A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Panthers NFC Championship Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.:
**Palmer, upright and dealing
There will be a lot of factors, that play into this game – turnovers come to mind – but none of which would seem to be as important as a single fact: If the Cardinals can keep Carson Palmer clean so he can throw, the Cards should be able to do some damage against the Carolina secondary. If they cannot, they will not. Palmer's inconsistent game against the Packers was well-documented, but the Cards (and Palmer) have confidence that's in the past. Josh Norman is a great cornerback, but he can't cover Floyd, Fitzgerald and Brown at the same time.
Cam watch 2016
The Panthers' offense has impressive pieces. The offensive line is one of the best in the league. Jonathan Stewart is a very good running back, and Greg Olsen as tight end is a significant threat. But Carolina's engine runs on the power of Cam. Quarterback Cam Newton can throw (35 touchdown passes) and run (10 rushing TDs.) He has found an accuracy he previously did not have in his career. He's actually less of a scrambler than someone like Russell Wilson. When Newton runs, it's because his number has been called to do so. He's big and brutal to bring down. He didn't play well against the Cardinals' defense in last year's playoff game, but this is not last year's Newton. The Cardinals have to hold up like the fifth-ranked defense that they were.
A tight end not named Gronk
Olsen has been the best tight end in the NFL who isn't Rob Gronkowski. He's been Newton's top target, his security blanket and the best receiver on a team that doesn't have much in its receiving corps. That he is a tight end presents some issues for the Cardinals. Normally, the opposition's best receiver gets cornerback Patrick Peterson in coverage. But as a tight end? Maybe it'll be Deone Bucannon. Or Tony Jefferson. Maybe, in special situations, it could be Peterson. Bruce Arians said it best about Olsen earlier this week – the Cardinals would have a good chance of winning if they could shut Olsen down, but it's shutting him down that's the problem.
Weather or not snow is around
The weather in Tempe has been perfect this week. Arians even cracked that it might have been a little too warm at Wednesday's practice. It has been a little bit colder in Charlotte, where the Cardinals and Panthers will play. Snow fell Friday morning, and it is expected to be nasty through Saturday morning. But then – at least as of now – it's not. There isn't supposed to be any precipitation Sunday and the high is supposed to be 44 degrees with sun. By the 6:40 p.m. kickoff, conditions are supposed to be a lot like what the Cards faced in Philadelphia late in the season. And that turned out just fine for the Cardinals.
We're on to Santa Clara
The message has been the same, crystallized by Larry Fitzgerald this week: "You can't get the Lombardi without getting the Halas first." The Cardinals have stressed how they are focused on this game alone, and in reality – thanks to a two-week span between the championship game and the Super Bowl – it's not hard to think about the task at hand. Besides, it's an easy equation. If the Cardinals can get one now, the Super Bowl follows, period. If they don't, the season is over.