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The NFL playoffs kick off Saturday afternoon when the Arizona Cardinals travel across the country to face the Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals finished the season with an 11-5 record, second in the NFC West. The Panthers won the NFC South with a record of 7-8-1. Both team’s record are not indicative of their play at all. Bruce Arians’ Cards finished the year 2-4 in their last six games after starting quarterback Carson Palmer tore his ACL. The Panthers went 4-6 in their last ten games, that is a six game losing streak, and then finishing the season with four consecutive wins.

Aside from the 1982 shortened NFL season, there has only been one other time where a team with a losing record made it into the playoffs. It was the 2010-11 season. That year, all four teams in the NFC West finished below .500, but Seattle won the division with a 7-9 record. The Seahawks were the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs and were able to host a home playoff game against the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New Orleans Saints. The Saints were favored to win by 10 points. But, this game was the birth of beast mode. Marshawn Lynch ran for a 67-yard touchdown but not before breaking nine tackles on the way. That run led the 7-9 Seahawks to win the game. Maybe this year, the second team under .500 to make the playoffs will become the second team under .500 to win a playoff game.

The Carolina Panthers are in good shape to follow in the Seahawks’ footsteps. They are playing their best football right now. In their past four games, the team is averaging to score 27.75 points a game, compared to averaging 19 points per game in the team’s first twelve games. The offense has been operating on all levels. Thanks to the offensive line, the running game has excelled. The team as a whole is averaging 199.25 rushing yards in their past four games. If they can keep up the run game, it will be very difficult to stop this offense. Quarterback Cam Newton has played extremely well. He has averaged 65 rushing yards per game. His speed and running ability is just another weapon that a defense has to account for when game planning.                                     

 

Over the Panthers’ past four games, the team has only given up an average of 10.75 points per game. But in the team’s first twelve games they have up an astronomical 27.5 points a game. Only two teams finished the season with higher points per game average. Early in the season the defense suffered from the loss of Greg Hardy who was a key player in it last year. But defensive end Charles Johnson has quietly stepped up and played great football recently. Second round draft pick Kony Ealy has also improved his game and is being given more of an opportunity to prove himself. Linebacker Luke Kuechly has been a great player since he stepped onto the football field. The defense is figuring itself out and it couldn’t be happening at a better time.

 

The Arizona Cardinals announced on November 7th that they had agreed to a 3- year $50 million contract extension with quarterback Carson Palmer. Two days later, in the team’s next game, Palmer tore his ACL, which ended his season. They just haven’t been the same since the injury. The Cards won the game Palmer got hurt and the next one to extend their record to 9-1. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton started in his place and did somewhat well. In the five games he started, Stanton led to the team to a record of 3-2, but didn’t finish the fifth game. He partially tore his ACL and sprained his MCL. Stanton is trying to play in Arizona’s game against Carolina but it doesn’t look like it’ll happen. Third string quarterback Ryan Lindley has not played very well, but how often does a third string QB get to start a playoff game? He started the Cardinals’ last two games and the team lost both of them.


The team averages to rush for 81.2 yards per game, which is good for 31st in the league. Since the injury to Palmer, the team’s rushing has not been effected, rushing for about 79 yards in the past six games. The Cardinals have a platoon in the backfield. Andre Ellington had been the primary running back for the most of the season but Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor have been getting more and more carries lately. It doesn’t matter which running back will get the majority of the carries in the Wild Card round, but they will need to do well to relieve some of the pressure on Lindley.


Arizona’s defense has been great all season excluding a game or two. The defense is averaging to give up 18.7 points per game, that’s good for 5th in the league. Surprising, they also give up 368.2 yards a game, which is 24th in the league. Within the team’s past six games they have held opponents at or less than 20 points, which should be good enough to keep the game close. The defense has led this team to a number of victories.

My prediction: This will be a low scoring game. Both defenses will step up and limit the opposing offenses. Cam Newton will continue his dominance. He’ll throw and run for touchdowns. Ryan Lindley will not have enough to lead the Cardinals to victory. The Panthers will win. The final score will be 24-13.

Football