*Lines accurate as of Wednesday
New England Patriots (-4) @ Denver Broncos
Niko: Surprise, Surprise, rolling with the Pats. The Patriots will go into Mile High on Sunday, BURY the Broncos, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Mark Schlereth…. I’ll digress before I blow a gasket. Extended thoughts on this one coming in the Roundtable this weekend.
Matt N: I think this game is going to be much closer and tougher than most of New England thinks. First of all, the game is being played in one of places the Patriots cannot win, Mile High Denver, Colorado. The Patriots are 2-6 in Denver and most recently lost earlier this season after blowing a 14 point fourth quarter lead. They also got killed in the 2013 AFC Championship game, but that particular year, Tom was throwing to the likes of Kenbrell Thompkins and a Gronk-less offense. Denver also had one of the best offensive seasons of all time with respect to the '07 Pats. The Patriots on paper should win huge, but the ghosts of playing in Denver scare me. 27-16 Pats. On to Super Bowl 50.
Cole: No doubt, the Patriots are going to come out of this game AFC Champions however it is going to be a tough game. Peyton Manning always seems to pull out another skill level and take it up a notch in order to give the Brady bunch a run for their money. With Jules Rob and Dan all together again, the offense was able to click last week and with yet another week of practice under their belt they should carry their momentum into this week. As we've talked about on multiple occasions, Manning is getting older and won't be able to make the same throws, but he is still able to make adjustments at the line and without Mayo, the next man up will have to fill the void and shut them down in their own home.
Pete: This game is going to come down to execution. Can the Patriots' offense continue to keep things rolling? Can the running game for Denver be stopped? Can Noodle Arm muster up one final attempt at capturing his second Super Bowl? All these questions will be answered in our weekly Roundtable. Just a sneak peak: I am going to pick the Pats in a surprisingly easy game.
Andrew: The Patriots offense looked to return to form last weekend against the Chiefs. The return of Julian Edelman made as much of a difference as expected, if not more. The Patriots defense lived up to the Belichick motto of "Bend, Don't Break" and made plays when they had to. They will again against the Broncos with Captain Noodlearm at the helm. The Broncos will have to rely on their running game, but the Patriots know that. Having Hightower, Collins and Jones, present at practice Wednesday is a good first step. I like the Patriots, 31-20.
Arizona (+3) @ Carolina
Niko: Going to go with the home team Panthers here. Offensively I think they’ll do just enough, and defensively they should be able to hold Zona’s vertical attack at bay. I think the Cardinals will feel the absence of Tyrann Mathieu in this one; his big play ability on the defensive side of the football will be missed against Cam Newton and company. The Panthers and Pats have been the NFL’s best two teams all season long, and it’s only fitting they will represent each of their respective conferences in the Super Bowl.
Matt N: The NFC Championship game will definitely feature the two best teams of 2015. It's going to be a close game but I am going to take the home team here. The Panthers have looked nearly unstoppable losing only one game this season. The Cardinals have a solid balanced attack but they lack the explosiveness that the Panthers posses. The loss of safety Tyrann Mathieu does not help. I'm gonna say 24-21 Panthers. The stage is set for a Super Bowl XXXVIII rematch between the Panthers and Patriots.
Cole: Cam Newton and the Panthers should be able to take advantage of a somewhat depleted secondary of the Cardinals and punch their own ticket to Santa Clara. It would have been even sweeter for both the Panthers and the Pats to meet undefeated in the Super Bowl but it will be a great rematch and will grab a lot of attention in the weeks prior to it. It's going to be another great game to watch as Arizona is going to put everything on the line and I really want to pick them, but Newton is going to Dab on 'em a little too hard and keep them out of the Super Bowl. Go Pats
Pete: I think that the Panthers are probably an easier matchup for the Patriots if they are lucky enough to make it to the Super Bowl, but Cam and company are going to have to worry about getting past one hell of a Cardinals team first. In the end, I think that Carson Palmer plays just a little too conservatively, and the Panthers squeak out with a very unconvincing victory.
Andrew: Both Arizona and Carolina proves that they had weaknesses in their games. Arizona let a far inferior Packers team drag the game into overtime, albeit by an Aaron Rodgers miracle Hail Mary, but still the Cardinals should have handled that game easily. The Panthers jumped to a huge early lead, but the game was on the line with just over a minute left. They couldn't finish. They got by though. Since I predicted a Super Bowl XXXVIII rematch, I'm going with the Panthers, 28-24.