Well, here we are. Championship Sunday. Football's Final Four.
In the NFC, we have the top seeded Carolina Panthers going up against the Arizona Cardinals. It's the first playoff meeting in NFL history between starting quarterbacks who both won the Heisman Trophy (Palmer was the 2002 winner while Newton won it in 2010). Another interesting nugget about these two quarterbacks? Cam Newton had more rushing yards this season (636) than Carson Palmer has had in his entire 13-year NFL career (424). If that doesn't get your head spinning I don't know what does.
Over in the AFC, we have Brady-Manning XVII. Is anybody else getting just a bit tired of all the hype this matchup gets whenever they play? Don't get me wrong, it'll be a great game, but this isn't like the days of old when these two titans were at the top of their game. There's no denying Peyton's numbers have dropped this year, especially when you consider that Brady has thrown more touchdowns at Denver's Sports Authority Field this year (3) than Manning has (1). If Denver wins Sunday, it'll be because of their defense. They just need Peyton to manage the game and hand the ball off. I think even the most ardent Broncos fan would agree with that.
So get ready for a wild Sunday. To quote Ron Burgundy (again): "Let's go over the ground rules. Rule one: No touching of the hair or face. And that's it. NOW LET'S DO THIS!"
On to the ratings.
Moving On Up
I know his team isn't playing this Sunday, but I have to give Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jeff Janis props for his performance against the Cardinals. The unknown receiver stepped up big after Randall Cobb went down early with an injury. Janis had seven receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including catching Aaron Rodgers's Hail Mary pass at the end of regulation. Janis is up two points this week to 73 OVR. Imagine what Green Bay's receiving corps will look like next season when Jordy Nelson comes back. Yikes.
Patriots cornerback, and newly minted Pro Bowler, Malcolm Butler is up two points to 85 OVR. The Super Bowl XLIX hero had a strong season and will need to be a lockdown defender in the AFC Championship Game. Despite the number of drops Broncos receivers have had lately they are still a dangerous bunch who make big plays when it counts the most.
Moving On Down
Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart is down a point to 89 OVR. It's kind of hard to fathom that drop when you consider how big a factor he was against the Seattle Seahawks. Stewart totaled 106 rushing yards on 19 carries and had two touchdowns. His long run at the beginning of the game really set the tone for the Panthers offense. Carolina can only hope he starts the same way against the Cardinals.
Carson Palmer got his first playoff win last week against the Green Bay Packers, but he struggled at times. He threw two interceptions and kept the game a lot closer than it should have been. The Cardinals will need him to get off to a fast start against Carolina if they want any chance of winning on the road. He's down a point to 97 OVR.
Great Caesar's Ghost
We interrupt the Madden ratings to bring you this week's top news story: Astronomers have discovered a ninth planet! That's pretty insane. I'm about to have a baby girl and I was really looking forward to using the crazy old man phrase, "When I was your age our solar system had nine planets." What a bummer. Thanks, Obama.
Six bold predictions for Sunday
6.Tom Brady and the Patriots are out for revenge this Sunday. That Week 12 loss in Denver started a downward spiral that saw them finish the season 2-4, a very un-Patriot way to close out the year. The Broncos deserve all the credit in the world for the way they battled back in that game. But, with that loss still fresh in their minds and with all the trash talk that's come out of the Broncos locker room this week, Brady will have the offense clicking. The Golden Boy goes for over 400 yards for the first time in his postseason career.
5.Peyton Manning will have more touchdown passes than interceptions. Did you just do a spit-take when you read that? I'll wait while you clean up. I know, it's hard to believe, especially when you consider Manning threw one touchdown and eight interceptions at home this season. I'm not saying he's going to go nuts and throw five touchdowns. He'll throw two and have just one interception. Your welcome, Broncos fans.
4. Speaking of the Broncos offense, they are going to need a big day out of their running game if they want to beat the Patriots. Last time these two met, C.J. Anderson had his way with New England's defense, tallying 113 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 48 yard run in overtime. Anderson goes off again for 150 yards.
3. Despite his struggles, Carson Palmer came up big when it mattered most last week against the Packers. This weekend, he'll have a tough time shaking the suffocating defense of the Panthers. Even if Panthers defensive end Jared Allen can't play, I think the defense will give Palmer and the Cardinals offensive line headaches all night long. The O-line has been fantastic for Palmer this year, giving up only three or more sacks twice during the regular season. I see that changing Sunday in Carolina. Palmer gets sacked six times.
2. New England wins. I know that's not really a bold prediction, but I'll go so far as to say this game becomes a blowout in the second half. Denver will keep it close up until halftime and then Belichick and Brady's bunch will turn on the burners and prove why they are the best team in the league year in and year out. The Patriots punch their ticket to Super Bowl 50 with a 35-21 win.
1.Cam Newton will rush for over 100 yards against the Arizona Cardinals. Newton's rushed for the century mark three times in his career, most recently in Week 15 against the New York Giants. The future MVP will put the Panthers offense on his back (or legs) and lead Carolina to Super Bowl 50, setting up a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Patriots.