Sunday NFL preview: Super Bowl 50 spots are on the line

Will Cardinals' defense change Panthers' game plan? (1:33)

Tedy Bruschi explains why the Panthers' offensive game plan shouldn't change because of the style of defense the Cardinals play. (1:33)

With two playoff rounds over, Denver, New England, Carolina and Arizona are still alive heading into the conference championship games. NFL Nation reporters look ahead to what Sunday has in store for each playoff team.


New England Patriots: For all the talk about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning -- and it's understandable why there was so much -- the one area that trumped all others inside team headquarters leading into Sunday's AFC Championship Game was stopping the run. Players said that was drilled home to them, as the Broncos rushed for a season-high 179 yards against the Patriots on Nov. 29. If the Patriots can limit the Broncos' rushing attack, they like their chances. -- Mike Reiss

Denver Broncos: It will bear watching how, and how quickly, the Patriots decide to test cornerback Chris Harris Jr. Harris suffered a left shoulder injury in the regular-season finale against the San Diego Chargers and it limited him some in the team's AFC divisional-round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Harris was a full participant in practice this past week, but you would expect the Patriots to line up Julian Edelman in the slot early in the game to see if Harris follows him in there as a matchup. Harris is the league's best corner in the slot and the Broncos are always going to want him to play there. Overall, the Broncos need a big game from all of the defensive backs and can't have the kind of coverage busts they had against the Steelers last week, but Harris makes it all go. If he plays near his usual level it would certainly increase the Broncos' chances of advancing. -- Jeff Legwold


Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals, who arrived in Charlotte on Saturday despite bad weather, will go in the NFC Championship Game against the Panthers healthy. Wide receiver John Brown (shoulder), running back David Johnson (toe) and defensive end Frostee Rucker (ankle) are all expected to play Sunday. The Cardinals spent the week preparing for the Panthers offense. Quarterback Cam Newton's improved arm means the Cardinals need to be alert. They cannot be lulled to sleep by the Panthers' run game. Newton could take shots downfield at any time. -- Josh Weinfuss

Carolina Panthers: Much of the focus will be on the battle between Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Arizona's Carson Palmer, and rightfully so. But the key player in the NFC Championship Game could be Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. He has been Newton's primary go-to receiver all season, and he'll likely be so again against Arizona's stingy defense. The Panthers likely will try to take advantage of the middle of the field where defensive back Tyrann Mathieu dominated before suffering a season-ending injury. -- David Newton