NFL predictions: unfancied Broncos to meet Panthers in Super Bowl 50

时间:2019-11-16 责任编辑:窦廖辘 来源:正规十大赌博网站排名 点击:153 次

Perfection is an elusive goal. Just ask the 2007 . Or perhaps even this year’s Carolina Panthers team.

And yet, with just three games left to call in our Pick The Playoffs contest, 15 participants can still boast a perfect record. Hats off to antjclark, dvkzf1, fallonyou, GeoffreyManboob, GlennyTheElder, Gruagain, homebrewer, Humean, lawrencetaylor56, MADA71, MAG1964, peteym, Sonar, Steve Mansfield and tgiblin for correctly predicting the outcome of all eight postseason games so far. How many, if any, will maintain their hot streak through the conference championship weekend?

As ever, I shall post the full standings in the comments section below shortly. But first, here’s my breakdown of Sunday’s games.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos (Sunday 3pm ET/8pm GMT)

Just when you thought it was over, the rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning gets one final reboot. If this is to be the last time that they meet on the gridiron, then the setting feels appropriate. It is the fourth time that these two remarkable quarterbacks have met in an AFC Championship Game.

Tom Brady did the business against the Chiefs last Saturday – but he’s only 2-6 at Mile High Stadium. Photograph: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Perceptions of either are unlikely to be swayed much by the outcome. Those who measure greatness only in championships will still say that Brady was best even if he loses – pointing to the four Super Bowl rings he already owns. Those who consider a player’s individual statistics to be a more accurate measure of talent in a team sport will continue to make the case for Manning as the greatest of all time.

It is an argument that will never be settled, no matter how loud either side proclaims that it has. But what we can say with certainty is that Peyton Manning today, 39 years old and half a decade removed from neck surgery that would have ended a lesser competitor’s career, is no longer performing to anything like the same level as his rival.

We can see it in the numbers, which show Manning threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (nine) this season, and is picking up fewer yards per attempt (6.8) than at any time since his rookie year. This while Brady enjoys one of his best-ever statistical seasons, pairing the most touchdown passes in the league (36) with the fourth-best quarterback rating (102.2).

Or we could ignore the numbers and just rely on the eye test, observing how Manning’s passes flutter away from him in some moments and nosedive at others. By contrast, Brady has made New England’s short passing game so efficient that running the ball at all feels almost unnecessary. Against the Chiefs last Saturday, he dropped back to throw on all of Patriots’ first 14 plays.

It would be inaccurate to say that the Broncos must find way to win despite Manning on Sunday. He showed against Pittsburgh that he still knows how to lead a game-winning drive when required, and were it not for a scandalous volume of dropped passes in that game his final numbers might actually have looked pretty good. But they are not going to beat the Patriots because of him, either.

The Broncos will need to be solid on defense to beat the Patriots. Photograph: Hector Acevedo/ZUMA Press/Corbis

For the Broncos to triumph, they will need to lean on their defense and running game – just as they did during their overtime victory over New England with Brock Osweiler behind center back in week 12. Denver rushed for a combined 179 yards that day, while restricting their opponents to just two third-down conversions on 13 attempts.

There are reasons to believe the model can be repeated. For one thing, Gary Kubiak has done it before. As a head coach in Denver, and now Houston – as well as offensive co-ordinator in Baltimore in-between – he has faced the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots 12 times since 2000. , his teams have averaged 28.3 carries for 122.4 yards in these games, scoring a total of 19 touchdowns.

On top of this, we might consider the fact that . He is 2-6 in his career at Mile High Stadium, with the only two victories coming against Broncos teams that were quarterbacked by Tim Tebow and Danny Kanell.

Despite all this, the Patriots are listed as three-point favourites by the Las Vegas bookies. It is not hard to see why. They forced overtime in week 12 despite being without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on offense, as well as losing Rob Gronkowski before the end. With all of those players at full health, Brady carved apart a previously dominant Chiefs defense in divisional round.

The Patriots have made me regret picking against them already once in this postseason, and I can well imagine them doing it again. But right now my feeling is that the Broncos are being underestimated. Just because this may be the last time we see Manning and Brady face off, does not mean that the game will be all about them.

Broncos to win

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers (Sunday 6.40pm ET/11.40pm GMT)

What more could you ask for in a championship game? The Panthers and Cardinals were the two most successful teams in the regular season, posting records of 15-1 and 13-3 respectively. They were also the highest-scoring, with Carolina averaging 31.2 points per game and Arizona 30.6.

Their matchup is already , with Cam Newton and Carson Palmer becoming the first two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks ever to meet in a playoff game. Not that either man is trading on past glories. to be named as the league’s Most Valuable Player next month, with Palmer a strong contender to be his runner-up.

Each has taken his game to a new level this season. Newton’s 35 passing touchdowns were 11 more than he managed in his previous best season, and all the more impressive for the fact that they were achieved after the team’s No1 wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, tore his cruciate ligament in preseason.

Will Cam Newton be celebrating a trip to the Super Bowl? Photograph: Bob Leverone/AP

And then there is Newton’s running ability to consider. The Cardinals are familiar with dual threat quarterbacks – they share a division with one of the best in Russell Wilson – but do not appear to match up well with this one. Their defense thrives on aggression, blitzing more often (45% of the time) than any other team in the league. (19) against the blitz than any other quarterback this season.

But Carolina’s defense will face a significant challenge of its own. Barely 14 months removed from major knee surgery, Palmer has just posted the best regular season passer rating (104.6) of his 13 year career. The achievement is no accident. He used his rehabilitation period to refine his passing mechanics, and improve his lower body strength – producing even more zip on his already impressive deep ball.

The greatest dilemma facing the Panthers is how best to marshal the many weapons at Palmer’s disposal. Josh Norman is capable of taking almost any receiver out of a game, but he alone cannot keep tabs on all three of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd.

It will certainly help their cause if they are able to stifle Arizona’s running game, and here they have good reasons to feel confident. The Cardinals have struggled to open up lanes for David Johnson against Seattle and Green Bay over the past two weeks, and there is some sense that their offensive line may be flagging. Against the league’s fourth-ranked rush defense that would be a major concern.

Carson Palmer hasn’t been the same since a dislocated finger against the Eagles in December. Photograph: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

So too might be the tape wrapped around the index finger of Palmer’s throwing hand. The digit was dislocated during a win over Philadelphia in December, and although both the quarterback and his coaches have insisted that it is nothing to worry about, his passing numbers suggest otherwise. In three games since the injury, Palmer’s completion percentage has dropped to below 60%, and his six touchdowns have been offset by four interceptions.

There were times against the Packers when apparently straightforward throws flew alarmingly off target. It is possible that such mistakes were simply the result of nerves from a player chasing his first ever playoff win. But the Cardinals will be in trouble if they are repeated on Sunday against opponents who led the league in interceptions.

Panthers to win