Panthers and Broncos Advance; AFC and NFC Championships Set
The Carolina Panthers had a 31-0 lead at halftime in their playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks and nearly demonstrated that old saying about no lead being safe before holding off Russell Wilson and Company 31-24 to advance to the NFC Championship game in Charlotte against the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns, but also had two interceptions in the first half, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart returned after missing a couple of games with an injury and rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
In Denver, the injury depleted Pittsburgh Steelers gave the Broncos all they could handle before falling 23-16 to the AFC West champs. The Steelers were without WR Antonio Brown and RB DeAngelo Williams, but still had a 13-12 lead with less than 10 minutes to play before a fumble by Fitzgerald Toussaint gave the Broncos the ball on the Denver 35 yard line. Peyton Manning then engineered a touchdown drive, capped off by a two point conversion. The two teams traded field goals, and Denver recovered an onside kick with 19 seconds left to preserve the victory. Denver will host New England for the AFC Championship.
After a Wild Card Weekend that saw four victories by four road teams, the home teams won all the Divisional Round games. As a result, we’ll see the #1 and #2 seeds face each other in both Championships. The Denver-New England game will be the 17th time Patriots QB Tom Brady and Broncos QB Peyton Manning have played each other, and the fifth time in the playoffs. Brady leads the overall series 11-5; they’ve split the previous four post season contests.