All picks against the spread and home team in CAPS.
Patriots (-3) over BRONCOS
The hype for Brady-Manning XVII is understandable but the real match-ups are the Patriots offensive line against the Broncos pass rush and the Patriots receivers against the Broncos secondary. If the Patriots receivers are able to get open quickly, Brady will be able to get rid of the ball quickly which will in turn negate the Broncos pass rush and keep the pressure off of Brady.
The Patriots defense should match-up well with the Broncos. Stopping the run early will be critical in order to put pressure on Manning to come up with a big game, which I'm not really convinced that he's capable of at this point. Dont'a Hightower needs to have a big game to shut down C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman.
Manning is not a cold weather quarterback and although it's expected to be in the low 40's at kickoff, it is also expected to drop into the low 30's as the day moves along. Something to keep an eye on.
The X-Factor for the Patriots offense might be James White. He's been under the radar the last few weeks but if Denver loads up on stopping Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski than the second-year back from Wisconsin could be a clone of what Shane Vereen was in Super Bowl XLIX last February, giving Brady a quick receiver out of the backfield.
Final score? 30-16 Pats.
Cardinals (+3.5) over PANTHERS
Cam Newton might be due for a bad game but I don't think it happens at home in a Conference Championship Game. Love him or hate him, you must respect what Newton has accomplished in leading the Panthers - go ahead, name his two starting wide receivers - to a 15-1 regular season record and a spot in the NFC Title Game.
The snow that's going to blanket Charlotte on Saturday is expected to blow over by Sunday but it will still make the ground muddy, which is probably not the recipe for success for Arizona's passing game. The conditions should favor the physical Panthers rushing attack.
Final score? 21-20 Carolina.
Last Week: 1-2-1
Regular Season: 132-118-5