New England Patriots (-3) at Denver Broncos: Naturally this is being billed as "Brady v. Manning XVII." Through the first 16 matchups, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds a decided edge with an 11-5 record. However, it's 2-2 in the postseason, including a 2-1 advantage for Peyton Manning in conference title games.
The real story here is will the Broncos' top ranked defense be able to slow down Brady & Co.? When Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Julian Edelman are all in the lineup, the Patriots have yet to lose this season. In fact, the Pats haven't lost a meaningful game with those three on the field since November 2014 in Green Bay (the Pats' loss in the 2014 regular season finale was meaningless since they had the #1 seed in the AFC sown up).
Last week, injured Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 300 yards against the Broncos despite being without his top WR and top RB. The Broncos' D absolutely has to make some big plays against the Pats' offense since it appears noodle-armed Manning is a shell of what he was just two seasons ago.
New England 27 Denver 21
Arizona Cardinals (+3) at Carolina Panthers: Carolina's vaunted defense (#6 in the NFL in yards allowed) has begun to show cracks lately having allowed nearly 400 yards per game over the past four contests. They have the daunting task of slowing down the NFL's top offense (in terms of yardage) in this one.
Arizona QB Carlson Palmer threw two interceptions against the Packers last week, and it could have easily been five. If Palmer can limit those mistakes, the Cards have a great shot. And while the passing game is benefiting from a rejuvenated Larry Fitzgerald, the run game leaves a lot to be desired.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is being touted by many as the 2015 NFL MVP. He'll definitely have to play like one if Panthers are to win. Carolina would also be greatly aided by another strong performance from RB Jonathan Stewart. who last week against Seattle looked fresh after missing the final three games of the regular season. Anything to keep the Cards' offense off the field would go a long way towards helping the Panthers make their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Carolina 21 Arizona 17
2015 Postseason record:
Straight up: 6-2
Against the spread: 3-5