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NFL Pro Football 2014-15 Wild Card Picks

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Fearless Rick's NFL Week Wild Card Picks - Early Games

Rick Gagliano | January 3, 2015

All times Eastern - Click here for late games.

Saturday, January 3

4:35 pm Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-5 1/2, 38) - No matter which of these teams wins this game, they could be "one and done" come next week, when they have to play another division winner or a hot wild card team.

Carolina qualified with the worst record of any playoff-eligible team, at 7-8-1, though they have momentum, winning their last four straight.

Ironically, Arizona was the first team in the league to wrap up a playoff spot, but, due to injuries to both starting QB, Carson Palmer and backup, Drew Stanton, the Cardinals finished the season with back-to-back losses and an 11-5 record overall.

The offense has been decimated. Over their last six games (2-4), Arizona has only scored 73 points, for an average of 12.17 points per game, hardly enough to strike fear into Carolina's defense, which has been exceptional down the stretch.

Ryan Lindley is expected to be the starting quarterback for the Cardinals, though Drew Stanton has been recovering and his status for the game is still murky.

Carolina's defense has allowed just 43 points over the last four outings, for an average of 10.75 in wins over New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Atlanta.

Regular season statistics may be a bit deceiving, though Arizona's defense is still among the best in the league. They were fifth in points allowed, yielding a stingy 18.7 per game over the 16-game span. The Carolina defense was notably absent through most of the season. They come in at #21 in points allowed, at 23.4, but, as noted above, have been playing excellent of late.

On offense, the Cardinals are a woeful 24th in points, checking in at 19.4 per game, and that number is exacerbated by their recent slump. Carolina isn't much better, their 21.2 points per game has them ranked 19th overall.

Key to the game will be whether the Crdinals' top receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, can get the ball in his hands. Arizona has no running game to speak of, averaging only 81.8 yards per game, second-worst in the NFL. For Carolina, the play of their quarterback, Cam Newton, will be crucial. If he can use his arm and legs to keep drives going, the Panthers will find the end zone and success.

Don't expect much in the way of scoring from either team, which should make for a close game which could be decided by a few turnovers. The point spread seems a bit out of whack, even considering Arizona's offensive problems. Carolina won't score much and a few big plays could be the difference.

Prediction: Cardinals 16 Panthers 13


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8:15 pm Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3, 46 1/2) - Baltimore wrapped up a playoff spot with a nifty win in their season finale at home over Cleveland, 20-10, but the Ravens have struggled all season long just to get to 10-6 and make the playoffs.

Pittsburgh is likely the hottest team in the AFC heading into the post-season. Their offense caught fire down the stretch, ending the season as the 7th-ranked offense in points, scoring, on average 27.3 per game. Baltimore is a close 8th, at 25.6.

The two AFC North foes split their games this season, each winning at home, but the Steelers have the upper hand, winning 43-23 at Heinz Field after dropping a September 11 game at Baltimore by a 26-6 score, their lowest point output of the season.

This is a colossal meeting of two fierce rivals, some of their games legendary for hard-hitting and close scores and this should be no different. Pittsburgh won the right to play at home by taking down Cincinnati, 27-17, capturing the division in the season's final game, and that secured home field, which is a huge edge for Pittsburgh, as their fans are among the league's rowdiest. Their noise levels will be disruptive to the Baltimore offense, which has enough problems with Pittsburgh's defense that more distractions could prove disastrous.

Baltimore is demonstrably better on defense than the Steelers, especially against the run, though they'll have to deal with Ben Roethlisberger at QB, who has the ability to extend plays with his inner clock and strong legs. Big Ben has broken down many a defense this season and in years past, and he is the main threat to Baltimore's defensive efforts.

The Ravens were sixth overall in points allowed, giving up just 18.9 during the regular season. The Steelers were sub-par, allowing 23.0 per game overall, but an average of just 17.5 in their final four games - all wins.

Home field has been good for Pittsburgh, as it usually is. The Steelers were 6-2 at home, losing only to Tampa Bay, 27-24, and New Orleans, 35-32.

Baltimore was an even 4-4 on the road.

Prediction: Steelers 27 Ravens 17

All times Eastern - Click here for late games

Copyright 2014, 2015, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.

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