The contrasts between the two are significant and in some regards surprising, but all that really matters at this point is who has the better Sunday.
In the simplest terms, Carson Palmer is the savvy gunslinger in the matchup, a 13-year veteran with a cannon for an arm and an impressive cadre of receivers at his disposal.
But interestingly enough, Newton in just his fifth season has one more playoff victory than Palmer, who finally won his first just last weekend. Newton also has the arm to match Palmer's rifle, and while Carolina's receivers don't match up to the Cardinals on paper, they along with tight end
Newton, Palmer and Brady are arguably the top three candidates for MVP this season, and all three will be in action Sunday. No, it's not all about the quarterback, but if either signal caller clearly outplays the other, it's a pretty safe bet that quarterback will be bound for his first Super Bowl.
2. WHEN PALMER HAS THE BALL: The most discussed matchup all week, for good reason, has been how Carolina's injury-plagued secondary will deal with Arizona's array of receivers.
"This is an offense that is going to come in here and try to put the ball in the air – we know that," Norman said. "They're probably going to throw the ball 50 times in this game, at least."
Norman, often not thrown at during his remarkable season, will welcome the action. But there is some cause for concern – as there would be even if Carolina's secondary were at full strength – with the Cardinals featuring a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown) and a trio of receivers with six or more touchdown catches (Fitzgerald, Brown and Michael Floyd).
So how will Carolina combat the aerial assault? Well, Norman is a good place to start, but the key may actually lie on the front end rather than the back end. The secondary needs help from Carolina's pass rushers, and the combination of how well the Panthers' defensive tackles are playing and Palmer's (relatively) limited mobility bodes well.
"It's one of those games where you've got to get the quarterback off his spot and make him move," defensive tackle
Newton, on the other hand, had a fairly quiet day on the ground, but that could be a difference-making area in this matchup. Newton's legs will be a key regardless of how many carries he gets because the Cardinals love to blitz.
"If we don't keep a sound eye on their pressure looks, it could be difficult for us," Newton said. "They have guys on the defensive side of the ball who can dictate to an offense."
That's true, but Newton may be the NFL's ultimate dictator.
4. SETTING THE PACE: Speaking of dictating, another key will be Newton's ability to control the tempo of the game. He and offensive coordinator Mike Shula have done a masterful job in that area all season, and it may be more important than ever Sunday.
If the Cardinals do lean heavily on their passing game, it could make for lots of clock stoppages and thus a longer game, something that could wear on Carolina's defense down the stretch. The Panthers' offense, however, can answer that with their version of methodical mayhem. Look for Carolina to continue to employ a no-huddle slowdown of sorts, coming to the line quickly but then taking their time, eating clock while limiting Arizona's ability to substitute.
That, combined with Carolina's physicality, could turn the Cardinals into the worn-down unit down the stretch.
5. SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson hasn't returned a punt for a touchdown since he returned four as a rookie in 2011 – including one against the Panthers in the first career game for him and for Newton. Panthers special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven still considers Peterson a potential game-breaker though, chalking up his lack of long returns of late to teams being careful with him. On the other side,
If the game comes down to a special teams play, it's even more likely to involve the kickers. The Panthers feel confident they've shored up some kick protection issues and have to feel good when they do protect for