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Thursday, January 1, 2015

NFL Playoff Predictions: Wild Card Weekend

It's playoff time in the NFL.  Since the NFL adopted its current playoff format a decade ago, the Super Bowl champion has been a wild card team three times.  In other words, as long as you make the tournament, you have a chance to win the title.  But the first step to the Lombardi Trophy is to win this weekend.

Arizona at Carolina:  Saturday at 4:20 p.m. EST on ESPN.  The first game of the NFL playoffs is one of the hardest games to predict.  The Arizona Cardinals won eleven games in one of the toughest divisions in the league while the Panthers didn't even manage a winning record in one of the worst divisions in the history of sports.  Unfortunately for Arizona fans, injuries have absolutely decimated the Cardinals.  When the Cardinals take the field, Ryan Lindley will be starting at quarterback instead of either Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton and Stephon Taylor will be starting at running back instead of Andre Ellington.  That is just to much to overcome in a road game in the playoffs.  The Panthers will score just enough points to outlast the Cardinals and advance in an ugly game.  Carolina: 17-13.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh:  Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST on NBC.  The AFC North was arguably the most competitive division in the NFL in 2014.  This game features a matchup of division foes and fierce rivals.  The Steelers won the AFC North and won five games against playoff teams along the way.  The Ravens only won two games against playoff teams, but one of those victories did come against the Steelers.  In terms of yards allowed, the Ravens have the 8th best defense in the league, but they are ranked 23rd against the pass.  Ben Roethlisberger was the leading passer in entire league this season.  Big Ben and Antonio Brown will be the difference in this game.  Despite a banged up Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers will score enough points to advance past the Ravens in comfortable fashion.  Pittsburgh:  34-24.

Cincinnati at Indianapolis:  Sunday at 1:05 p.m. EST on CBS.  I'm going to be honest.  I was really looking forward to picking against both of these teams in the first weekend of the playoffs.  Now I've got to make a choice.  The choice is even harder since the status of A.J. Green is up in the air due to concussion issues.  If this was 1995 instead of 2015, there is no doubt that Green would be playing, but alas we have better medicine now.  According to the conventional wisdom in Vegas, the home team gets three points in their favor.  So that's what I'm going with here.  Andrew "The Giant" Luck will carry the Colts to victory in a close but ugly game.  Indianapolis:  27-13.

Detroit at Dallas:  Sunday at 4:20 p.m. EST on FOX.  I'm not too proud to admit that I did not believe in Dallas when the season began.  But, I believe now.  The Cowboys are playing on wild card weekend due to the mystical NFL tie-breaker procedures, but they were actually tied for the best record in the entire NFL.  The Cowboys were the second best rushing team in the league this season.  Meanwhile, the Lions were the best rushing defense.  Even thought Suh won his appeal and will be playing in this game, the Lions will still be without Nick Fairley on the defensive line.  That's all the help that the Cowboy's running game needs.  The Cowboys' running game is going to set the tone early in this game and finish out the game during crunch time.  Dallas:  37-24.

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