Wild weekend: NFL playoffs begin with intriguing matchups and old rivalries

01/03/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs? Oh, the immortal words of former NFL head coach Jim Mora. Yes Coach, we are talking about playoffs. The first weekend in January brings us to the NFL post season. Four big matchups on "Wild Card Weekend."
Arizona at Carolina
What a difference a month makes. After 10 weeks of the football, the Cardinals were an NFL best 9 and 1. The Panthers were 3, 6, and 1 and would lose two more games before they'd win another. But it's the Panthers who come in with momentum, having won 4 in a row, while the Cardinals are reeling having lost 4 of their final 6 games. The downfall for Arizona has been injuries at the quarterback position. First Carson Palmer was lost for the season, then backup Drew Stanton was injured. Stanton has been ruled out for this game, which means 3rd stringer Ryan Lindley will lead the Cardinals into the playoffs. Lindley has passed for 562 yards and thrown 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. On the other side of the ball, Carolina is very happy with the way their quarterback has played. Despite missing time due to injuries, Cam Newton has put together a solid season, putting up over 3,600 yards in total offense and 23 touchdowns so far this season. Newton has passed for 3,127 yards and thrown 18 TD passes, and is 2nd on the Panthers in rushing with 539 yards. The return of a healthy Jonathan Stewart has helped spark Carolina's running game, while the tandem of TE Greg Olsen and rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin have been the go to guys in the passing game. Both players put up 1,008 receiving yards, with Olsen catching a team leading 84 passes and 6 touchdowns, while Benjamin had 73 grabs to go with 9 scores. Arizona is 4 and 4 on the road this season, while Carolina has the same record on home turf. These teams met last season, with Arizona defeating Carolina 22 to 6. The last playoff meeting came after the 2008 season, with the Cardinals winning that one as well en route to their only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

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Baltimore at Pittsburgh
It'll be Round 3 for these AFC North Division rivals, as the 10 and 6 Ravens visit the 11 and 5 Steelers. These teams split their two regular season meetings, with the home team winning each time. Baltimore won 26 to 6 in Week 2. The Ravens kept the Steelers out of the end zone in that game, and held the Steelers 99 yards rushing. They also kept Ben Roethlisberger under wraps as well, as he went 22 for 37 for 202 yards and an interception. The Ravens rushed for 157 yards in the win as well, and kept Joe Flacco from getting sacked. It was quite the opposite when they met again win Week 9, when the Steelers beat the Ravens 43 to 23. Roethlisberger went 22 for 37 in that game as well, but this time he passed for 340 yards and threw 6 TD passes. Antonio Brown caught 11 of those passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers offense will be at a disadvantage coming into this one though as RB Le'Veon Bell will be sidelined due to a hyperextended knee suffered in last week's division clinching win over Cincinnati. Bell put up 2,215 yards in total offense and scored 11 TD's during the regular season. In his place, Josh Harris will make is first career NFL start. The Steelers will still have Roethlisberger and league leading 4,952 yards passing and 32 touchdowns, as well as Brown, who led the NFL in receptions with 129 for 1,698 yards and 13 TD's. Baltimore will lean on Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Justin Forsett to get it done on offense. Flacco passed for 3,986 yards and threw 27 touchdowns, with Smith catching 79 passes for 1,065 yards and 6 TD's. Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards and had 8 rushing scores. The Steelers were 6 and 2 at home in the regular season, while the Ravens were 4 and 4 on the road. These teams have met 3 times in the playoffs, with the Steelers winning all three times.

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