The playoffs start Saturday afternoon. I already tipped my hand who I am picking in the wild card round in a previous post. Now here are they why.
Here are who my fellow football pickers are picking in the wild card round (Monica Roberts, Luke Roadwalker).
CARDINALS AT PANTHERS, 1/3, 2:30 PM (MT), ESPN
One team made the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record and the other doesn't know who will start under center.
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs it was in January 2009. Carolina was the NFC 2-seed while Arizona was the 4-seed. Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw 5 interceptions while Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught 8 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown as part of his history making postseason for a wide receiver. The win at Carolina resulted in the Cardinals returning to Phoenix for the NFC Championship game and the franchise's first ever Super Bowl appearance.
The Cardinals are hoping that this game will jumpstart their playoff run that results in a return to the Super Bowl. For them that means playing the game in their home stadium.
The Cardinals have a playoff caliber defense. If they had Kurt Warner from 2008 under center, I would pick the Cardinals to win. Unfortunately for them, Warner is a studio analyst for the NFL Network and Ryan Lindley is projected to start for them on Saturday.
After going 0-6-1 over a two month period, Carolina won their final four games including a 34-3 beating of the Falcons in Atlanta. Newton injured his back in a truck accident during that 4 game winning streak which resulted in him missing one game. Though Newton's passing and rushing numbers are down from 2013, he will be the difference maker in this game.
Carolina proved in their 4-game winning streak they can put points on the board in their wins over the Saints and Falcons having outscored them 75-13. They proved they can grind out victories in their wins over the Buccaneers and Browns. I cannot see the Cardinals putting up the points needed to keep pace with Carolina. Arizona's defense should keep them in the game, but their offense just doesn't have enough to put the points on the board to keep up.
Points are expected to be a premium in this game, but I believe that the Panthers will win this game.
PANTHERS 19, CARDINALS 9
RAVENS AT STEELERS, 1/4, 6 PM (MT), NBC
The Steelers and Ravens split the regular season series with the Ravens winning the first matchup in Baltimore in Week 2. On Sunday Night at Pittsburgh in Week 9, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 6 touchdown passes as the Steelers romped over the Ravens 43-23. Pittsburgh won the AFC North while the Ravens claimed the AFC's final playoff spot on the last Sunday of the season.
These two teams are no strangers to playoff matchups. All of the playoff matchups have taken place in Pittsburgh with the Steelers winning all three matchups (2001 AFC Divisional Round, 2008 AFC Championship, 2010 AFC Divisional Round).
Since the hiring of John Harbaugh and the Ravens drafting Joe Flacco in 2008, the Ravens have made the playoffs 6 out of the last 7 seasons. In their five previous playoff appearances, the Ravens have never been one-and-done. The only time that the Ravens have ever been one-and-done in the playoffs was in the 2003 when the Titans beat the Ravens in Baltimore 20-17.
As I mentioned in my previous post about the playoffs, the Steelers will not have running back Le'Veon Bell. However they will have safety Troy Polamalu back after missing two games due to a sore knee. How effective will Polamalu be in taking on the Ravens receiving duo of Torrey Smith and Steve Smith?
Smith… that would be Steve… has seen a career revival since coming to Baltimore. Since leaving Carolina, Smith caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards for 6 touchdowns for the Ravens. Smith (again Steve) has shown that he can come up big in the playoffs before.
The Steelers won their last four to win the AFC North while the Ravens went 3-1 down that same stretch (their loss was to a surprisingly feisty Houston team).
The Bell injury and the fact the Ravens have never gone one-and-done in the John Harbaugh Era is why I think Baltimore will play next weekend.
RAVENS 35, STEELERS 31
BENGALS AT COLTS, 1/4, 11AM (MT), CBS
When these two teams last played in Week 7, the Colts came away with a 27-0 win.
As I mentioned in my playoff preview, the last time the Bengals won a playoff game: 6 January 1991 against the Houston Oilers back at Riverfront Stadium.
I originally had the Colts as the AFC representative in my Super Bowl pick before the season. Now… I don't think the Colts will make that deep of a playoff run.
Why the sudden change?
I do not like the Colts running game.
Since his arrival via trade from Cleveland in 2013, Colts running back Trent Richardson has rushed for 977 yards and 6 touchdowns.
That is over the span of 29 games in two seasons.
The Colts rushing offense is ranked 10th among playoff teams. The Lions (ranked 28th in the NFL) and the Cardinals (ranked 31st in the NFL) are worse among teams in the playoffs.
The Bengals come into this game with the 6th ranked rushing offense. Only two playoff teams are better than the Bengals when it comes to running the ball: Dallas (because of leading rusher DeMarco Murray) and Seattle (because of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson).
This should point to a Bengals playoff win, but which Bengals team shows up to Indianapolis: the one that intercepted Peyton Manning 4 times on Monday Night in Week 16 or the one that squandered a chance to play at home in the wild card round in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night in Week 17?
The Bengals have made four consecutive playoff appearances, but the previous three have been one-and-done every other time.
This will be a nationally televised game. Bengals will be heading home.
COLTS 30, BENGALS 16
LIONS AT COWBOYS, 1/4, 2:30 PM (MT), FOX
With their win at Washington last week, the Cowboys have put the league on notice.
Dallas was 8-4 after their loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving and looked like another December was on its way.
This was a December to remember for the Cowboys.
Dallas went 4-0 in that month with wins over the Bears, Eagles, Colts, and Washington to claim the NFC East Title. Quarterback Tony Romo threw 12 touchdowns vs. 1 interception and was named the NFC Player of the Month. Running back DeMarco Murray claimed the NFL rushing title and broke Emmitt Smith's single season rushing record that was held in 1995 when the Cowboys last won the Super Bowl.
The Lions come into this game with the second best defense in points given up and yards given up. Detroit has also given up the fewest rushing yards, but in their last game Packers running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 60.3% of his passes for 4,257 yards with 22 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions. In his final four games, the Lions went 3-1 with Stafford passing for 924 yards, completing 59.9% of his passes, and 7 touchdowns vs. 2 interceptions. Even though wide receiver Calvin Johnson has seen his numbers decline to 71 receptions for 1,077 yards for 8 touchdowns, he is still considered to be a deep threat.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was originally suspended for the game due to stepping on the leg of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Lions 30-20 loss at Green Bay. Suh successfully appealed the suspension because he did not commit an on-the-field suspension over a two season period (32 games including pre-season). Deadspin explains the process on why Suh will play on Sunday.
Like the Bengals, the Lions have not won a playoff game in a LONG time. As a matter of fact the last time the Lions won a playoff game it was at the old Pontiac Silverdome in January 1992. Barry Sanders had 99 total yards and rushed for a 47 yard touchdown run to cap a 38-6 win over Dallas. That remains the Lions only playoff victory in the Super Bowl era and their only playoff victory since their last NFL Championship in 1957.
As a Cowboys fan…
As a Cowboys fan…
(ahem… AND THIS POST!!!...)
AS A COWBOYS FAN…
I do feel that this season is different. After 16 games I think the 2014 Cowboys could make a deep run in the playoffs because of their running game and rebuilt offensive line. If Tony Romo can have his December to Remember turn into a January Jubilation (I know lame), this team could make its first Super Bowl appearance in 19 years and end with a Fantastic February (again, I know lame).
COWBOYS 34, LIONS 20