By Shawn S. Lealos
In 2014, the Carolina Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Wild Card game before losing to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs. This season, the Panthers finished the season 15-1 and avenged last year's loss by beating Seattle last weekend. However, heading into the NFC Championship, the Panthers now face the same Arizona Cardinals team they beat last year, and this week it's Arizona looking for revenge. Here is a look at the team news for the Panthers heading into the NFC Championship.
Cam Newton Wins NFL Offensive Player of the Year
The awards were handed out this week by the Professional Football Writers of America, and there were two Carolina Panthers players competing for the honors on each side of the field. Cam Newton was battling both Tom Brady and his opponent in this weekend's game, Carson Palmer, for the offensive player of the year honors. Newton was the big winner offensively, the first Panthers player to ever win the award and the third straight quarterback. Luke Kuechly lost out to J.J. Watt, who is the first defensive player to ever win back-to-back awards with a 17.5 sack season.
The Battle of Two MVP Candidates
While Cam Newton won the Offensive Player of the Year, Carson Palmer has a chance for revenge this weekend. The two top candidates for the honor go head-to-head on Sunday. If Newton had lost one more game this season, but still had the same stats, Palmer might have won the award. Now, the two men face off, with the winning team going to the Super Bowl. Some are even calling it the best quarterback match-up this weekend, which says a lot, since Tom Brady and Peyton Manning play in the other game.
"Shoot, in terms of how guys have played this year, the time Peyton missed and how he played when he was healthy, I don't think there is any doubt that the better [matchup] -- expecting good play out of both quarterbacks -- would be the Carolina-Arizona game," said former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck.
Cam Newton Says He Doesn't Get Nervous
With so much on the line, the Cardinals playing for revenge, and the two best quarterbacks of 2015 playing this weekend, it is a good thing that Cam Newton doesn't get nervous.
When it comes to this weekend's game, and his chance to go to the Super Bowl, Newton said, “I don’t get nervous. I’ve been playing football for too long for me to get nervous. I used to dream of being in this type of position." Newton has won a national championship in college, so he knows pressure. This weekend, he can try to prove he is up to the task in the NFL.
Ted Ginn Playing Other Side of Field This Year
Last year, when the Arizona Cardinals were eliminated by the Carolina Panthers, they chose to release their wide receiver acquisition from that year, Ted Ginn Jr. The quick receiver had left the Panthers for the big money contract in Arizona and flopped, catching 14 receptions for 190 yards in the season. It looked like a huge bust, but then Carolina brought him back. This season, he led the Panthers with 44 receptions for 739 yards, which may not be No. 1 receiver numbers, but was a huge improvement. However, he also caught 10 touchdown passes. Despite his failure in Arizona, Ginn said there are no hard feelings. “This is the NFL," Ginn said. “I’m just going out and playing football. The next guy is the Arizona Cardinals. Hey, what happened to me a year ago is nothing to do with Sunday."
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. aExaminer.com.
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