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NFL Wild Card Weekend: The Home Field Disadvantage?


The NFL Playoffs have finally arrived as NFL Wild Card weekend begins Saturday in Carolina. With four exceptional matchups taking place this weekend, the playoffs look to be picking up exactly where the regular season left off – full of excitement, suspense and shocking outcomes.

What better way to prepare for the games than breaking each one down? Trick question, there isn’t one.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

Midseason NFL Awards Bruce Arians

Cover Photo: Matt York/Associated Press

  • Deal Breakers

CAR: It is no secret that Cam Newton is the key to the offensive success of the Carolina Panthers. Not only does he control the passing game, but a plethora of injuries to his running backs have forced him to be the sole proprietor of the rushing game over the course of the season. Though Jonathan Stewart has been on fire as of late, much pressure still resides on Newton. If Newton can’t find success, the Panthers could be doomed.

AZ: Calais Campbell will be relied upon heavily to not only provide pressure on Newton, but to contain the shifty and elusive quarterback. The Pro Bowler has been disruptive all season long for offenses, and the Cardinals will need him more than ever to overcome Carolina.

  • Keys to Success

CAR: Carolina’s offense would be the sexy answer, but considering how much the Panthers’ defense has struggled at times this year one must assume their playoff hopes rest in Ron Rivera‘s ugly stepchild. If the Panthers’ defense is unable to stop a third string-led Arizona offense, it could be a long day. The Panthers don’t do that well playing from behind, and it would behoove them to avoid it at all costs.

AZ: The fate of the Cardinals cannot be placed squarely on the shoulders of Ryan Lindley. While the Ohio State Buckeyes may be excelling with their backup of the backup, the same cannot be expected from Bruce Arians‘s Cardinals. It is imperative that the Cardinals establish a run game against a unit that is prone to giving up big runs.

  • Prediction

Carolina 21, Arizona 17

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Contender or Pretender: Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger

USA TODAY Sports

  • Deal Breakers

BAL: Torrey Smith has been hit or miss this season for the Baltimore Ravens. On Saturday, however, the Ravens could put a dagger in their division rivals by attacking them where they are the weakest – the secondary. Smith has the speed to burn every cornerback the Steelers try to match him up with, and Joe Flacco has the arm to find him. Expect Gary Kubiak to attack Dick LeBeau‘s defense early and often.

PIT: Let’s not kid ourselves, with Le’Veon Bell officially ruled out, the game is solely on the shoulders of big Ben Roethlisberger. The passing game has exploded this year for coordinator Todd Haley and the Steelers will need it to continue in order to win. If the Ravens exploit the Steelers passing game, checkmate.

  • Keys to Success

BAL: With everyone in the word knowing a passing attack from Roethlisberger is on the horizon, Baltimore’s 23rd ranked pass defense will need to come up big against the likes of Heath Miller and Antonio Brown.

PIT: The secondary rose to the occasion last week against the Bengals and they will need to do so again against Flacco and the Ravens. If there is one glaring weakness with Flacco, it is his decision-making when under duress. If the front four of the Steelers can provide pressure on the former Super Bowl MVP, then the play of the Pittsburgh secondary could quickly become a moot point.

  • Prediction

Baltimore 35, Pittsburgh 24

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts

Contender or Pretender: Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

  • Deal Breakers

CIN: It would be easy to sit here and point at the need for an improved Andy Dalton, but the Bengals have shown they can win without him. That is why this game could rest on the shoulders of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. When the Cincinnati Bengals were pressuring Peyton Manning, they pulled out a win. Last week against the Steelers, Roethlisberger had all day and controlled the Bengals secondary. It’s imperative for the Bengals to find a way to pressure Andrew Luck or they will not win.

IND: Dan Herron was once a Cincinnati Bengal and now he is looking to quickly eliminate them once again from the playoff race. While the focus of Paul Guenther‘s defense will be stopping Luck, Herron is the offensive wild card for Chuck Pagano‘s squad. The Bengals have had their fair share of issues against the run game, and this could be the perfect time for a big game from the artist formerly known as Boom Herron.

  • Keys to Success

CIN: It looks as though the offense will be without AJ Green, which could surprisingly be liberating for Dalton. Without Green, Dalton is forced to look to other receivers beside his fellow 2011 draftee and check-downs to Jermaine Gresham. The Colts will likely be on the lookout for stud rookie running back Jeremy Hill, and the play-action game could be there for Dalton and coordinator Hue Jackson.

IND: The Colts must attack the Bengals’ defense early and often. It worked to perfection earlier this season, and the Colts should re-visit that well until it completely dries up. The Bengals are facing the playoff pressure on many fronts, and putting Cincinnati in an early hole could win the Colts a trip to the divisional round before halftime.

  • Predictions

Cincinnati 26, Indianapolis 24

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys

DeMarco Murray Dallas Cowboys

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

  • Deal Breakers

DET: Matthew Stafford has been inconsistent, to say the least, throughout the majority of the 2014 season. Against the impressive Dallas Cowboys, the Lions will need him more than ever. With Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and others, the Lions have the weapons to beat the Cowboys.

DAL: The Lions are first in the league against the run but 13th against the pass. While the Cowboys will try to get DeMarco Murray into a groove, this is a game in which they will need Tony Romo to be the gunslinger once more.

  • Keys to Success

DET: The defense has been stellar all season long, surprisingly, and the Lions will need them to step up once again. If the Detroit defense can withstand the immense firepower of the Dallas offense, the Lions stand a chance of upsetting the Cowboys. This game will be decided between the Detroit defensive line and the Dallas offensive line.

DAL: Cole Beasley could be in a very important role for the Cowboys. Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are the obvious “go to” guys in Dallas, Beasley across the middle could present many problems for the Detroit secondary. Beasley has emerged in recent week’s as a new threat/toy for Romo and the Cowboys’ offense, and Sunday could be his biggest game yet.

  • Prediction

Dallas 20, Detroit 17

 

Cover Photo: Getty Images

Grant E. Doepel

Grant E. Doepel

Founder at Sports Grumble
Editor in Chief and co-founder of Riverfront City Sports and Sports Grumble, Doepel is a Cincinnati native who lives and breathes Queen City sports. A University of the Cumberlands graduate with degrees in Journalism and Communication Arts, Doepel still resides in the Greater Cincinnati area to provide easy access to the riverfront stadiums.
Grant E. Doepel

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