CHARLOTTE --Three reasons why the Carolina Panthers can beat the Arizona Cardinals in next Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium:
Cam Newton: Carolina's quarterback is playing at an elite level, making him hard for even the toughest defenses to stop as he showed with Sunday's 31-24 playoff win over a Seattle team that finished the regular season second in the NFL in total defense.
Newton's ability to run and throw was big in last year's first-round playoff win over Arizona. He had 35 yards rushing and threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns. His dual-threat ability will keep the Cardinals off balance, just as Seattle's Russell Wilson did against Arizona in the regular-season finale.
Home cooking: The Panthers have won a league-best 12 consecutive games at home, including last year's 27-16 victory over the Cardinals in the playoffs. They averaged 39.2 points in their final four regular-season home games and put up 31 in the first half Sunday against Seattle.
They have created the kind of home-field advantage that Seattle had in going to consecutive Super Bowls. Arizona has been a strong road team all season, but playing at Bank of America Stadium gives Carolina the edge.
Defense: Green Bay, which finished the regular season ranked 21st in run defense, held the Cardinals to 40 yards rushing on Saturday. The Panthers rank fourth, holding opponents to 88.4 yards per game. If that trend continues, and there's no reason to think it won't, all the pressure falls on quarterback Carson Palmer.
Carolina ranks first in the NFL in holding opposing quarterbacks to a 73.5 passer rating. Just ask Seattle's Wilson about how good this unit is. One of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL over the second half of the season, Wilson had a rating of 38.7 in the first half Sunday.
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