WhatIfSports NFL Conference Championship predictions: Patriots, Panthers advance

On Sunday, for the fourth and potentially final time, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady lead their teams into the AFC championship game against one another. Manning has the 2-1 series lead in that regard (2-2 in total playoff meetings), but Brady is 11-5 when Manning is the starting quarterback for the opposing team.

However, as both QBs will quickly remind you, they technically don’t face the other person, they face the defense.

Brady already had his chance against the No. 1-ranked defense in Week 12. His team was winning 21-7 in the fourth quarter, but Brock Osweiler directed the Broncos down the field and produced on three scoring drives, including a five-play, 83-yard series to give Denver a three-point lead. Brady responded with a drive of his own to get in Stephen Gostkowski’s range for the game-tying field goal. In overtime, New England went three-and-out, while Denver scored the winning touchdown in only three plays.

In the loss, Brady threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns, despite being without the services of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Broncos only allowed 199.6 passing yards per game in the regular season. 

Both teams should have a point total in mind heading into the matchup. This season, the Patriots are 12-1 when scoring at least 27 points and 1-3 when scoring fewer than 27 points. The Broncos, meanwhile, are 13-1 when holding opponents to less than 27 points and 0-3 when surrendering 27 or more points.  

There is good and bad news for both teams after the computer simulated the AFC title game. In 501 simulations, New England won 56.2 percent of the time. However, with an average score of 22-20, Denver may have ample opportunities to prove the prediction wrong. 

Arizona at Carolina

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The Carolina Panthers rolled through the regular season and trounced the defending NFC champions in impressive fashion. Up next on the agenda? A date with the Arizona Cardinals with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. 

The Panthers have been one of the most dominant teams in recent history, but they haven’t faced an offense quite like Arizona’s. The two teams didn’t meet in the regular season, which adds some intrigue to the matchup. 

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is coming off a 349-yard, three touchdown performance in Arizona’s dramatic overtime win against the Green Bay Packers, carrying his team as the run game failed. Against Carolina’s second-ranked run defense, the Cardinals may have to rely on the arm of the 36-year-old once again as he tries to make his first Super Bowl appearance and Arizona’s first since 2008.

On the other side of the ball, Cam Newton will look to lead the Panthers to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. After jumping out to a 31-0 lead in the first half against the Seahawks in the Divisional Round, Newton wasn’t asked to do a whole lot the rest of the way. Still, the likely NFL MVP has been nearly mistake-free over the last nine weeks, racking up 27 total touchdowns with just one interception. 

New England at Denver
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
New England Patriots 56.2 22 Box Score
@ Denver Broncos 43.8 20 Simulate Game

In a battle of air against ground, which offense will get it done and lead its team to victory? According to our NFL simulation engine, the Panthers will keep their magical season alive with a hard-fought win at home. Our engine has the Panthers narrowly edging out the Cardinals by an average score of 20-19, winning the game 50.7 percent of the time. 

For additional content, view our NFL archive or sortable weekly NFL predictions.

Arizona at Carolina
Matchup Win % Avg. Score
Arizona Cardinals 49.3 19 Box Score
@ Carolina Panthers 50.7 20 Simulate Game