Our Carolina Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals at home this weekend for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. A big game? You bet! Cam Newton said it’s, “just a football game,” but it’s fair to say he – and the rest of Panther Nation – know how much this game means.
We talked to WBT Sports Director and radio voice of the Panthers, Jim Szoke about the big game. Naturally, we had a ton of questions. For starters, can we agree… home field advantage is huge, right?
“It’s never happened before in 21 seasons,” said Szoke, “The Panthers have played in this championship game three times, but never at home.”
Szoke said it’ll be great for the team, of course, and great for the fans, too. Tailgating here at home before a game like this? The energy outside the stadium will be immeasurable! And we love us some tailgating, too.
And what about that turf? Lots was said about the field conditions during last week’s game versus the Seahawks. Reports say both teams have been practicing outdoors and with longer cleat spikes – although, it’s been 75 and sunny out in Arizona. Even with winter storm warnings or some other presumably wet weather in the forecast, Szoke expects the field will be just fine.
“It’s not exactly, ‘grass growing’ season, but even with all the rain, the college game, and all, they’ll have the field ready for game day,” said Szoke.
When Cam Newton and Carson Palmer take the field, this will be the first time two former Heisman-winning quarterbacks have faced each other in the playoffs. Both have experience rallying their teams to late-game comebacks, both are MVP-caliber signal callers, and both have plenty of weapons to work with in their receiving corps.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carson and Arizona come out early trying to test the Panthers’ secondary,” said Szoke, “and you could very expect that the Panthers know that and are preparing for the long ball.”
The Panthers and Cardinals haven’t played each other since last year’s playoff matchup, so without real-time, head-to-head experience, both teams will be utilizing a lot of film in preparation for Sunday’s game. Szoke said he expect the unexpected, as both teams will show new looks and plays that haven’t been on display so far this season.
As for predictions, Szoke says there’s no reason not to believe the Panthers are the best team, “so long as they stay hungry and take nothing for granted… and understand that no lead is safe.”
Win or lose, the future looks more than bright for the franchise, too, said Szoke.
“With Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis locked up long-term, this is a team that’s going to contend for Super Bowls for the next several years.”
Indeed these are high times to be a Carolina Panthers fan!