Last season, the Arizona Cardinals traveled to the Carolina Panthers for a wild card playoff game. Unfortunately, the Cardinals didn’t have their top two quarterbacks, and the loss of Carson Palmer was a knockout blow for the 11-win team. The Cardinals were held to 78 total yards, and eight first downs during the 27-16 loss.
The Panthers won’t have any luck on the injury front this weekend. However, they will still have the home field advantage for the NFC Championship game. With Palmer in the lineup, this will be the first match up between Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in the NFL playoffs. It’s coming a year later than planned, but there is a lot more on the line this time around. Palmer or Cam Newton will earn their first trip to the Super Bowl.
According to NFL.com, Palmer and the Cardinals won’t be conservative offensively. As Bruce Arians stated earlier, the Cardinals are ready to “let it fly” against the Panthers. During their divisional round against the Green Bay Packers, Palmer chose to attack the defense with the short passing game.
“He picked a lot of shorter completions early instead of going for them like we normally do,” Arians said, via the team’s official site. “I think that was part of ‘I don’t want to screw this up.”
After having such a wonderful season, there was a lot of pressure on the Cardinals to earn their first trip to the NFC Championship since 2009. In addition, Palmer entered the 2016 playoffs without a postseason victory on his resume. Therefore, it’s not a surprise he wanted to ease into the game last week.
Against the Panthers, it will be important for the Cardinals to start fast. The Seattle Seahawks found out the hard way on Sunday. The Panthers raced out to a 31-0 halftime lead, and held on for a 31-24 win. Like the Seahawks, the Cardinals can score in bunches, but it won’t mean anything if the Panthers jump out to an insurmountable lead.
Out of the Cardinals 10 best plays last week, eight of them came in the second half. John Brown caught a pair of passes for 19 and 15 yards in the first half. Beyond that, the Cardinals were stagnant and out of rhythm. However, we saw their explosiveness in the overtime period. Larry Fitzgerald’s 75-yard catch and run displayed how quick the Cardinals are able to strike.
In addition to helping Palmer earn his first postseason victory, the Cardinals’ opening play in overtime may have unleashed an offensive juggernaut waiting to explode during the NFC Championship. If it’s up to Arians, Palmer will ride this wave right into the first quarter against the Panthers.