Earlier this week, we covered the bad news: Despite their playoff win over the Packers, the Cardinals must be better in multiple facets of the game in order to beat the Panthers and advance to Super Bowl 50.
The good news? The Cards are perfectly capable of doing so – and there are plenty of stats to suggest Sunday’s game will go the Red Birds’ way.
Here are three reasons why the Cardinals will beat the Panthers on the road this Sunday.
1. They’re the more balanced team.
People picking the Cards to beat Carolina often note that Arizona is the NFL’s only team that ranked in the top quarter of the NFL in passing offense (second), rushing offense (eighth), passing defense (eighth) and rushing defense (sixth) during the regular season.
Carolina had the NFL’s best regular-season record for a reason, but they’re not as well-rounded a team as Arizona. In terms of raw yardage allowed, the Panthers fell outside the NFL’s top 10 in passing offense and passing defense.
The Panthers are deficient in two areas: They can be beaten on deep throws, and the Panthers’ receiving corps is not nearly as talented as Arizona’s. Those factors could weigh heavily in the Cards’ favor Sunday night.
2. They’re road warriors.
The Cardinals finished the regular season with a better record on the road (7-1) than at home (6-2), and they’ve won their last five games away from University of Phoenix Stadium. They actually scored more points on the road than they did at home in 2015, and they outscored their opponents by an NFL-best 112 points in their road contests – an average of 14 points per game.
Including the playoffs, the Panthers are a perfect 9-0 at home this season – but for whatever reason, Bruce Arians’ team seems to feel right at home as the visitors. It’ll be cold at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday night, but that hasn’t bothered the Cardinals, either, as evidenced by late-season victories at Seattle and Philadelphia.
Long story short: Being on the road may not necessarily be an advantage for the Cards on Sunday, but it may not be a hindrance, either.
3. The Panthers allow a lot of late points.
This stat comes courtesy of ESPN’s Trey Wingo: Since Week 8 of the regular season, no NFL team has allowed more points in the fourth quarter than the Carolina Panthers.
Yes, the Panthers are 16-1, but they’ve gotten there despite blowing some second-half leads late in the season. In Week 15, the Giants rallied from a 35-7 second-half deficit to even the game at 35 points apiece before Carolina escaped on a last-second field goal. Last weekend, the Panthers built a 31-0 lead before halftime, only to survive a furious second-half Seahawks charge. (Final score: 31-24.)
Combine those facts with this one: The Arizona Cardinals have scored more points in the second half of games this season than any other team has. Bottom line: If the Panthers jump out to an early lead Sunday, don’t panic. There’s plenty of reason to believe a comeback is right around the corner.