The New Year is here and that means NFL playoff football. The playoff action gets underway Saturday afternoon and it will begin in the NFC where the Arizona Cardinals, despite a much superior record, will travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers. Arizona looked like the team to beat in the NFC early this season as they marched to 9-1 record, however since Carson Palmer went down with a torn ACL a sprinkle of doubt has loomed over this team. The Panthers managed to qualify for the postseason after blowing out the Atlanta Falcons in a winner-take-all game to decide the NFC South. Carolina went under the radar and dominated in the last month of the season to earn themselves a berth. The beauty about the postseason is the previous 16 games mean just about nothing at this point and it’s all about how you play from here on out.
Let’s take a closer look at these two teams and see will come out on top to play a road game next weekend.
The Cardinals came out of the gate this season hard and competed extremely well within what is a difficult NFC West division. Boosted by a 7-1 home record, the Cardinals were able to fight off a season-ending knee injury to Carson Palmer and another injury to backup Drew Stanton to qualify for the playoffs. However, the loss of Palmer was a huge reason for this team eventually slipping into a Wild Card spot after being so good in the first 10 games of the season. However, the Cardinals defense is a huge reason for their success and they will look to make things difficult on Cam Newton this Saturday afternoon. Despite uninspiring peripheral numbers, the Cardinals defense gave up just 18.7 points per game this season which is good for 5th best in the NFL. The defense will certainly need to be stout against the Panthers on Saturday as third-string QB Ryan Lindley is just 1-5 in his career as an NFL starter and went 229 throws without scoring a touchdown before last Sunday, an NFL record. The Cardinals don’t have much of a running game without Ellington, furthering the fact that this team will likely struggle to score points in a road atmosphere this Saturday.
The NFC South division was by far the poorest division in the NFL this season and based on the play of some of the teams in this division at times it appeared as if no one wanted to win this thing. However, you do have to give the Panthers credit as most eyes were on either the Saints or Falcons to eventually win the South by default. The Panthers held their final four opponents in the regular season to an average of just over 10 points per game while winning all four games. Carolina’s defense will be licking their lips this weekend as I mentioned earlier, the Cardinals offense is very vulnerable at the moment. Over the last four games, the Carolina defense showed signs of last year’s unit that also yielded an NFC South title and this year’s version may have a real shot at being the reason to prepare for a second playoff game this postseason. However, for that to be possible the Panthers offense needs to find a way to put up points against an Arizona defense that has prevented them all year long. Cam Newton ranked 23rd in the NFL in pass yards per game with just 223, and he recorded career lows in passer rating, touchdown passes, and touchdown runs this season. While the Panthers offense does average more yards per game than Arizona (347 vs. 320), the Cardinals have been pounded with QB injuries, so it’s certainly not a given that the Panthers will out duel the Cardinals on offense. The Panthers do a have a nice backfield as Jonathan Stewart had over 800 yards on the ground while Cam Newton’s legs are always a threat in the run game as well.
Carolina -6.5 (-110) @ 5dimes.eu
Arizona +6.5 (-110)
OVER 38 (-110)
UNDER 38 (-110)
My Pick – UNDER 38 POINTS
Obviously at first glance in this game you picture a low scoring affair that is likely not to be a blowout either way. The only thing you need to gauge is exactly how low the total can go until you decide otherwise. To be honest, this total isn’t low enough for me. The total of 38 means each team has to score roughly 20 points to get over and I just don’t think both teams can accomplish that. Arizona is playing a third-string Quarterback against a defense that has been ferocious over the last month of the regular season… on their home field. I do not have any confidence at all that Ryan Lindley can put the Arizona offense on his back on the road and score points consistently. Although with much more experience and some playoff experience, Cam Newton has had his worst season of his NFL career and has dealt with injury over the last couple weeks as well. Neither team in my opinion has a running game that is a threat to change the game, especially with both defenses being capable of handling the run. I could very well see this game turning in to a kicker’s game as field goals will be the main source of scoring in this one. In fact, the only thing that concerns me is defensive scoring and fumbling as I see most of this game being played on the ground. Take the UNDER 38 in the opening game of the NFL postseason and start the tournament off with a winner.