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2014 NFL Playoffs: Saturday's Wild-Card Round

January 1, 2015

The following is a conversation previewing the 2014 Wild-Card match-ups (a preview of Sunday's games can be found here): 


Arizona Cardinals v Carolina Panthers @ 4:35 on ESPN
Cam is either revealing the 'S' on his chest or doing the chicken dance.

Mike Langston: Five weeks ago the Panthers were 3-8-1. Now, they are hosting a playoff game. Are they hot? Or, are they the benefactors of a perfectly timed resurrection or a perfectly weak finish to the schedule?

Bryan Harvey: Hm, sounds a bit like divine intervention. That eighth loss, which was a 18 point humiliation against the Vikings, was the team's sixth loss in a row. Then, they beat the Saints, only to have Cam Newton's back fractured two days later. So not only were the Panthers 3-8-1 about five weeks ago, but the day after improving to a still dead 4-8-1, their franchise quarterback also seemed in need of a miracle.

I'm not trying to make light of a car accident, but this is what the script would look like if M. Night Shyamalan made a film about football. Maybe he could call it Indestructible and it could be about an invincible Superman.

Moreover, Carson Palmer could play a quarterback named Mr. Fragile. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if we're to believe the team's been resurrected, then we have to believe in M. Night Shyamalan's genius too.

ML: Then it's the latter. Definitely the latter.

BH: Or, it's M. Night Shyamalan.

ML: I'm overriding the Unbreakable theory because the win streak began before the crash. The four that sealed the NFC South included a game against the equally awful Saints, the owners of the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft, Johnny Manziel in his first start, and a team led by a coach who was already being fired (despite having a shot to win the division). If the Panthers were playing any other team in the playoffs other than the Cardinals, I wouldn't hesitate to pick that other team. But the Cardinals are starting Ryan Lindley, a QB who finally threw his first TD pass in his sixth start.

BH: It was a bit like watching a baby take its first step at age six.

ML: Lindley's 1-5 record doesn't help much. The fact that Logan Thomas will be the only back-up in uniform hurts even more. Now, to the Cardinals credit, their defense is fantastic and they are playing only the second team ever to make the playoffs with a losing record since the schedule was extended to 16 games.

BH: Yeah, I agree. I'm not sure who on the Cardinals can provide that Marshawn Lynch against the Saints moment where he basically stiff-armed an entire defense Beyond the Wall. If something like that happens, it'll have to come from the defense.

ML: Yeah. I do think Patrick Peterson and the Cardinal defense will make Cam's job tougher than usual, but I don't see how it'll be enough to make up for how bad Lindley is. Further, the Cardinal defense has struggled against QBs with the ability to run as of late. Panthers win this one late, 17-14.

BH: I'm picking the Panthers too. However, if the Cardinals do win this game (and possibly a couple more), then start making room on the shelf for all those Lindley comparisons to guys like Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer. 

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers @ 8:15 on NBC

The best possible world would be this one.
ML: Can't they both lose? That's what we all want, isn't it?

BH: It is. Maybe we can find a way to make that scene from A Dark Knight Rises happen. Is their a real life Bane we can disperse? After all, Hines Ward is retired, so who else has experience scoring as an entire football field collapses?

ML: The Ravens have never beaten the Steelers in the playoffs.

BH: I don't think I knew that. Seriously, I would've assumed otherwise because of the reputation Ray Lewis and Ed Reed always had as spoilers, but I guess not.

ML: Yeah, but all of the Ravens postseason meetings with the Steelers have been in Pittsburgh. And they've only played them three times in the postseason (2002, 2009 and 2011). But that won't stop NBC from showing that stat a few times on Saturday night. I'm sure they'll also mention the two QBs playoff records, which are pretty darn good despite being the benefactors of two elite defenses for the bulk of their careers. Anyways, I honestly don't know too much about the 2014 versions of these two squads.

BH: I agree. I feel like no matter who retires or leaves via free agency from either team nothing ever changes. I fully expect to see Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, Tony Siragusa, and Ray Lewis all in uniform. Something else that hasn't changed is that the Steelers still have the better quarterback in this rivalry. Flacco may have won a Super Bowl more recently and has been more talked about because of the big contract that followed a championship, but Big Ben is in midst of a Renaissance that may have him throwing the ball better than he did back when the Steelers were contenders every year.

ML: You picking the Steelers?

BH: Yeah, I think I just talked myself into it.

ML: Pittsburgh is also a tough place to win in January. The weather is awful, as is the field, Bane or no Bane. And their receiving corps is stout and can bail out Roethlisberger from any really dumb throws. That edge is enough for me to take the Steelers. 24-17.

BH: We're like Siskel and Ebert with our picks.

Mike Langston can be followed @LangstonLCBBryan Harvey can be followed on Twitter @LawnChairBoys. A discussion of Sunday's games coming soon. The image of Cam Newton above was made by Grimboid and can be purchased on ETSY

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