Super Bowl hopes are still alive for ex-Stanford players


The Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers have appeared in one Super Bowl each, with both teams losing. On Sunday, one of those teams will have the opportunity to become a first-time champ in the game when the squads meet in the NFC Championship Game.

Former Stanford standouts Josh Mauro, a second-year defensive lineman, and third-year running back Stepfan Taylor will help carry Arizona's hopes into the kickoff at 3:40 p.m. (FOX).

Mauro started in Arizona's 26-20 win over Green Bay in the division semifinals last weekend. He appeared in 23 percent of the defensive snaps and 16 percent of special teams snaps. He finished the game with one solo tackle. Taylor played 52 percent of Arizona's special teams snaps and was credited with one tackle.

Before Carolina and Arizona meet to decide which team will advance to Super Bowl 50 at Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7, the New England Patriots will face host Denver in the AFC Championship at 1:05 p.m. (CBS). New England is 4-4 all-time in Super Bowls while Denver is 2-5.

The Patriots have a pair of former Stanford players, rookie defensive back Jordan Richards and second-year offensive tackle Cameron Fleming. Richards was only afforded three snaps on defense while appearing on 54 percent of special teams snaps in New England's 27-20 win over Kansas City in the AFC semifinals. Fleming did not play.

Carolina reached the NFC title game with a 31-24 win over Seattle last weekend, ending the seasons of former Stanford players Doug Baldwins and Richard Sherman.

Baldwin was on the field for all but two of Seattle's offensive snaps, the most of any skill position player. Even while seeing a steady diet of AP All-Pro first-teamer Josh Norman, Baldwin hauled in eight catches for 82 yards on 12 targets. Baldwin caught 15 touchdown passes in 18 games this season, earning recognition as one of the premier slot receivers in the NFL.

Sherman was only off the field for one defensive snap in Seattle's loss. He finished the game with three tackles, two solo and a pass defended. Five years into his NFL career, Sherman has yet to miss a game and has been named All-Pro each of the past four seasons. The 27-year old will not play in the Super Bowl for the first time in three seasons.

Also seeing his season end last weekend was fourth-year offensive guard David DeCastro of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were eliminated by host Denver, 23-16.

DeCastro played every snap in Pittsburgh's loss. He finished the 2015 season having played virtually every offensive snap for the Steelers, who produced the most yards per game in the AFC. DeCastro had a breakout year individually, earning Pro Bowl, AP All-Pro first-team and Pro Football Writers of America AFC All-Pro honors.

Pittsburgh picked up DeCastro's fifth-year option for the 2016 season prior to the 2015 season, but could fork over a sizeable extension to the former All-America selection at Stanford. With 43 players already under contract for next season, DeCastro's long term future will be a priority for the Steelers.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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