Conference Championship NFL Quick Takes
Injuries Finally Catch up to the Patriots
This was the most important underlying story for New England this season, and something that casual fans may not have noticed when watching Sunday. The familiar names were out there, even if some were hobbled like Gronkowski. However, it was the new names (such as Dion Lewis) and the unsung heroes of the NFL, the offensive linemen, whose absence was more readily felt. Losing Lewis and Blount earlier in the season was bound to catch up to the Pats at some point, as it was clear that they couldn’t run the ball at all. Knowing that New England couldn’t run the ball, the Broncos were able to pressure Brady repeatedly and easily, as the injuries to the Patriots ravaged offensive line spelled their doom. Brady found himself in the Denver dirt many times on Sunday and never looked comfortable. At a certain point, you can’t overcome injuries like the Patriots suffered this year and expect to win it all.
Defense Wins for the Broncos Again
This is not the Super Bowl Broncos team of a few years ago, as it is the defense that is bringing them to the dance this time around. With edge rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller racing towards opposing quarterbacks and two lockdown corners taking away opposing wide receivers, it’s hard for offenses to ever get comfortable against the Broncos. On offense, all Peyton is asked to do is throw short routes and screens (aside from the occasional deep ball when necessary). They may not have run the ball as well as they would’ve liked, but the Broncos executed their overall game plan very well on Sunday. They play a very different team in the Super Bowl, so it’ll be interesting to see what they dial-up for Carolina.
Plenty of Blame to go Around in Arizona
Ok, so Carson Palmer played terribly on Sunday, there is no disputing this. However, let’s not let his play prevent us from turning our attention to the rest of his team. The first of Palmer’s six turnovers (ouch, just writing “six” makes me cringe) came after his defense already allowed 17 points in the first quarter and was a result of poor offensive line play. The Cardinals defense, a unit that has performed well this year, hadn’t shown up for either playoff game they played. The special teams allowed for some good returns from Carolina as well, and Palmer’s offensive line led to most of those turnovers that he gave up. Palmer was the most glaring offender to be sure, but this was certainly a “team” loss in more ways than one.
Cam has been Unleashed
The Panthers’ victory over the Cardinals on Sunday was a textbook example of team football. The defense generated plenty of turnovers, the special teams unit consistently set up the team with great field position, and the offense capitalized on all of these opportunities. However, the star of the game was Cam Newton, a player who has been the star of the league this season. Cam accounted for four of the touchdowns scored by the Panthers in this game, two of which came from his feet. Throughout the year, it seemed as if the Panthers were trying to keep Cam safe, minimizing the amount of designed running plays Cam was asked to do. With a total of 21 rushes over the past two weeks, Cam is running the ball much more often. Simply put, the Panthers have nothing left to save these Cam runs for. This is it, the Panthers have made the Super Bowl. If Cam continues the trend of his season, he will have a Super Bowl trophy to pair with his MVP that he is sure to win.
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