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Labriola on Conference Championships

Posted Jan 23, 2016

It's Brady vs. Manning in AFC, but is Cam Newton the best of them all?

The following is a look at the matchups for this weekend’s Conference Championship Games.:

SUNDAY AFTERNOON
NEW ENGLAND at DENVER

PLAYOFF RECORD
Patriots     29-18
Broncos    21-19

CURRENT COACH’S PLAYOFF RECORD
Gary Kubiak          3-2
Bill Belichick        23-9

BROADCAST
CBS at 3:05 ET

Skinny: The Patriots have an 8-4 record in AFC Championship Games (5th consecutive Championship Game appearance, tied with Raiders for longest streak since 1970). With win, Pats will advance to 9th Super Bowl in club history (4-4). 1st team in NFL history to win 12 division titles in 13 seasons. BILL BELICHICK (23) has most postseason wins of any head coach in NFL history. Belichick & QB TOM BRADY (22) have most postseason wins by head coach-QB duo. Brady’s 22 postseason wins are most of any QB in NFL history. Brady is all-time leader in career playoff passing yards (7,647), TDs (55), completions (711) & attempts (1,127). TE ROB GRONKOWSKI led team with 11 TD catches in 2015 & is only TE in NFL history with 5 career 10-TD seasons … The Broncos have a 16-5 (.762) home postseason record, 4th-best all-time among AFC clubs (min. 10 games). Broncos are 7-2 (.778) in AFC Championship Games, highest all-time win percentage (min. 5 games). Won AFC West for 5th consecutive season (tied for 5th-longest streak in NFL history) & 15th time overall…GARY KUBIAK (12) tied RED MILLER (1977) for most wins by head coach in 1st season with Broncos…QB PEYTON MANNING ranks 2nd in playoff history in passing yards (7,022), completions (619) & attempts (972), trailing only TOM BRADY (711 of 1,127 for 7,647 yards). Manning (38) ranks 4th all-time in postseason TD passes.

Impact on the playoffs: Throughout most of the 2015 regular season, the Broncos defense was regarded as the NFL’s best and the unit will need to play to that level for Denver to advance to Super Bowl 50. And that’s because Peyton Manning isn’t going to be able to defeat the Patriots defense with his right arm. In the Divisional Round win over the Steelers, Manning triggered just two pass plays of 30-plus yards, and the ball didn’t travel 30 yards on either of them. Neither Manning nor Tom Brady like to be pressured, and Denver and New England were the Nos. 1-2 sack defenses in this past regular season, respectively. If the Broncos can get their running attack going with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, maybe that allows Manning to make some necessary plays in the passing game, but can Denver score enough points to beat Brady? Even without Antonio Brown, the Steelers put up 311 net yards passing against the Broncos, and Denver is going to have to find an answer for Rob Gronkowski, who caught two touchdown passes in New England’s Divisional Round win over Kansas City.

* * *

SUNDAY EVENING
ARIZONA at CAROLINA

PLAYOFF RECORD
Cardinals        7-8
Panthers         8-6

CURRENT COACH’S PLAYOFF RECORD
Bruce Arians        1-1
Ron Rivera          2-2

BROADCAST
FOX at 6:15 p.m. ET

Skinny: Arizona advanced to its 2nd NFC Championship Game (2008) in SB era. Won NFC West for 1st time since 2009. Set franchise record with 13 regular-season wins. Scored team-record 489 points (30.6 avg.) & led NFL in total offense (408.3 yards per game) in regular season. Club has won 10 regular-season games in all 3 seasons under head coach BRUCE ARIANS. Arians has 35-15 overall record (.700) with Az (incl. playoffs). His 35 wins are most in 3-year span in franchise history. WR LARRY FITZGERALD had 8 catches for 176 yards & GW-TD in OT last week. In 8 postseason games, has 53 catches for 912 yards (114 per game) & 10 TDs. His 10 TD catches are tied for 3rd most in NFL postseason history & he is fastest in NFL history to reach 10 postseason rec. TDs. Has 3 playoff games with 150 rec. yards, most in SB era … Carolina advanced to its 4th NFC Championship Game & 1st since 2005. Host NFC CG for 1st time. Clinched home-field advantage for 1st time in franchise history. Won NFC South for 3rd consecutive season & have won division 6 times. Won franchise-record 15 games in regular season. Head coach RON RIVERA has won division in 3 of 5 seasons with Carolina. QB CAM NEWTON is only player in NFL history with 30 pass TDs (35) & 10 rush TDs (10) in season. Passed for 3,837 yards & rushed for 636 yards in regular season. Is only player in NFL history with 3,000 pass yards & 500 rush yards in 5 seasons. Has 31 career regular-season games with pass TD & rush TD, tied for most in NFL history (HOFer STEVE YOUNG). Had 3 games with 5 TD passes.

Impact on the playoffs: During Carolina’s win over Seattle in the Divisional Round last weekend, the point was made that Cam Newton was what Tennessee had hoped Vince Young would have become. Newton has to be the odds-on favorite to be voted the NFL’s Player of the Year, and the Cardinals defense can be expected to make him its top priority. Red zone efficiency can be expected to be an important element of this game, and both the Panthers and Cardinals are accomplished in that area of the field, both offensively and defensively. The Cardinals know they have to have some answers for Carolina TE Greg Olsen, who caught 77 passes for seven touchdowns during the regular season, just as surely as the Panthers know they have to have some answer for Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald, who caught 109 passes during the regular season and showed once again the kind of singular impact he can make in a game during overtime of the Divisional Round Game vs. Green Bay. If the game comes down to the two kickers, Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro missed five PATs over the course of the regular season.

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