NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview Part 1

Conor Philpott
By Conor Philpott
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January’s here, and across the Atlantic, that means football season is reaching its apex.

Yes, it’s wild card weekend in the NFL and that usually means at least one upset and some serious football. Let’s get on with tonight’s picks:

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers - Sky Sports 2, 9:30 PM Saturday

The Carolina Panthers won the worst division in football with a losing record. The NFC South winners, finished 7-8-1 but they can take heart in their final month, with no room for error they won all their games, finishing off with a rout of the Atlanta Falcons 34-3.

The Panthers D has been much improved with 13 sacks and a third of their total interceptions coming in December.

Their Quarterback Cam “SuperCam” Newton, has certainly shown his Kryptonian qualities. Newton was involved in a traffic collision in early December, leading to two fractures in his lower back. Remarkably he only missed a week of action and the final two weeks of the year saw him throw for two touchdowns while also running for two more. The Panthers are riding the crest of a wave with an invigorated defence, running attack and Quarterback.

The same cannot be said for the Cardinals. They limped into the playoffs after beginning the season with nine wins in their opening ten.


Injuries have decimated this team. Their starting QB, Carson Palmer, was lost for the season in November with a torn ACL. The Cardinals were a team heavily reliant on their running game and defence, and for a time second string QB Drew Stanton filled in admirably winning two of his four games.

In addition to Palmer, star running back Andre Ellington was ruled out in early December, leading to a trio of inexperienced running backs leading the charge. The defence was carrying this offense for a large portion of the season, but when Stanton went down, the burden of injuries and suspensions weighed heavily on the team. Ryan Lindley, a former Cardinal was re-signed after Palmer’s injury. To put it bluntly he is a terrible QB, and it’s a shame the Cardinals have had such rotten luck.


This game is probably the least interesting of this weekend’s action. The Cardinals defence should keep the score low, but the improved Panthers and the sheer ineptitude of the Cardinals offensively means the home team should win out.


The line: Panthers -4 Pick. Panthers will beat the spread

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers - Sky Sports 2; 01:30 (Saturday Night/Sunday Morning)


Put the coffee on, have a steady supply of energy drinks and have a large supply of salty snacks at the ready.

The late night game sees two division rivals face off. The Ravens are a curious beast. They destroyed the Steelers in the second week of the season 26-6. That week was of course remembered as the period when TMZ released the Ray Rice video, showing the disturbing domestic violence incident involving Rice and his then fiancé Janay Palmer. The Ravens ownership and organisation came in for intense scrutiny during that period and one wonders was some of this negative energy channelled into their performance. It certainly seems like it, as the Ravens have only beaten one other playoff team this year, the Carolina Panthers.


Their second meeting of the season was very different. The Steelers won 43-23, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing 6 touchdown passes. The Ravens have quite the defensive front, spearheaded by Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. However their cornerbacks and defensive backs are weak. If the Ravens are unable to get to Roethlisberger consistently, then it could be a long night for Baltimore fans.

The Steelers have some potent offensive weapons in Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant. Brown led the NFL in yards and receptions, he is a versatile player and can strike at any time, but the absence of star running back Le’Veon Bell is a hammer blow for them.

The Ravens are also quite stout against the run, the Steelers will certainly target a weakened secondary through the air. The Ravens have had their struggles offensively during the last month of the season. Some offensive line injuries have hampered the team, they still run the ball quite well and their QB Joe Flacco has a big arm and has played superbly in the playoffs before. Their recent performances do not suggest the Ravens are capable of winning on Saturday. There isn’t a whole lot between these teams, but, I would favour the Steelers even without Bell. They have too much firepower for the Ravens.


The Line; Steelers -3 Pick. Ravens cover

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