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Direct from Las Vegas and the WagerTalk Team of Marco D'Angelo (@MarcoInVegas), Scott Spreitzer (@scottwins) and Bryan Leonard (@BLeonardSports) look at the NFC Championship game between Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
NFC Championship: Arizona Cardinals (14-3) at Carolina Panthers (16-1)
The Cardinals and Panthers will meet in the postseason for a third time, as the postseason series between them is tied (1-1). The Cardinals won the teams' first postseason meeting in 2008, a 33-13 Divisional Playoff victory in Charlotte en route to an eventual berth in Super Bowl XLIII. The Panthers won the last meeting, a 27-16 game in the Wild Card round last season.
The Cardinals advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2008 and the second time during the Super Bowl era. In the Divisional Playoff last week, Arizona defeated Green Bay 26-20 in overtime.
"Sometimes you've got to play harder for more than 60 minutes," says Cardinals head coach BRUCE ARIANS about Arizona's Divisional victory. "I can't be prouder of our guys. We get to practice again this week and play another game."
Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver LARRY FITZGERALD had eight catches for 176 yards and the game-winning overtime touchdown against Green Bay. Fitzgerald, who set up the game-winning score with a 75-yard reception, has 53 catches for 912 yards (114 per game) and 10 touchdowns in eight career postseason games. Fitzgerald's 10 touchdown receptions in the playoffs are tied for the third-most in NFL history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famers JERRY RICE (22) and JOHN STALLWORTH (12). Fitzgerald is the fastest player in NFL history (eight games) to reach 10 postseason touchdown receptions.
"It was a great game," says Fitzgerald, who now has three career postseason games with at least 150 receiving yards, the most such games by any player during the Super Bowl era. "It was a playoff atmosphere and that's what you're looking for."
Arizona Pro Bowl quarterback CARSON PALMER, who has won 27 of his past 32 starts, registered his first career postseason win last week. Against the Packers, Palmer passed for 349 yards and three touchdowns, including two to wide receiver MICHAEL FLOYD. Palmer set club records this season with 4,671 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and a 104.6 passer rating.
"It feels good," says Palmer, "but in no way are we done or satisfied. We're excited about the win and we're excited about what's ahead of us."
The Panthers, who have won 21 of their past 23 games (including the postseason), advanced to their fourth NFC Championship Game with a 31-24 win against the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional round last week. This will be the first time in team history the Panthers will host the NFC Championship Game.
"They say to get something that you've never had, you have to do something you've never done," says Carolina Pro Bowl quarterback CAM NEWTON, who is the only player in NFL history with 30 touchdown passes (35) and 10 rushing TDs (10) in a season. "For us, we've never had that vibe in the streets of Charlotte and I expect nothing less than what we saw on Sunday."
In Carolina's win against Seattle, Pro Bowl linebacker LUKE KUECHLY returned an interception 14 yards for a touchdown, the first postseason interception return for a touchdown in franchise history. Since he entered the league in 2012, Kuechly has 13 interceptions (including the playoffs), the most by a linebacker.
"They are a well-coached football team with a dynamic quarterback," says Panthers head coach RON RIVERA about the Cardinals. "They've got some playmakers and then they have an aggressive defense. This is a complete team that we will play as well and we have to be on our game."