1. Hot team: The Cardinals were one of the hottest teams through the first three-quarters of the season until being hit hard with injuries at quarterback. They enter the playoffs with four losses in their final six games. The Panthers finished as one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winning their final four games. If you're a believer in momentum, the Panthers have the edge. They also have an edge in this series with an 8-5 advantage, although the Cardinals have won the past two, including a 22-6 victory in Arizona last season.
2. Stability at quarterback: Carolina's Cam Newton, as much as he has been through this season in terms of injuries and inconsistency, finished on a strong note. His ability to keep defenses honest with his ability to run and pass, along with stability on the offensive line with the same starting five over the final five games, have made Carolina dangerous. Arizona simply has been a mess at quarterback since Carson Palmer was lost for the season in Week 10 and backup Drew Stanton suffered a knee injury in Week 15. Ryan Lindley started the Cardinals' final two games, both losses.
3. Defensive showdown: This will pit two of the better defenses in the NFL. The Cardinals have been stout all season, ranking fourth in points allowed heading into the regular-season finale. The Panthers have come on strong since moving on and accepting that defensive end Greg Hardy was not returning from the commissioner's exempt list. They have been a top-10 unit over the final nine games, stabilizing the secondary with a complete overhaul that included two rookies -- cornerback Bené Benwikere and free safety Tre Boston -- becoming starters.