By Jonathan Rodrigues
Carolina Panthers vs Arizona Cardinals
Kickoff at 4:20 pm
Saturday January 3, 2015
For the first time in the history of the NFC South, there is a back-to-back champion. No team has ever come in first place in this division since its founding in 2002. The Carolina Panthers went on a four game win streak to end their season with a record of 7-8-1. None of the teams that they bested in that time frame are in the playoffs. During the season they played against six AFC and NFC opponents who are in the playoffs with a final record of 1-4-1, their win came against Detroit in week 2, with a tie against Cincinnati. These last four games, the defensive line of the Carolina Panthers has stepped up and is beginning to look like the second seed they were last season. The key for Carolina to win this matchup is to pressure the quarterback. Ryan Lindley is not the ideal starter for the Cardinals and if Carolina can get to him early and often, they will have a very good chance at upsetting the 11-5 Cardinals. Bruce Arians and the Cardinals know that their 24th ranked offense will have a tough time against Carolina with their 3rd string quarterback under center, therefore the key to the game is for the defense to bend but not break. They can allow over 300 yards as long as they are stiff in the red zone. The Arizona defense is ranked 5th in the NFL allowing only 18.7 points per game.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens
Kickoff at 8:15pm
Saturday January 3, 2015
Bitter rivals will be facing off for the second game in this year’s NFL Wild Card round. The Baltimore Ravens with a 10-6 record will be heading to Pittsburgh to clash with their fiercest adversary, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first time these teams met this season, the Ravens were a force to be reckoned with at M&T Bank Stadium, crushing the black and gold with a 26-6 victory. On November 2nd the Ravens traveled to Pittsburgh for the second meeting of the year, where Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for six touchdowns and had a QBR of 136.3. The Steelers and Ravens have faced off in the playoffs a total of three times, the most recent being 2011. Pittsburgh has hosted all three meetings and won each of them by an average margin of 11 points. This season the Steelers ended as champions of the AFC North and I predict that in this meeting of AFC North Rivals they will come out the victor. The Steelers were given some unfortunate news with the loss of Le’veon Bell from the lineup due to a hyperextension in his knee. The Black and Gold responded to their issue with the addition of ex-Browns running back Ben Tate. While playing for the Browns, Tate did not get the chance to play against the Ravens, Coach Mike Tomlin will have to get him up to speed with the offensive strategy. The loss of Bell is critical to the matchup as he contributed to 2,215 yards of the Steeler offense this season. It is critical that Ben Roethlisberger is able to spread the ball between his receivers in this game. Antonio Brown has emerged as an elite receiver in the NFL with over 1,500 receiving yards on the season. If the Ravens are destined to upset the Steelers in this game, they will have to do it defensively. The last time the teams met the Steelers posted 43 points, and that cannot happen again. I don’t believe that the Purple Pain will be able to withstand the power of the Black and Gold. Waive those Terrible Towels high, Steelers fans, rivalry week (especially in the Postseason) is the most passionate.
Indianapolis Colts vs Cincinnati Bengals
Kickoff at 1:05pm
Sunday January 4, 2015
The Indianapolis Colts will be hosting the Cincinnati Bengals for the second AFC Wild Card game. Andrew Luck has brought the Colts to the fourth seed in the AFC with an 11-5 record while the 10-5-1 Bengals are one of three AFC North teams in this playoff picture. The Colts have shown flashes of brilliance this year while they still lack in the field of rushing offense. Trent Richardson is not the powerhouse Alabama running back that they had hoped for in their trade with the Cleveland Browns last year. The Bengals are in the playoffs for the third straight year with Andy Dalton under center. The Red Rifle has never won an NFL playoff racking up the lack-luster statistics of one touchdown and six interceptions. Luck’s playoff career is average but includes an amazing comeback against the Chiefs last season leading to a 45-44 victory. The key for the Colts is to establish some kind of running attack early, then when the defense begins to come forward, let Andrew Luck go to work. Andy Dalton and the Bengals will have their hands full, but to win this match-up against a strong Colts team the Bengals have to use all of their offensive weapons while playing a solid defensive game. Cincinnati played a flawless game against the second seeded Broncos on Monday Night Football, and their defense has to play at the same or higher of a level to win this playoff game. The Bengals have a very talented offense in a pass-heavy league. Jeremy Hill has come into his role as the premier running back for the team and A.J. Green is one of the most talented receivers in the NFL. No matter the skill-set on offense, I do not see Andy Dalton’s playoff woes turning around this season at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Dallas Cowboys vs Detroit Lions
Kickoff at 4:40pm
Sunday January 4, 2015
Tony Romo has finally overcome his December slump, and in a large manner. Romo threw twelve touchdowns and only one interception in the final month of the regular season. The Detroit Lions have slumped a little from the strong lead in the NFC North to a wild card team and the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs. This matchup will be a showdown of strength and endurance. The stringent offensive line of the Cowboys will be going helmet to helmet with one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL. The front seven of the Lions are all about power and are ranked first in rushing yards allowed, with an average of 69.3 yards per game. The goal for Dallas is to come out with a balanced offense, something they have stressed the second half of their season. They need to come out strong utilizing their all-pro offensive line. If Detroit wants to leave Arlington, Texas with a win, then they will have to stop Demarco Murray and overpower the Cowboys. If the defensive front of the Lions is able to hit Romo early and antagonize him in the pocket, then they will have a greater chance at winning. Dallas has been a consistent force throughout the season, and that is why I believe they will be the force that shows dominance in this matchup.