NFL conference title games will be Selection Sunday for QBs, especially Carson Palmer and Cam Newton

NFL conference title games will be Selection Sunday for QBs, especially Carson Palmer and Cam Newton
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will meet in the NFC title game with each seeking their first trip to the Super Bowl. (Photos by AP and TNS)

Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady — one of these stellar quarterbacks is not like the others.

Newton, Palmer and Manning were all No. 1 overall draft picks.


Brady, who has four Super Bowl rings to their combined one, was taken 199th overall.

For the moment, they're all in the same place: one win away from Super Bowl 50.

Manning's Denver Broncos will play host to Brady's New England Patriots in the AFC championship, Sunday's early game, followed by the NFC version, with Palmer's Arizona Cardinals at Newton's Carolina Panthers.

According to Elias Sports, the Newton-Palmer game will be the first time in NFL history two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks will meet as starters in the playoffs.

Palmer, the top pick in 2003 who went from Cincinnati to Oakland to Arizona, collected his first career postseason victory Saturday when the Cardinals beat the visiting Green Bay Packers in overtime, 26-20.

Newton, the presumptive NFL most valuable player, guided his team to a 31-24 victory over Seattle on Sunday — a game that went from laugher to somewhat interesting — and is the leader of a team that has won 12 consecutive home games.

Newton is 2-2 in postseason games, Palmer 1-2, although one of the losses was Palmer's playoff game against Pittsburgh in 2005 when he suffered a gruesome knee injury on his first pass.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is one win from playing for his fifth Super Bowl title.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is one win from playing for his fifth Super Bowl title. (Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

Carolina built a 31-0 lead Sunday before Seattle clawed its way back into contention, eventually making it a one-score game.

"Man, it was like a bend-but-don't-break. It was really excruciating to watch," Newton said. "It was a tale of two halves and we've got to be better than that."

The Panthers are playing host to the NFC title game for the first time in their history.

"To get something that you've never got, you have to do something that you've never done," Newton said, referring to the team's bid for a first Lombardi Trophy.

On paper, at least, Cardinals-Panthers looks to be a shootout. The Panthers were No. 1 in scoring during the regular season at 31.2 points per game, with the Cardinals second at 30.6.

As for Manning and Brady, they were due to meet on Nov. 29 for the 17th time in their storied careers, but the Broncos quarterback was still nursing a foot injury that kept him from starting any of the final seven games of the regular season (though he did make a dramatic entrance in the finale against San Diego and directed Denver to victory.)

In that November game, on a snowy Sunday night, Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to a 30-24 victory in overtime. It was the Patriots' first loss of the season after 10 victories.


Brady threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns, despite a dwindling cast of receivers and losing tight end Rob Gronkowski late in the game.

In Saturday's 27-20 victory over Kansas City, Brady hit Gronkowski with a pair of touchdown passes.

Beating Brady once in a season is tough enough. Beating him twice is almost unheard of, so Denver is facing quite a challenge.

Manning, meanwhile, has a team that knows how to win close games. Thirteen of the Broncos' 17 games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer, and they have won 10 of those.

"I think it helps playing a lot of close games during the course of the season," he said, adding, "It's very rare that there are huge blowouts in a playoff game. It's going to be a close game. You know it's going to be a grind down to the wire."

All four road teams won in the first round of playoff games — Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Seattle.

And this weekend, all four home teams won — New England, Arizona, Carolina and Denver.

sam.farmer@latimes Twitter: @LATimesfarmer