The NFC Championship pits the top two seeds for the fourth time in the last seven seasons as Arizona travels cross-country to face Carolina. The Panthers came within two victories of finishing the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record, but lost in Week 16 at Atlanta. Carolina concluded the season with a franchise-best 15-1 mark, while wrapping up its third consecutive NFC South title.
Arizona closed out its best season since moving to the desert in 1988 by compiling a 13-3 record and its third NFC West championship since 2008. The Cardinals outlasted the Packers, 26-20 in an exciting divisional playoff showdown capped off by a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown in overtime. Arizona allowed a Hail Mary touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to force overtime, but it took the Cardinals just three plays to get into the end zone and advance to its second NFC Championship game. Bruce Arians’ club failed to cash as seven-point favorites, dropping its home ATS record to 1-6 in the final seven games at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Panthers have yet to lose at Bank of America Stadium this season, posting a perfect 9-0 record after holding off the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks, 31-24. Carolina managed to cash at home for the seventh time this season, covering as 2 ½-point favorites even though the ‘Cats were outscored, 24-0 in the second half. Ron Rivera’s squad jumped out to a commanding 31-0 halftime edge, highlighted by linebacker Luke Kuechly returning an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter.
The Cardinals and Panthers meet in the playoffs for the second straight season as Carolina eliminated Arizona in the Wild Card round, 27-16. Arizona didn’t have the services of starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who tore knee ligaments midway through the 2014 campaign. The Cardinals settled on Ryan Lindley under center, who was limited to 82 yards passing and threw a pair of interceptions. Carolina’s defense limited Arizona to 78 total yards, the fewest yards ever compiled in a playoff game. Cam Newton tossed two touchdowns to help the Panthers pick up the cover as 5 ½-point home favorites.
The home team has won the last four meetings in this series since 2010, as Newton’s NFL debut came at Arizona in 2012. The Heisman Trophy winner racked up 422 yards passing in his first professional game, including a pair of touchdown passes to Steve Smith, Sr. However, the Panthers fell short in a 28-21 loss as Cardinals’ cornerback Patrick Peterson broke a 21-21 tie with an 89-yard punt return for a score in the fourth quarter. Arizona last won at Bank of America Stadium as a 10-point underdog in the divisional round of the 2008 playoffs, 33-10 en route to their first Super Bowl appearance.
Arizona dominated on the highway this season by compiling a 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS record away from University of Phoenix Stadium. The lone loss occurred in Week 6 at Pittsburgh, a 25-13 defeat as 5 ½-point favorites as the Cardinals scored just three points in the second half. Arizona was listed as a road underdog only once this season, but came out with a 39-32 victory at Seattle as three-point ‘dogs in Week 10. Since November 2013, the Cardinals have won 12 of 14 road games started by Palmer, while covering in all four opportunities as an underdog.
There aren’t many strong trends recently in the NFC Championship even though four of the last eight title games have reached overtime. Road teams have won three of the past six NFC title contests with the 2012 49ers being the last club to accomplish this feat at Atlanta. Underdogs own a 5-3 ATS record in the past eight championships, while home favorites are 1-4 ATS in the last five opportunities since 2007. The ‘over’ has cashed in seven of the last 10 title games, as the winning team has scored at least 28 points six times.
From a totals perspective, the Cardinals eclipsed the ‘over’ in five of eight road games, but the ‘under’ has cashed in six of the past seven contests overall. The Panthers owned a 6-2-1 record to the ‘over’ at Bank of America Stadium, while hitting the ‘over’ in six of the last eight games overall. Carolina has cashed the ‘over’ in each of their past three playoff games, but none of those totals were higher than 41 ½.
There hasn’t been much line movement in this contest, as the Panthers opened up as three-point home favorites and that number has stayed the same for the most part. The total is hovering between 47 and 47 ½ as temperatures are expected to be in the mid-40’s at kickoff and dropping into the high 20’s in the second half. The game kicks off at 6:40 PM EST and can be seen nationally on FOX.