This weekend we’ve made it to the NFL’s version of The Final Four. The winners of Sunday’s Conference Championship Games will meet in Super Bowl X.
Here are 5 things to watch during each of these fantastic matchups between the Patriots & Broncos in the AFC, as well as the Cardinals & Panthers in the NFC.
AFC: New England Patriots (13-4) @ Denver Broncos, Sunday 2:05pm CST:
- Quarterbacks Tom Brady & Peyton Manning are squaring off for the 17th time. Brady still looks like he could play several more years in the league, but Manning has missed games this year due to a foot injury. This may not only be Manning’s final shot to reach another Super Bowl, if the Broncos lose, it may be his final game, period. Father Time has caught up with Manning, and this is likely the final chapter of the Brady/Manning storied rivalry.
- DeMarcus Ware, the all-time sacks leader for the Cowboys, is a starting linebacker for the Broncos. One of the most popular players in recent Cowboys history, surely there will be some Cowboys fans rooting for Ware to make his first trip to a Super Bowl. Ware teams with Broncos linebacker Von Miller, a former Texas A&M star, to create the most feared pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
- On the subject of Cowboys ties to this matchup, the Broncos’ defensive coordinator is former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips. He leads the NFL’s top ranked defense in total yards allowed as well as passing yards allowed. A win by the Broncos also gives Phillips his first trip to a Super Bowl.
- The Broncos & Patriots met in the AFC Championship Game two years ago in Denver. The Broncos won the game 26-16 to advance to the Super Bowl where they got drilled by the Seahawks, losing in embarrassing fashion 43-8.
- These two teams played each other earlier this season on November 29th in Denver and the Broncos won 30-24 with backup QB Brock Osweiler filling-in for the injured Peyton Manning (foot).
NFC: Arizona Cardinals (14-3) @ Carolina Panthers (16-1), Sunday 5:40pm CST:
- The Panthers were the best team in the entire NFL during the regular season and fell just one game short of becoming only the second team undefeated team in NFL history (Miami Dolphins, a perfect 17-0 in 1972).
- Cardinals QB Carson Palmer and Panthers QB Cam Newton are having terrific seasons and both are seeking their first trip to the Super Bowl. Both franchises have made only one appearance in a Super Bowl, losing their lone shots at a title.
- The Cardinals certainly have a high-flying offense with Palmer targeting future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the passing game, along with speedy, dynamic receiver John Brown. But Cam Newton and the Panthers offense actually scored more points during the 2015 regular season. The Panthers finished with a league-high 500 points; the Cardinals finished second with 489 points.
- If you enjoy watching Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, you’ll enjoy Panthers tight end Greg Olsen who made the Pro Bowl season. Olsen was Cam Newton’s favorite target this year, finishing the regular season with 77 catches for 1,104 yards. Olsen is the Panthers’ go-to guy!
- If you appreciate a stout defense, wow, you’re in for a treat. Panthers linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly both made the Pro Bowl this year, and they are truly a dynamic duo. They are tackling machines who force turnovers. And Panthers cornerback Josh Norman is one of the top cover corners in the league. He’s the player who shut down Dez Bryant when the Panthers stomped the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.