Carolina Panthers: 3 things you need to know

Posted at 2:16 PM, Jan 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-18 06:22:21-05

The good news: Despite not playing their best on Saturday, the Arizona Cardinals did enough to defeat the visiting Green Bay Packers in overtime and advance to the NFC Championship game.

The bad news: If the Cards are to advance to their second-ever Super Bowl, they'll have to be much, much better next weekend on the road against the red-hot Carolina Panthers.

The 16-1 Panthers, who gained a big lead against the Seattle Seahawks and held on for a 31-24 win, now await the Cardinals' arrival at Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers defeated the Cards 27-16 in last year's Wild Card playoff game.

Of course, the difference this season is the health of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who had an MVP-caliber season after missing the second half of a promising 2014 campaign with an ACL injury.

But will Palmer and the Cards have enough to overcome the Panthers on the road? Here are three things you need to know about what awaits Bruce Arians' bunch in Charlotte next Sunday.

1. Cam Newton is a beast.

When the votes are tabulated, Palmer will likely be the runner-up for this season's NFL Most Valuable Player award. The winner will be Panthers QB Cam Newton, who amassed 45 total touchdowns (35 passing, 10 rushing) during the regular season.

Newton is no stranger to big-game pressure. He led Auburn to the 2011 college football national championship in a title game that was played on the Cardinals' home field -- and, of course, he guided his team to a rout of the two-time defending NFC champs on Sunday.

Arizona had a terrible time getting pressure on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers during Saturday's game. The Cardinals' secondary is one of the best in the league, but If history repeats itself next Sunday, look for Cam to carve up the Cards.

2. They're tough against the run...

The Cardinals found absolutely no room to run the football Saturday against a Packers defense that was one of the NFL's worst teams in defending the run. In particular, rookie David Johnson, who was incredible in the second half of the regular season, was held to just 35 rushing yards on 15 carries.

Enter the Carolina Panthers, who don't have any problems defending the run. In the regular season, they were fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and seventh in rushing yards allowed per carry -- and on Sunday, they held the so-called beast Marshawn Lynch to 20 yards on six carries.

The Cardinals got away with a poor ground game Saturday because they're a better team than Green Bay (and, of course, Larry Fitzgerald). But there's not a snowball's chance in Phoenix that the Cards will advance to the Super Bowl with another performance like Saturday's.

3. ...and they're tough against the pass.

Oh, did we mention the Panthers's passing defense is pretty good, too? Carolina's 73.5 regular-season passer rating allowed and 24 passes intercepted were both tops in the NFL. On Sunday, the Panthers picked off Seahawks QB Russell Wilson twice and sacked him five times.

Carolina will have to play the rest of the season witout veteran cornerback Charles Tillman, who suffered a season-ending knee injury before the playoffs began. Also, Wilson did expose the Panthers secondary by throwing three second-half TD passes Sunday, and the Panthers could reportedly be without one of their top pass-rushers next weekend.

Nonetheless, up-and-coming CB Josh Norman, along with a pass rush that recorded 44 sacks during the regular season, could present problems for Palmer and the Cards in Charlotte.