I’ve been a fan since the first year of the franchise, and can safely say my rooting interest in the Panthers has been greater than for any other pro team in my lifetime. In other words, it is impossible for me to be at all objective about the team and/or what might happen on Sunday in their game versus the Cardinals.
I think it’s fair, though, to suggest both games Sunday will feature evenly matched teams, and whoever happens to win the games will then be evenly-matched in Super Bowl 50 two weeks later.
Both games feature the top two teams in each conference, with the No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos hosting the No. 2-seeded New England Patriots in the early game, then the top-seeded Panthers hosting the second-seeded Arizona Cardinals in the nightcap. Both games have had lines of around three points favoring the home teams, which is generally the number of points allotted for home-field advantage, meaning the sportsbooks are essentially calling the matchups even.
You can reasonably argue in favor of one team or another on Sunday, but I think most rational-thinking people would admit that with the match-ups this close (on paper, anyway), it’s hard to guess what might happen. Even rabid fans of one of the teams involved (like me) have to admit as much. A couple of coin tosses.
It makes me think a little of the situation that often arises in certain tournaments such as the $25K High Roller I helped cover at the conclusion the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. The players making it to the final table are all so skilled, you have to call the match-ups essentially even. With four left (for instance) a person certainly could have argued in favor of Nick Maimone, Sean Winter, Dario Sammartino, or Josh Beckley being the best of those remaining. But the skill distinction was so small between them (in my view), it was mostly negligible.
Somewhat ironically, then, luck matters more in these spots. How the cards are dealt matters more when everyone knows equally well how to play them. Maimone rivered a straight flush to beat Beckley’s turned ace-high flush, and Beckley was eliminated in fourth. Sammartino’s king-ten couldn’t outrace Winter’s pocket sevens, and he was out in third. After a heads-up deal, Maimone got dealt better cards than Winter did, and Maimone eventually prevailed.
“Good thing we made the deal,” said Winter at one point, noting how Maimone had won several pots in a row. “Nah, I’m just picking up hands,” Maimone insisted, and I don’t doubt that he was right.
With both games so even this weekend, both will probably hinge on a turnover or key play -- likely something that can be classified as lucky -- to determine the outcomes. It could go otherwise, of course, and we might see two blowouts. Even so, luck will play a role.
I’m reminded of those two earlier playoff games, the one ending on a couple of flukey penalties and a field goal to win (Pittsburgh at Cincinnati), the other ending on a missed 27-yard field goal that would have changed the outcome (Seattle at Minnesota).I’m thinking as well of an interview I heard this week with Green Bay Packers injured receiver Jordy Nelson. He was asked about the Packers’ having successfully completed multiple “Hail Mary” passes this season, including two in short succession at the end of regulation in that wild finish versus Arizona last Sunday.
“What do the Packers know that other teams don’t know about Hail Mary passes?” went the question (I’m paraphrasing). Nelson had a great answer.
“They’re all luck.”