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Arizona versus Carolina: A conversation about the NFC Championship Game

January 24, 2016

 The following is a conversation between four strangers about this evening's NFC Championship game (click here for thoughts on the AFC game):

Even in the snow.
JOHN NOLAN: As much as this game on paper should be about the offenses and their respective playmakers, it’s the defenses that will decide who wins.

BRYAN HARVEY: If that’s the case, in Carolina we trust. I thought their first half performance against Seattle was stellar, even if it was just another example of God and the universe auditioning Russell Wilson for the role of savior. The second half of that game means less to me than the first half. On the other hand, something’s off with the Arizona defense. Maybe it’s the loss of free safety Tyrann Mathieu, but they gave up quite a few big plays last week against a Green Bay offense playing its sixth and seventh string wide receivers, a backup tight end, and an overweight Eddie Lacy. Cam could be carrying the whole team, city, and state today as if they were no heavier than Lois Lane.

JN: Losing the Honey Badger’s playmaking hurts the Cardinals in a big way.

CARLOS SAMPEDRO: Panthers, Panthers, Panthers!!! I had students ask me this week who would win the Super Bowl and I said, I guess the Panthers deserve the nod based on everything I’ve seen. BUT WHO REALLY LIKES THE DAMN PANTHERS!!!

HENRY THODE: This is probably the more entertaining game of the two today.

BH: It definitely has the reckless buzz of the nouveau riche about it.

HT: Will definitely be tough for the defenses to limit these offenses. I know you guys think the Cardinal defense isn’t what it was earlier in the season, but they still have the number one offense in yards per game and average over thirty points per game. The defense doesn’t have to be perfect.

JN: Didn’t mean to suggest the Cardinal defense is doomed. They’re playing against a subpar group of receivers aside from Greg Olsen.

BH: It’s definitely of note how both the Panthers in the NFC and the Patriots in the AFC have made it to this point without the benefit of big play receivers. Both rely on the tight end position, and in Carolina’s case, there are all those plays founded on the reality that Cam is the most athletic guy on the field week in and week out.

CS: I hate the Panthers. They don’t have great receivers. They don’t have a Hall of Fame running back. They have Cam. They have Cam and that’s it. I miss my childhood. I miss the great teams. I HATE THE PARITY!!!

BH: Not to stray too far from the topic of today’s game, but I understand the sentiments of your rant, Carlos. Today’s NFL obviously relies on great quarterback play, but, in some ways, less seems required from the other offensive positions on the field. I’m not saying that is the case just that it appears that way. Remember Baltimore’s first Super Bowl win. Everyone remembers that team, and rightfully so, for its amazing defense, but, little did we know, we were watching the offense of the future, minus Jamal Lewis. It was Trent Dilfer and Shannon Sharpe. The Patriots are essentially Brady and Gronk. The Panthers are Newton and Olsen. Gone are the offenses with All-Pro players at every position. If you have a quarterback and a system, you’re a contender, whether you have real playmakers or not. In a way, we’re living in the era of the glorified game managers.

CS: That’s why for me this game is all about Carson Palmer.

"Dear God! I hope Fitz runs far with it."
BH: He can’t do what he did last week. I don’t think the Panthers defensive backs will let him get away with what Green Bay’s Sam Shields left out there.

CS: He will probably complete something like 24 of 42 passes, but that’s less than 60%, which is exactly what he’s done all year.

BH: Maybe the real question then isn’t what Palmer does, but what his receivers do with those 24 catches. Can Larry Fitzgerald find the same amount of space and acceleration he found last week?

HT: As an offensive-minded person, I really am looking forward to this game. I don’t know if the defenses stop either team from putting up points, but if one of these offenses is out of sync at all, I think that team loses the game.

JN: I kind of agree with that. Whichever defense strings together a few stops or makes a big play on a takeaway will win the game.

CS: That’s why the Panthers, who I hate by the way, win this game. Cam’s a stud. He’ll do what he needs to do. He’ll win this game for his team.

BH: Would it surprise anyone if the Panthers jumped out to a huge lead just as they did last week against Seattle but only ended up winning by a touchdown or even a field goal? If you talk to a Panthers fan, they’ll describe this pattern as part of the team’s identity.

CS: Sure, but I just don’t believe in Palmer enough. He’s facing a tougher defense than Cam is. He’s going to feel pressure.

BH: He felt pressure last week.

JN: This will be a different kind of pressure. The Panthers have the best individual unit in the entire league. Their linebackers, led by Thomas Keuchly and Thomas Davis, have the speed and versatility to limit what the Cardinals can accomplish in the middle of the field. I also think Arizona will struggle to run the ball, which means Palmer could end up being punished.

BH: With impunity?

JN: Sure. With impunity.

BH: Sounds like everyone’s picking the Panthers.

JN: I think we’re all just here to watch Cam Newton do Cam Newton things.

Carlos Sampedro measures snowfall in Virginia, but only on the days he's not teaching. John Nolan is a teacher and baseball coach in the Commonwealth. Henry Thode is a teacher, coach, and athletic director in Virginia. Bryan Harvey teaches in Virginia and tweets @LawnChairBoys. Thanks for reading. 


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