NFL Playoffs: NFC Wildcard Weekend Preview
By Eric Roddy
The Carolina Panthers crept into the playoffs after winning the league’s worst division, the AFC South. Their reward: facing an Arizona Cardinals team who is on QB number 5,000 for the season. Okay maybe not that many QB’s have played since Carson Palmer went down, but the Cardinals are by no means the team they were earlier on in the season. In the other NFC Wildcard showdown, the Detroit Lions travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys in what should be a game determined by who can get to the QB more. Both Dallas and Detroit boast aggressive defenses who like to get to the opposing quarterbacks, and Tony Romo will have a chance to make up for previous playoff disasters.
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers, SAT 4;35 ET ESPN:
It is sort of strange to think that the Cardinals finished the regular season 11-5, and yet still have to go on the road to face the Panthers, who are a shocking 7-8-1. But, that is the beauty of how strange the NFL can be. Despite the lopsided difference in both teams record, it feels like the Panthers are still the favorite here, mainly because they have the much more solid QB in Cam Newton. The Panthers are coming off their best performance of the season too, a 34-3 drubbing of Atlanta in the Georgia Dome, a game I had the pleasure of attending. The Panthers simply owned the Falcons in all three facets of the game, and have rediscovered their once league-leading defense, picking off Matt Ryan twice in the game.
The Cardinals also boast one of the league’s best defenses, led by former Dolphins coach Todd Bowles, who is a top head coaching candidate heading into the 2015 off season. His willingness to send crazy blitzes regardless of the score or scenario makes for big plays on both sides of the balls. The key for the Cardinals will be a big defensive stop or a defensive score to give QB Ryan Lindley and the offense a lead to work with. If the Panthers get ahead early, this one is over.
Final Prediction: Panthers 23 Cardinals 17
Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys, SUN 4:40 ET FOX:
Dallas has finally conquered their December woes and once again find themselves in the post season. They will face a Lions team that has remained consistent on both sides of the ball all season long. This game will feature two of the league’s best WR’s in Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant. Both are over 1,000 yards on the season and Bryant leads the league in TD’s with 16.
Look for both to have big games and stretch the field, giving the running backs for both teams more room to run. Overall, I see this being a high scoring, gun-slinging shootout, The question, and deciding factor, will be which turnover prone QB will play the cleaner game? Matthew Stafford has the better receiving corps, but Tony Romo enjoys a better O-Line and rushing attack. Feed DeMarco Murray Dallas.
Final Prediction: Dallas 31 Detroit 30