The 2014 NFL regular season has come to a sad end, & its time for the 2014 NFL playoffs. This is a playoff year that sees many teams in the tournament that we are used to seeing on a regular basis. The teams that many thought would be dominant (New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, defending SuperBowl Champion Seattle Seahawks) lived up to expectations, but there are many teams playing in the NFL Wildcard Weekend who have a great chance to make some headway & possibly shake up the road to SuperBowl 49, which will be held on the first Sunday of February in Phoenix.
But before we get to Phoenix, we start with this coming weekend, with 4 games that will get us to the divisional round in two weeks that will take place in the 4 cities listed above. Here is a preview of the games coming up this weekend.
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers – Saturday, 4:40 ESPN
This game is a case of two teams who may be miscast in their roles in the NFC playoff standings this year. It can be argued that the Carolina Panthers have absolutely no business being in the NFL playoffs due to a 7-8-1 record & winning an absolutely terrible NFC South Division. Many expect the NFL to change this setup in the offseason, but for now, they are the 4th seed & the Arizona Cardinals, who dropped their big game to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16, a game that would have meant them getting the #1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs, ends up as the 5th seed, without a home game, even with a 11-5 record.
For the Cardinals, this team has been the walking wounded all year – the starting quarterback (Carson Palmer) has been out with a torn ACL, star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is banged up, & Tyrann “Honey Badger” Matthieu, Darnell Dockett & other key defensive players have missed significant time this year due to injury and/or suspension.
Nonetheless, head coach Bruce Arians has kept the Cardinals focused & has leaned completely on his defense, which has still been one of the best in the NFL all season long. That defense should be able to handle a Panthers team that is completely based on the quarterback play of Cam Newton & the big play ability of rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin.
The Panthers RB duo of DeAngelo Williams & Jonathan Dwyer have been inconsistent this year so it has been a struggle at times for the team to score points because of the fact that everything comes down to Newton & his overall playmaking ability with his ability to throw & run. These offensive issues alone will most likely give the Cardinals the overall advantage & ability to move them into the next round.
However, the Panthers defense will have something to say as well. Luke Kuechly has become one of the most dominant linebackers in all of the NFL & their pass rush & sound fundamentals will keep Lindley off-balance for a majority of the afternoon & make him think a bit when trying to get Fitz & excellent big-play target Michael Floyd open down field.
The main question for the Cardinals goes back to the quarterback position. Ryan Lindley has replaced Palmer in the lineup & the results have been lackluster at best. In week 17, Lindley threw for 318 yards & 2 touchdowns, but also 3 interceptions against the San Francisco 49ers. If the quarterback play can become stable & Lindley can avoid the big mistake, the Cardinals should cruise to victory here in a low scoring fight.
Prediction – Cardinals 20, Panthers 13.