The Baltimore Sun staff picks: Sunday's conference championship games

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws against the Denver Broncos during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, in Denver.

AFC: Patriots at Broncos, 3:05 p.m. (CBS); NFC: Cardinals at Panthers, 6:40 p.m. (Fox)

Jennifer Badie
Sports Content Editor
AFC: Patriots 30, Broncos 20: It's the playoffs and Tom Brady will not allow a repeat of Week 12, when Denver defeated the Patriots in overtime.
NFC: Cardinals 27, Panthers 21: It's Carson Palmer's year ... finally. The Panthers' defense won't be able to contain the Cardinals' receivers.
Last week: 3-1
Season record: 159-105


Jon Meoli
Ravens Beat Writer
AFC: Patriots 30, Broncos 24: Going off the form from last week, this game should be a rout. But Denver is better than it played, and New England hasn't consistently been that team since October. Still, Tom Brady is the difference here.
NFC: Panthers 35, Cardinals 31: The Panthers' hot starts have allowed them to build early leads all season, and Sunday will be no different. They'll once again hang on to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in a dozen years.
Last week: 2-2
Season record: 170-94


Mike Preston
Ravens Columnist
AFC: Patriots 28, Broncos 21: The Patriots will take away Denver's running game and force quarterback Peyton Manning to beat them with the long ball. In years past, that would be a problem, but Manning is not accurate enough now.
NFC: Panthers 27, Cardinals 24: It's hard to win an away game, even harder on the road in the conference championship. It just seems to be Can Newton's year, and he should be able to deliver enough big plays against a good Arizona defense.
Last week: 4-0
Season record: 163-101


Alexander Pyles
Ravens Editor
AFC: Patriots 31, Broncos 17: I really want to pick Peyton Manning and the Broncos, but can't after watching them against the Steelers last week. This won't be all that close.
NFC: Panthers 33, Cardinals 30: This game ought to be great, but the Panthers' only loss this season came when they played a division rival for the second time in three weeks. They're Super Bowl-bound.
Last week: 2-2
Season record: 160-104


Peter Schmuck
AFC: Broncos 27, Patriots 23: Peyton Manning will grind this one out and the Broncos defense will keep Gronk from killing them in the red zone. In related news, the balls will be fully inflated.
NFC: Panthers 30, Cardinals 20: This is Cam Newton's year and the Panthers average 33 points per game at home. They should be able to hold the Cardinals under that.
Last week: 3-1
Season record: 165-99


Childs Walker
AFC: Patriots 24, Broncos 17: As many have already noted, this is much more Brady vs. Broncos defense than Brady vs. Manning. But the Patriots have a heck of a defense, too, along with the better coach and yes, the better quarterback.
NFC: Panthers 27, Cardinals 24: It's cool to see the teams that had the best seasons actually meet in the championship game. The Panthers get the slightest nod because they're playing at home.
Last week: 4-0
Season record: 167-97


Jeff Zrebiec
Ravens Beat Writer
AFC: Patriots 26, Broncos 13: Peyton Manning can beat some teams with guile, but nobody is winning that way against Bill Belichick's Patriots. Tom Brady's quick release will neutralize Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and lead to a comfortable win.
NFC: Panthers 24, Cardinals 21: Carolina makes football look simple, dominating the line of scrimmage and staying with what works. The Panthers will ultimately break Carson Palmer and the Cardinals.
Last week: 4-0
Season record: 162-102