Arizona @ Carolina: Five keys to the NFC Championship Game

Larry Fitzgerald is key for Arizona
Larry Fitzgerald is key for Arizona

The first ever battle of two Heisman-winning QBs in a conference title game is set for Sunday and Neil Monnery looks at the five key clashes from the NFC Championship match-up...

"If Arizona are to win this game then Carson Palmer is going to have to sit in the pocket and throw the ball deep. Carolina are weak in the secondary, Josh Norman is great but he's just one man."

Arizona Cardinals v Carolina Panthers
Start-time: Sunday 23:40
TV: Live on Sky Sports

1) Larry Fitzgerald v Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis

When you need a play, you put the ball in the hands of your best player. Larry Fitzgerald is the only player who will play in this one who has already assured his place in the Hall of Fame after he retires. He has moved to the slot this year and played extremely well - the position has given him a new lease of life. Last Saturday night in overtime they went to him and he came up big with a huge 75-yard reception and run after the catch. He then took a shovel pass for the first time in his career for the winning score. On Sunday he comes up against two supreme linebackers for those slant routes. If Arizona are to win, they need to win this match-up.

Verdict: Always back Larry Fitz to get it done

2) Cam Newton's legs v Arizona's front seven

Cam Newton has had a year for the ages and is the first dual-threat quarterback who is going to win the MVP. I've never been much of a Cam fan but this year he has played lights out football. His biggest attribute has been decision making when running the option. He has rarely got it wrong and on Sunday he'll no doubt run the option 15-20 times in the game. If he makes the right decision more often than not, he can scamper for vital first downs.

Verdict: Cam's legs look good to me

3) Cam Newton's arm v the Arizona secondary

Even more impressive than Cam's legs has been Cam's right shoulder and arm, but mainly on the deep ball. He has not thrown the ball well on the short and intermediate routes. If he errs on these on Sunday then he could be in trouble because Arizona like to take the ball away. They are missing Patrick Peterson, a fine interception machine, but if the Arizona secondary can force Cam to throw to his #2 or #3 options, I like their chance of stealing a possession or two.

Verdict: Slight edge to Arizona

4) Carolina's secondary v the Arizona passing attack

Larry Fitzgerald got his own section earlier but Michael Floyd, JJ Nelson and Josh Brown can all go deep and create separation. If Arizona are to win this game then Carson Palmer is going to have to sit in the pocket and throw the ball deep. Carolina are weak in the secondary, Josh Norman is great but he's just one man. If you are able to isolate him and attack on the weaker defensive backs then I see big plays for the away team.

Verdict: Arizona passing attack, big

5) Carolina's concentration v Carolina stepping off the gas

Carolina have gotten out to big leads several times this season and let teams claw their way back to making a real game of it. They did it last week against Seattle, leading 31-0 at the half but needing to recover an onside kick at the end of the game to secure victory. They did it against New Orleans, the New York Giants and Indianapolis as well. If they take their foot off the gas at any point on Sunday, they might be in trouble because this Cardinals team are not mentally weak.

Verdict: Fear Carolina's penchant for stepping off the gas

Overall Verdict:

Carolina are the favourites, they are 15-1, they are under appreciated and quite simply, the better team. If Carolina play all 60 minutes I can't see them losing. Yet I think Bruce Arians is a brilliant offensive mind and he will put up points against the Carolina D, so it all depends on whether Arizona can stop Cam Newton and that potent Carolina offense. I find it hard to pick against Carolina but if you want any encouragement to pick the upset, look no further than these two words: Larry Fitzgerald.

Romilly Evans will be here later in the week for the full Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers betting preview and I'll be back in a fortnight with betting.betfair's Super Bowl 50 extravaganza (or a simple betting preview, either/or).

Neil Monnery NFL P/L 2015 Season

Staked - 211pts
Returned - 277.44pts
P&L - +66.44pts

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