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Heisman showdown in NFC title game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton and Carson Palmer have a few things in common.

Both were Heisman Trophy winners. Both were No. 1 overall draft picks. And both have strong arms, each throwing for 35 touchdown passes this season while positioning themselves as league MVP candidates. Palmer's Cardinals finished the regular season first in the league in offense and Newton's Panthers were No. 1 in points scored.

But that's about where the similarities end.

Palmer is a pocket passer with a fairly calm demeanor, while Newton is a fun-loving athlete who can beat you with his arm and his feet — no quarterback in NFL history has run for more touchdown — then let you know it by "dabbing" in the end zone.

Today, the two passers with similar accolades but varying styles meet when Carolina hosts Arizona for the NFC title, with a berth in the Super Bowl at stake. It's the first time two Heisman-winning quarterbacks have met in a postseason game.

"They are two different styles of quarterbacks," said Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn, who has caught passes from both QBs in the last two seasons. "But they both come on the field and play as hard as they can. They both have great arms and can throw the ball and put their teams in position to win."

Newton enters his first NFC title game with thoughts of keeping his foot on the gas. Palmer feels he has something to prove after a shaky performance in the division playoffs.

Palmer threw three touchdown passes in Arizona's 26-20 overtime win over Green Bay last weekend, but looked nervous and jittery at times in his first career playoff win with two interceptions, some overthrown passes and a series of poor decisions. He cannot afford those things against a Carolina defense that forced a league-high 39 turnovers.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Palmer seemed to have some butterflies during the game.

"I think just wanting so bad, maybe too bad, and being too tentative," Palmer said. "That's not my style. That's not our head coach's style."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera expects Palmer at his best.

"He's got a lot of good weapons and he's got a good offensive line in front of him," Rivera said. "He's got playmakers at all the positions. The biggest thing, more than anything else, is he does a great job of spreading the ball around.

The Cardinals' focus will be on stopping Newton, the most dynamic player in the league.

This will be Newton's fifth playoff game and he's already won a national championship at Auburn, so he doesn't expect nerves to be a problem — especially playing in the comfort of home where the Panthers have won 12 straight games.

"I don't get nervous," Newton said.

Cardinals (14-3) at Panthers (16-1), 6:40, Ch. 13, 1040-AM

Line/OU: Panthers by 3; 47

Panthers executive director of stadium operations Scott Paul said he expects "business as usual" despite winter weather. Temperatures could dip into the 30s by game time, but no precipitation is forecast. Carolina and Arizona rank 1-2 in NFL in scoring, wins, point differential and TDs. Carson Palmer set Cardinals franchise records in yards passing (4,671), TD passes (35) and passer rating (104.6) and Arizona is 26-5 in Palmer's past 31 starts. OLB Dwight Freeney one of 12 players with at least 10 postseason sacks. The Panthers have won 12 straight at home, including two playoff games. Ron Rivera is 19-5 in games in December and January since taking over as coach in 2011 and Carolina has the league's best record since 2013 (33-10-1). Carolina's Cam Newton had an NFL-high 45 combined TDs this season (35 passing, 10 rushing). Since entering the NFL in 2012, Luke Kuechly leads the league with 591 tackles.

Heisman showdown in NFC title game 01/23/16 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2016 9:49pm]
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