WILD CARD WEEKEND
Despite their poor 7-8-1 record the Carolina Panthers are in the playoffs and hosting a game on Wild Card Weekend after winning the pathetic NFC South. The Panthers ended the season playing their best football, winning four straight. In those four games the Panthers got great efforts on defense allowing 17 or fewer points in each game. The Panthers defense crushed the Falcons on the road last week with the division on the line. The Cardinals defense also is solid, but the big worry in the desert is the Cardinals offense as they will be starting third string Quarterback Ryan Lindley in the playoffs. The Cardinals have overcome a lot to have their finest season in 40 years, but a third string quarterback in the playoffs on the road makes this game Mission Impossible. The Cardinals defense may be able to keep the game close, but in the end they just don’t get enough offense to get the win.
This is a rivalry in every sense of the word, as these teams hate each other with every fiber of their beings. Nearly every time they play it is an intense hard fought battle with several fights and many bad feelings lingering after they walk off the field. The two teams split this year, with the home team winning each game easily. Those two blowouts were unusual as 12 of the previous 14 games were decided by a touchdown or less, with most games being decided by a Field Goal. The Steelers do have one edge in that they have never lost in three previous playoff meetings with the Ravens. However, the loss of Le’Veon Bell could be a tipping point in that the Steelers offense could be turned one dimensional. The Ravens defense is solid and the last time they were in the playoffs two years ago they won the Super Bowl, winning road games in Denver and Foxboro. Joe Flacco may be about the best quarterback at winning playoff games on the road add the loss of Bell and the Steelers occasional hiccups at home and this is the first upset of the playoffs.
The last two times these two teams met the Lions rallied to stun the Cowboys, including last season in Detroit when Matt Stafford snuck the ball across the goal line after faking a spike. The Lions got a big reprieve when the NFL rescinded Ndamekong Suh’s one game suspension. In many ways this is the worst matchup the Cowboys could have gotten in the Wild Card Round. The Cowboys had a terrific regular season, posting a record of 12-4, but they were mediocre at home with a record of 4-4 including a loss to the Redskins. Teams that put pressure on the quarterback and have big defensive lines have been the teams that have beaten Dallas. With Suh playing the Cowboys offense line has their work cut out for them. Also there is the Tony Romo factor. Romo has played well all season, but we have seen this story before and it all ends with an epic playoff letdown. The Lions also have a terrible playoff history, but I think the fact they can stop the run and take DeMarco Murray out of the game, put pressure on Romo and get big plays from Calvin Johnson is the perfect formula for an upset.
When these two teams met in the regular season, the Colts dominated the Bengals 27-0 in a game that was not as close as the score indicates. The Bengals have not won a playoff game in nearly 24 years. They have gone to the playoffs three straight years and laid a goose egg every time, including last year at home. Andy Dalton has always wilted when the light are brightest, struggling in primetime and being flat out awful as a turnover machine in the postseason. Until Andy Dalton wins a playoff game it is hard to pick the Bengals. The Colts have already shown the ability to rally and win a playoff game at home with Andrew Luck, and while they did not have a better regular season than last season they still have the ability to make a playoff run as Luck develops into the next big star at quarterback. The only question is the Colts trying to force feed Trent Richardson the ball and their defense has been exposed on a few occasion. However, unless Andy Dalton can outperform Andrew Luck it is hard to imagine the Colts blowing this game.