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#2 New England Patriots at #1 Denver Broncos - Sunday, Jan. 24, 3:05pm, CBS
Upstart quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face off against one another for the first time in their young NFL careers.
For Brady, a sixth-round pick out of Michigan, Brady isn't likely to have the NFL career of his collegiate predecessor Brian Griese. He still may turn out to be a serviceable backup.
Manning, on the other hand, narrowly edged out the more potential-laden prospect Ryan Leaf as the #1 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. Based on this season though, he's likely going to be known more for his playoff successes than his regular season failures.
For Brady, his favorite target, TE Rob Gronkowski, is a time-bomb waiting to explode thanks to his off-field demeanor. Other threats like WR Julian Edelman are too small to produce while RB Steven Jackson is better suited to Hall of Fame-caliber seasons for NCAA-caliber teams.
Manning will look to lean on the strength of his running game with household names at running back like Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson.
My prediction: Broncos 24, Patriots 23
#2 Arizona Cardinals at #1 Carolina Panthers - Sunday, Jan. 24, 6:40pm, FOX
For the Cardinals, this is perhaps mostly an evaluation of Head Coach Bruce Arians. In the three years prior to his arrival, the Cardinals won a total of 18 games. In his three years since taking over? Thirty-four. But the lack of playoff success is where the Cards had struggled under Arians...until now. After missing out on the postseason with a 10-win 2013 season, a season-ending injury to Carson Palmer in Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams left them practically hopeless in their wild card loss to the Carolina Panthers. This season though, Palmer is healthy. And with a motivated Larry Fitzgerald pushing them through a wild overtime win over the Packers, fate might be on the Cardinals' sideline next to Arians.
The Panthers are led by Cam Newton and they are fun and they are everything the NFL is not and that is confusing a lot of NFL people and a lot of old people and that makes them more fun and that is great.
My prediction: Panthers 34, Cardinals 17