AFC North Championship Predictions

AFC North Championship Predictions
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Denver will need to hit Brady early and often to take out the Patriots. They started by taking shots at him in the media this week.
Welcome to the AFC North predictions page!
This postseason, our AFC North feature writers will be listing their picks for every playoff game and be forced to explain why they voted as they did. Keep in mind that these picks are for entertainment purposes only, and in no way should be used to influence gambling or illegal activity, unless you’re smart enough to recognize that we know more than you because we publish things.
NFL Division round match-ups:
New England Patriots (13-4) @ Denver Broncos (13-4), Sunday 3:05pm, CBS
Arizona Cardinals 14-3) @ Carolina Panthers (16-1), Sunday 6:40pm FOX
The early game features a dream but much overanalyzed matchup between two future hall of fame QBs Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, although Manning looks like a shell of his former self. The game also features two of the league’s top head coaches including one future hall-of-famer, and Josh McDaniels, the current Patriots offensive coordinator who coached the Broncos to their worst record since their AFL days. His tenure in Denver was also marred by a videotaping scandal, purely coincidental of course.
The late game is a matchup of the NFC’s best and most consistent teams of 2015 and two former #1 overall draft picks in Carson Palmer and Cam Newton. Palmer’s path has not been quite a smooth as Cam’s with three teams and as many major injuries, but both were at the top of their game this season.
Last week the AFC North writers went 13-3 after a 14-2 wildcard week. It hasn’t hurt that the favorites have gone 8-0 in the playoff so far. Wernike has taken the least number of risks (zero), and therefore has the lead with just three games remaining.
On to the games:
Michael Thompson (record 6-2):
Patriots 23, Broncos 27
In the battle of two venerable quarterbacks, home field advantage will help Peyton Manning emerge victorious over Tom Brady, sending one of the greatest of all time to his third Super Bowl appearance in what will probably be his final season of a distinguished career.
Cardinals 20, Panthers 31
The Panthers have emerged as the best team in the NFL this season. The Cardinals struggled against the depleted Packers at home and have to make the journey east that has spelled trouble for them in the past. The Panthers will avenge the defeat they suffered at the Cardinals’ hands at the end of the Delhomme era in Charlotte. They will ride star quarterback Cam Newton’s arm and legs to the Super Bowl.
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Paul Johansson (record 6-2):
Patriots 24, Broncos 19
This is a tough one. Bronco players have followed the Ravens lead with pregame Brady bashing in the press, which didn’t seem to hurt them. Denver is not an easy place to play and their defense is statistically the best in the league. They do have a few holes however, and Bill Belichick will exploit them IF Tom Brady has time to throw. After watching Peyton arm in action last week, I can’t imagine the Patriots defense will have to worry about the deep ball. If the Broncos can’t run the ball well, they will struggle.
Cardinals 20, Panthers 27
Carson Palmer played extremely tight last week in critical situations. Perhaps his first career playoff victory will allow him to relax in the NFC Championship game. On the other side, the Cardinals defense looked strong, at least for 59 minutes. Their opponent, Carolina, played so well in the first half that they coasted the rest of the way. I doubt they will make the same mistake again this week.
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Jack Crawford (record 7-1):
Patriots 24, Broncos 27
Close, but ugly, which is becoming typical for the Broncos and their defense, which is expected to hold serve for this game. The Patriots rarely have to travel during their playoff runs, and that will make the difference. Expect Denver QB Peyton Manning to take few chances, as the Broncos’ best attack against the Patriots should be conservative and mindful of the clock.
Cardinals 27, Panthers 31
The league’s top two scoring teams will be a bit muted, as their underrated defenses will try to limit what each team does best. The Cardinals will most likely attack down the field with their stable of excellent wideouts (and marked lack of running backs), while the Panthers will incorporate more of a running approach (at least early) to take advantage of possible MVP quarterback Cam Newton’s rushing talents.
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Wernike Korsakoff (record 8-0):

Patriots 24, Broncos 20
Denver’s defense delivering a superlative game is the only way the Broncos win, and that defense hasn’t been playing as well as it did during the first half of the season. New England gets back some weapons on offense while Denver battles injuries on defense. Denver’s running game has been poor all season, and Manning’s (broken) shoulders can’t carry Denver.
Cardinals 34, Panthers 28
It’s unlikely that two of the league’s better defenses collapse and end up trying to survive a shootout, but stranger things have happened. Carson Palmer looked shaky at times against Green Bay last week, but Carolina came an onsides kick recovery away from squandering a 31 point lead themselves. Look for a streaky game that heats up in the last ten minutes.
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