After months and weeks of anticipation we’ve finally arrived to the playoffs where we have a clear cut view on who the 12 teams competing for the Superbowl are.
Within those 12 teams you have the:
(1) 12-4 NE Patriots
(2) 12-4 DEN Broncos
(3) 11-5 PIT Steelers
(4) 11-5 IND Colts
(5) 10-5-1 CIN Bengals
(6) 10-6 BAL Ravens representing the AFC
(1) 12-4 SEA Seahawks
(2) 12-4 GB Packers
(3) 12-4 DAL Cowboys
(4) 7-8-1 CAR Panthers
(5) 11-5 ARI Cardinals
(6) 11-5 DET Lions representing the NFC.
Seattle, New England, Denver and Green Bay all get the week off (Top 2 teams in each conference) so that leaves us with eight teams playing this weekend.
Saturday 4:20 PM ET
(5) Arizona Cardinals vs (4) Carolina Panthers
Throughout the season both teams suffered a ton of injuries. Carolina’s injury woe wasn’t as severe as the Cardinals though. Arizona lost key players on the defensive line, in the secondary and in the line-backing core. On the offensive side of the ball the Cards lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer and starting running-back Andre Ellington. Hall of Fame bound receiver Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t been as productive either because of the injuries he’s been battling. Because of the offensive injuries Arizona has been having a tough time generating points.
This season Carolina has been in a funk just like it’s fellow NFC South counterparts. After having a stellar year last season Cam Newton has failed to deliver the same type of success due to the lack of weapons he has in his current arsenal. Despite injuries (distractions Hardy) to the defense and Cam having a somewhat down year the Panthers still managed to win their awful division. Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin has shown that he can be a solid weapon and running back Johnathan Stewart has returned to a solid form, for now. They also have tight-end Greg Olsen playing at a high level.
Coming into this game the Cards have lost 4 of their last 6 games and managed to score over 17pts one time. They are on their 3rd-string quarterback and rank 13th in stopping the run and 29th in defending the pass. The Panthers are rolling right now having gone 4-0 in December. They rank 7th in rushing the football and 12th in passing. With Arizona pretty much being a team that relies on the defense to score Carolina should be able to dictate the flow of the game as long as Cam and co. don’t turn it over. The Panthers should win 16-9 with Cam getting playoff win #1.
Saturday 8:15 PM ET
(6) Baltimore Ravens vs (3) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Ravens and Steelers both faced questions going into the season. The Steelers dealt with questions surrounding the defense as well as their running game. The Ravens had to deal with the never ending, traumatizing Ray Rice debacle. With Rice gone there was a void that needed to be filled in order for Baltimore to take the next step. Journeyman running-back, Justin Forsett, stepped into the starting role and complemented Joe Flacco to near perfection. With the addition of Steve Smith SR. and the arrival of Justin Forsett the Ravens offensive dynamic changed.
The Steelers at the beginning of the season were a model of inconsistency. Midway through the season that started to change. Led by the best receiver in football, Antonio Brown and the 2nd best running-back in Le’Veon Bell along with Ben Rothlisberger the Pittsburgh Steelers became a fun, yet rather scary team to watch. They would dominate on the ground as well as kill teams in the air. They went undefeated in December and are on a roll.
Heading into this match-up these division rivals split the season series with the home team winning each game. The Steelers are 4-1 since their Bye while the Ravens are 4-2. In this specific game the Steelers will be without Bell who was the 2nd leading rusher and will also have a limited Troy Polamalu in the secondary. Baltimore on the other hand is healthier and they’ll be getting star defensive tackle Haloti Ngata back to help man the middle. With Bell being out the onus falls on the shoulders of Big Ben. The Steerlers are 2nd in passing while the Ravens are 23rd in passing yards allowed. Big Ben could very well win this game but being one-dimensional could end up costing them. The Steelers will hand Joe Flacco his 1st Wilcard loss. Big Ben is is rolling right now and has more than enough offensive weapons in the passing game to beat Baltimore. Steelers win 34-27
Sunday 1:05 PM ET
(5) Cincinnati Bengals vs (4) Indianapolis Colts
These were two teams that people thought would take the next step, especially the Colts. Andrew Luck was basically enshrined into the Hall Of The Fame without doing anything. Nevertheless the Colts won their porous division with little to no competition. En route to going 11-5 they got dominated by the likes of Pittsburgh, Dallas, Denver and New England. They went 4-5 against teams that are .500 and 2-4 against playoff teams. No resemblance of a running game and having only one stud receiver (TY Hilton) hurts them.
The Bengals started off the season on FIRE. After a few weeks they resembled a Superbowl team but quickly faltered after their Bye week. As of late they’ve been battling injuries that have plagued A.J. Green making the offense somewhat stagnant. Depending on the day Cincy can kill you with an aerial attack led by the likes Andy Dalton with Mouhammed Sanu and Green at his helm. Or they could gash you up on the ground with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. You just never know with them.
Going into Sunday’s game the Colts have won 5 of their last 6. They are the best passing team in football but are top 3 when it comes to turning the football over (Andrew Luck). The Bengals have been solid as of late but got shut out earlier in the year by the Colts, losing 27-0. This game will more than likely not feature AJ Green. Dalton doesn’t have a playoff win nor does head coach Marvin Lewis. Unless Cincy runs the ball over 40 times, AJ Green suits up or TY Hilton isn’t 100% I don’t see the Bengals misfortunes coming to an end. Colts win 45-13
Sunday 4:40 PM ET
(6) Detroit Lions vs (3) Dallas Cowboys
Often sought out as the most talented teams in the NFC, the Lions and Cowboys always seemed to disappoint until this year. Going into the season many predicted this would be Lion’s quarterback Mathew Stafford’s break out year. They changed coaches and gave Stafford more help by bringing in Ex-Seahawks wide receiver, Golden Tate, to complement Megatron. The Lion’s exceeded a few expectations because of how they managed to win games without Megatron. Golden Tate had a career year and the Lion’s defense was arguably the best in the league.
The Cowboys have exceeded everyone’s expectations excluding their own. They’ve discovered a new identity as I stated here (https://fortonsports.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/the-new-dallas-cowboys/) and have improved defensively. They boast arguably the best quarterback of the season in one Tony Romo, the leading rusher in football, Demarco Murray and wide-receiver touchdown leader Dez Bryant. The Cowboys also own the best offensive line in football. The game is won in the trenches and the Cowboys dominate in that aspect.
Ever since the home loss to Philly, the Cowboys have been dominant. They’ve scored 40+ points in 3 of their last 4 games (38 in one game) and are rolling on all cylinders. Dallas also went 4-0 in December. Detroit won 4 of their last 5 and have been very stout defensively. Defensive tackles N.Suh (monster) and Nick Fairley should be good to go giving the defense a boost. The Boys are the 2nd best team running the ball while Detroit is #1 in stopping it. Flipping the script, the Lions are 6th when it comes to turning over the ball and the Cowboys are 2nd in forcing turnovers. The Cowboys will win 27-14. Stafford just isn’t efficient enough to win and is prone to turn it over multiple times resulting in Dallas getting easy scoring opportunities.
Each game this weekend is compelling and should be competitive.
Comment below with who you think will win each game.
Follow on Twitter @RyanDFort & @FortonsportsInc