touchdowns in the last meeting, including a 48-yard scoring run by C.J. Anderson in Overtime.
The Broncos have forced 12 takeaways in the fourth quarter or overtime of their 16 regular-season games, more than all but two teams in the league. Ten of their 13 wins have been by seven points or fewer, tying the 1978 Houston Oilers for most such triumphs in a single season in NFL history. With 14 games decided near the end of the game, the Broncos are ‘battle-tested’ and will fight to the end.
NFC Championship – Cardinals at Panthers (-3, 47.5)
WHY THE CARDINALS WILL COVER
Jess Root writes for Revenge of the Birds. You can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter @revengeofbirds.
Carolina has proven to be vulnerable to precision passers like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. Carson Palmer can do that, too. Arizona’s passing game will stress the depleted Carolina secondary.
Revenge of their minds
This is a revenge game for Arizona. After their playoff loss in Carolina last year, this team is motivated. Just like Green Bay was able to use their loss to Arizona to keep the game close, Arizona seeks to avenge their loss.
Arizona’s defense is equipped to handle Carolina. They can stop the run and they cover well. With down the field handled and the run game limited, Carolina will be forced to dink and dunk, which they aren’t as good at.
WHY THE PANTHERS WILL COVER
Bill Voth is the founder of Black & Blue Review. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @BlackBlueReview.
Because the Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead last week before Newton even through a pass, their QB was pretty much a game manager the rest of the way. He’ll be asked to do more against the Cardinals, and as the soon-to-be MVP has proven all season long, he’ll be up for the challenge.
Panthers’ run game
Arizona had a top-10 defense against the run this season, but Carolina’s 2nd-ranked rush offense should be able to grind out plenty of yards. And with temperatures expected to be around 30 degrees, that’s a big advantage of the Panthers.
The Panthers’ break-out defensive tackle racked up 11 sacks during the season and added another last week against Russell Wilson. Carson Palmer isn’t nearly as mobile, and while the Cardinals’ line did a decent job in protection this year, most of their sacks allowed came from the interior of the line.