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Wild Card Predictions for the 2014 NFL Post Season
The Second Season begins: The NFL Playoffs. In the last 15 seasons, eight teams who play their first playoff game in the divisional round went on to win the Super Bowl. So like the 2013 Seahawks, 2003 New England Patriots, and 2009 Saints for example. And then of course you had teams like the Packers in 2010, Steelers in 2005 and Ravens in 2012 who have won the Super Bowl when they didn't have a bye week. Should be an exciting second season. Anything could happen. Good luck to your team.
Cardinals @ Panthers: Of all the teams heading into the playoffs, you'd probably hear Arizona mentioned as the team that one would feel least confident in. They started the season 9-1 involving a pretty good defensive showing allowing an average of 17.6 points per game. The Cardinals then finished the last six games with a 2-4 record while nearly giving up three more points per game. It's very easy to say that the injuries to their starting quarterbacks over the course of the season did them in. Going from Carson Palmer to Drew Stanton (very small difference) and then falling off to Ryan Lindley isn't good. Their running game hasn't really been a factor in addition to their defense having been not as dominant as it has been early in the season. In their final two games, the Cardinals allowed a combined total of 473 rushing yards. Those four games before that, only once did Arizona not allow over 100 rushing yards. For Arizona to pull off this victory, they're going to have to score some points (at least 23) while also having a dominant performance on defense.
If you remember some years ago, the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks (who won the division with a 7-9 record) hosted the then-defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. We kind of all knew that the Saints defense wasn't all that great but to add more salt on the wound, they gave up a 67-yard rushing touchdown to one Marshawn Lynch in what was probably the most memorable playoff moments in years. Any chance we see something like that here? A good chance since Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart was averaging 97.2 rushing yards per game the last five games. Throw in Cam Newton in the mix also; he's been averaging 65.7 rushing yards per game the last three games he's played. In addition, he's had a rushing touchdown in those three games as well. For one thing, Carolina probably wouldn't be in this situation if it weren't for the missed field goal by Cincinnati that ended up resulting in a tie for both teams. The other thing is their defense. They allowed an average of 10.8 points during their four game winning streak.
Ravens @ Steelers: The loss of Le'Veon Bell for Pittsburgh will hurt their offense. It's already known that he is instrumental in the running game, but he is also important as a receiver. Bell was targeted the second-most times during the season (behind Antonio Brown) and is ranked second among the Steelers receivers in receptions and receiving yards. Both and him and Brown are a reason that Pittsburgh is ranked second in passing yards (301.6 y/g). However, Pittsburgh did sign Ben Tate early in the week. Though this is the third team that signs him for the season, don't think he will have much of an impact. Maybe the Steelers are reconsidering the release of a certain player.
Baltimore is the fourth best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 88.3 yards per game (behind Seattle, Denver and Detroit also in the postseason). The Steelers are not very good defending the pass, but Baltimore is 6-0 when Joe Flacco throws the ball 30 or fewer times (4-6 record for more than 30 attempts). Looking at it this way, the Ravens will get Haloti Ngata back from a four-game suspension will help. However, their secondary has been a mess this season due to injuries. I don't think they will slow down Big Ben and his receivers.
Bengals @ Colts: The question mark here is A.J. Green (concussion). If he plays, the Bengals have a better chance at winning their first playoff game since 1991. As far as receivers go, Andy Dalton doesn't have much to go with. Andrew Luck does with Reggie Wayne (though he is more on the down side), T.Y. Hilton (another question mark due to a hamstring), the emerging Donte Moncrief, Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. What Indianapolis doesn't have is a running game to lean on. The season ending injury for Ahmad Bradshaw is a killer here. Cincinnati sure is fortunate to have two stud runningbacks. Look for their defense to confuse Andrew Luck and force him into making questionable decisions. The Bengals offense won't get shut out this time.
Lions @ Cowboys: Last year, Calvin Johnson went off for 329 receiving yards and the Cowboys amassed only 62 rushing yards. And now we are here. Dallas has the second best rushing attack in the league and Lion's Matthew Stafford has another receiver in Golden Tate to throw to. Well, he's had other receivers to throw to in Detroit but Tate is the better second-option (you could probably say that Tate has been a first-option guy too) that he has ever had.
The first thing to note is Dallas' offensive line against Ndamukong Suh and the Lions defense. Nick Fairley, Detroit defensive tackle, will be out for this game which should make the job a bit easier for the Cowboys. DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle shouldn't have a very difficult time running with the ball.
The next and last thing is about Stafford. He hasn't played particularly well the past two games. This is the second time Detroit has gone to the playoffs with Stafford since he was drafted in 2009. He has to play better-whether it's by throwing better passes or making better decisions. Tony Romo has been the better quarterback and Dallas is the more complete team.
Peach Bowl: TCU vs. Ole Miss Pick: TCU
Fiesta Bowl: Boise St. vs. Arizona Pick: Arizona
Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech Pick: Mississippi State
Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin Pick: Auburn
Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor Pick: Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota Pick: Missouri
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State Pick: Oregon
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State Pick: Alabama
Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Pittsburgh Pick: Pittsburgh
Taxslayer Bowl: Iowa vs. Tennessee Pick: Iowa
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA Pick: Kansas State
Cactus Bowl: Washington vs. Oklahoma State Pick: Oklahoma State
Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina vs. Florida Pick: East Carolina
GoDaddy Bowl: Toledo vs. Arkansas State Pick: Arkansas State