Friday, January 2, 2015

NFL Wild Card Weekend Predictions

The 2014-15 NFL postseason is now upon us. This weekend four games will be on tap during Wild Card weekend, a week in the NFL that is typically pretty crazy in recent years. Since 2005 six teams that won on Wild Card weekend went on to the Super Bowl, five of them have won it all. Those winners include the 2012 Ravens, 2011 Giants, 2010 Packers, 2007 Giants, and 2005 Steelers. Only the 2008 Cardinals got to the Bowl but lost.

So which team will come out of this weekend with the potential to upset the top seeds on the way to glory? While it figures to be difficult, we will find out soon enough.

Cardinals (11-5) @ Panthers (7-8-1) On paper this would figure to be a good match-up for the Cardinals. They have one of the better defenses in the NFL, and the Panthers struggled to get to seven wins this year. However, Arizona limps into this game losers of their last two, and with no quarterback. Ryan Lindley will get the start for the Cards, which is not a good sign. The Panthers have won four in a row with their defense playing much better, and Jonathan Stewart finally healthy and running the rock extremely well. Prediction: Panthers 24, Cardinals 13.

Ravens (10-6) @ Steelers (11-5) This game is all about LeVeon Bell and the latest on the running back's health is not very good. Bell will indeed miss Saturday's game against the Ravens after suffering a hyperextended right knee last week against the Bengals. Bell was the ground game for the Pittsburgh all year, rushing for 1361 yards. He was also second on the team in receiving yards with 854. To say he will be missed in an understatement. Pittsburgh does have the weapons to get this done offensively with Big Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller, but losing Bell will be a blow.

One can make the argument that the Ravens don't deserve to be in the playoffs, but they are here. While the Ravens no longer pack a stealler defense, they do bring a strong running game to town with Justin Forsett having a career season with 1266 yards rushing this year. Not to mention Joe Flacco has been Joe Cool at times this year. Pittsburgh is not automatic at home; Baltimore isn't automatic in general, either. This match-up used to be about defense, but those days are long gone. Prediction: I should stay away from the Steelers with Bell out, but... Steelers 20, Ravens 17.

Bengals (10-5-1) @ Colts (11-5): The last time these two teams met it wasn't even a contest as the Colts blew away Cincy, 27-0.  However it is playoff time, and the result figures to be different. This matches two teams who have really struggled in the postseason of late. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the early 90s, their last four attempts under Marvin Lewis have all been losses. It doesn't help that Andy Dalton has been woeful in the playoffs. In three playoff games, Dalton has thrown six interceptions, his worst performance coming last season against San Diego. It would behoove the Bengals if A.J. Green were available at wide receiver, yet the wide out is likely doubtful for Sunday after sustaining a concussion last week.

As for the Colts, we have learned they can't be trusted either. They haven't been playing their best football down the stretch, allowing bad teams to stay in games, and getting smoked themselves by Dallas. While Dalton has had issues in the playoffs for the Bengals, so has Andrew Luck. Luck has thrown eight interceptions in three playoff games in his career, including seven picks all last season. He was the single reason why Indy didn't go very far last year. If the Colts are to turn around their playoff fates, Luck has to play better in this spot. Prediction: If A.J. Green is healthy, I'm picking the Bengals, since they are long overdue some playoff success. But, until he is cleared: Colts 27, Bengals 24.

Lions (11-5) @ Cowboys (12-4): How bout them Cowboys! If there is one team that could make a deep playoff run it might be Dallas. They have one of the league's best offensive lines, an excellent ground game, Tony Romo has played well down the stretch. Yes, I said it, Tony Romo has played well down the stretch. Romo and the Boys exercised their regular season demons, now they have to exercise their playoff demons. This will be a good start. While the Lions have had a great season, they are soft, especially against good teams. Prediction: Cowboys 34, Lions 17.

No comments: