(Featured image via nflplayoffsbracket.com)
Well it’s that time of the year again. You know, that time of the year where my team sits at home and watches the playoffs, while I talk about the teams good enough to be in them? Yeah. That time of the year. Enjoy your vacation, Alex Smith — I know you’ll manage to.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-6.5) - Saturday, Jan. 3rd 4:35pm ET on ESPN
The last meeting between these two teams ended with a Cardinals victory, 22-6 in October of 2013. The Panthers, winners of the NFC South finished the season with a record of 7-8-1, while the Cardinals earned a Wild Card berth at 11-5.
These teams head into the playoffs in two totally different directions; as Carolina has won four of their last six games, with the Cardinals losing four of their last six games.
Cardinals third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley will start against the Panthers in the wild-card game Saturday. Lindley will be the seventh QB since the 1970 NFL merger to start a playoff game with one or fewer regular-season wins as a starter, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The biggest advantage that sticks out, is the Panthers running game. No team in the last four weeks has been better at running the ball than the Carolina Panthers. But, with Arizona’s defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Cardinals run defense is no pushover — only allowing nine rushing touchdowns all year.
The Cardinals own the league’s No. 13-rated front 7 in terms of stopping the run, allowing 108.7 yards per game when on the road.
Prediction: I don’t see how Arizona pulls this game out, unless a lot of things go their way — early and often. If the Cardinals can somehow jump out to an early two-score lead (Not gonna happen) and force the Panthers to abandon the run, they might have a shot. If this game goes the way I think it will, I’d say the Panthers win in a close game, that doesn’t feel as close as the final score might indicate.
Panthers 23 - 17 (Whatever Salty)
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) - Saturday, Jan. 3rd 8:15pm ET on NBC
These two teams have been beating the shit out of each other for the better part of 20 years. They most recently split their two meetings this season.
Both teams are coming into the playoffs on a heater, with the Steelers winning five of their last six and the Ravens winning four of their last six.
The Steelers are 3-0 against the Ravens in the month of January, with all three wins coming at Heinz field.
Is Joe Flacco Elite?
Ummmmm. Smooth, Joe pic.twitter.com/hkNgpW3hIJ
— lindsey ok (@lindseyyok) December 11, 2014
This Steelers offense has been humming with Todd Haley the God at the helm. They rank 3rd in passing yards per attempt (8.2), 1st in big passing plays (43), 5th in third down efficiency percentage (44.7) and 7th in points per game (27.3).
The Ravens secondary has been a wet paper bag all season. They are currently ranked 28th in passing defense, even after facing two third-string quarterbacks over the last two weeks. However, Baltimore’s pass rush is arguably the best in the NFL — when the front seven applies pressure, the secondary’s job becomes a lot easier.
If the Ravens pass rush is not able to establish any kind pressure, this could be a very long day for the Purple Reign show.
The good news for the Ravens is, the Steelers always seem to start games very sluggish. This is where Baltimore is going to have to jump on Pittsburgh, to tilt the game in their favor. Don’t be surprised if the Ravens go for some big plays early to try and take the pressure off their defense — in what will be a shootout.
Prediction: I had originally predicted the Ravens to make a deep run if they made the playoffs. But after seeing this match-up — and the history between these two in the playoffs when the Steelers are at home, I’m going with Pittsburgh.
Steelers 33-29 (Whatever Jimmy)
(Charts courtesy of sportingcharts.com)