This Sunday, the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals will clash in Charlotte with a trip to Super Bowl 50 on the line. It will be the third time the two teams will meet in the postseason, including the second straight year. Carolina defeated Arizona 27-16 last season in the NFC Wild Card. Carolina leads the all-time series, including playoffs, 9-5.
The Cardinals advanced to their second NFC Championship game in the Super Bowl era, the first time since 2008. The team is 20-5 at home during the last three years (both regular season and playoffs), which includes last week's wild 26-20 win in overtime against the Green Bay Packers. Quarterback Carson Palmer set franchise records for passing touchdowns, yards and quarterback rating this season. Against Green Bay, he nearly made several costly mistakes, but still passed for 349 yards and three touchdowns to secure his first playoff victory. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught eight receptions last week for 176 yards, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime. In eight career postseason games, Fitzgerald has 53 receptions for 912 yards and 10 touchdowns, tied for third-most in NFL playoff history. On defense, safety Rashad Johnson is tied with the injured Tyrann Mathieu for the team lead with five interceptions. Johnson had an interception last week and is the only player in the NFL with 15 or more interceptions and three or more interceptions returned for touchdowns since 2012. Veteran linebacker Dwight Freeney leads the team with nine sacks in 12 games this season, including one against the Packers last week.
The Panthers have advanced to the NFC Championship for the fourth time in franchise history, but just the first time since 2005. The Panthers had an NFL-best 10 selections to the Pro Bowl who buoyed their 15-1 season -- the best mark in club history. Carolina started out on fire last week against the Seattle Seahawks, leading 31-0 at one point. However, the Seahawks did make it interesting, shutting down the Panthers prolific offense in the second half and losing by just one touchdown, 31-24. While quarterback Cam Newton has been the team's leader all season, and arguably MVP of the NFL, it was running back Jonathan Stewart, who had 106 yards and two touchdowns on the ground last week, that propelled the Panthers to the NFC Championship. On defense, the team will look to continue to menace opposing quarterbacks. Carolina had five sacks and two interceptions against the Seahawks, including one interception returned for a touchdown by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has an interception in two career meetings versus Arizona. Special teams could also have an impact in this game, especially when it comes to kicker Graham Gano, who led the NFC with a franchise-record 146 points in the regular season.
Panthers blog: Cat Scratch Reader