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Friday, 2 January 2015

The Best Must See NFL Matchups In The Wild Card Round

Matchup No. 4 - Carolina Panthers Cam Newton vs. the Arizona Cardinals’ defense.

The NFL regular season has come and gone but the madness lives on. On November 16th the Arizona Cardinals were 9-1 in position for home field advantage in the NFC. Meanwhile on December 7th the Panthers managed to go 64 days between victories. Imagine then, what if I told you then that the Panthers would host a playoff game as favorites over a team that started 9-1? Madness, pure madness! The Panthers are on a four game winning streak and playing their best football. The offense is getting healthier and the defense is making plays. The Cardinals team is really struggling behind a banged up offense. The Cardinals are really missing starting quarterback Carson Palmer who is out for the rest of the season. He brought some playmaking ability and stability to the quarterback position. Ever since then the starting quarterbacks are not getting it done. Losing starting running back Andre Ellington is another big blow, he has big play potential and is an excellent receiver. 

Cam Newton has also seen his share of injuries this season; he has overcome offseason ankle surgery, rib injury and a back injury from a car crash. Newton has all the physical tools to dominate. He has the size, strength, arm and athleticism that you can’t teach. Newton has saved his best for last as he was 3-0 in December as the starter. In those games he had combined eight touchdowns and only one interception. Newton has really jump started the Panthers running game. He is averaging 10 carries, 65 yards and a rushing touchdown per game in December. His ability to run and convert 3rd downs, and red zone opportunities to scores is critical to the Panthers offense. Newton must also avoid turning over the ball. In Newton’s five wins he has only 1 interception in loses/ties he has 11 interceptions. This offense is not dynamic enough to play from behind. Newton has two playmakers in this offense; Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen. Benjamin is the team’s best playmaker and red zone weapon. Olsen is a solid and dependable tight end. He does everything well, he has good size and speed, good route runner and has excellent hands.

The Arizona Cardinals defense is a dynamic unit. They take a lot of risks but also make tons of big plays. The run defense is solid at 13th overall but the pass defense is 29th overall. The Cardinals defense is blitz heavy so it’s not a big surprise they allow a lot of passing yards. Even though they give up tons of yards this defense ranks 5th overall in points allowed per game. This season the Cardinals defense also forced 25 turnovers. Cardinals’ safety Rashad Johnson is the x factor in this matchup. Johnson will have great responsibility in this contest. Johnson must contain Benjamin’s big play ability, cover Olsen and keep Newton from running around making plays. Johnson is the team leader in tackles and interceptions. Two of his interceptions he returned for a touchdown. If Johnson can dominate his matchups then I give the edge back to the Cardinals. If not, the Panthers will continue their surprising playoff run.

Matchup No. 3 - Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck vs. the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense.

Andy Dalton is 0-3 in playoff games and Andrew Luck is only 1-2 in playoff contests. Luck managed to overcome a 28 point 2nd half deficit in last postseason’s wild card round. I can assure you, that is not a recipe for success in the NFL. Dalton quite frankly has been miserable in his playoff starts. He has seven turnovers and only one touchdown in his three playoff starts. I expect a much better performance from Dalton’s playoff past. With that being said, the ultimate outcome will be dictated by none other than Andrew Luck.

This season, Luck set personal bests in every major offensive category. Luck also performed at an elite level among his peers. He led the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns. The Colts offense also averaged over 28 points a contest. This is very impressive for a team that lacked a consistent running game for much of the season. For all the good things Luck has done, I have two concerns about Luck; his accuracy and his turnovers. Luck’s 16 interceptions in the regular season are more than you would like from a franchise quarterback. His 61.7% completion percentage is also nothing to write home about. In his playoff career his completion % drops to only 55%. He also has at least two turnovers in each of his three playoff starts. T.Y. Hilton is the Colts best playmaker and Luck’s go to guy. Hilton’s tremendous speed and quickness make him a matchup nightmare for defenses. The Colts have a two headed monster at tight end with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Allen started out very fast with seven touchdowns in the first nine games. Allen’s injury has allowed Fleener to emerge in the last few contests. Each player has eight touchdowns this season. Luck throws to his tight ends heavily in the red zone. Anytime, anywhere against anybody when Luck is out there the Colts have a chance. It will be interesting to see which quarterback learns from their past playoff mistakes?

The Cincinnati Bengals defense is a mixed bag. They rank 20th in passing and rushing yards allowed. They were last in sacks forced. The defense was 10th in turnovers forced and 3rd in interceptions forced. In points allowed they ranked 15th overall allowing 22.8 points per game. Ultimately the Bengals will have to generate a pass rush to be successful against Luck. If they can’t get pressure expect Luck to have big game against this defense. The numbers would have you to believe that Indy should handle their business against the Bengals. But games are won on the football field so stats won’t decide the eventual outcome. Often times when Luck turns over the ball it’s due to pressure from the pass rush. In this contest the Bengals will need force at least three sacks and two turnovers to turn the tide against the Colts. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap is the player to watch on defense. He has 8 of the teams 20 sacks. If he can’t generate a pass rush then it’s likely nobody else will. If the Bengals don’t generate a pass rush, then Luck will light up the defense. If Luck has a big game the Colts will handle their business.

Matchup No. 2 - Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense.

This is a fantastic matchup between two bitter divisional rivals. These teams split the season series, with each team winning at home. The Steelers finished the season strong winning their last four games. Ben Roethlisberger had a career year in his 11th season. He managed back to back games with six passing touchdowns. The connection of Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown is a handful for any defense. This season the Ravens offense showed signs of improvement. Justin Forsett did a great job jump starting the Ravens rushing attack. Joe Flacco was a much more efficient quarterback. His completion % improved by 3% and he set a career season high in passing yards and touchdowns.

This matchup is known for great defense and physical play. I expect the game to feature plenty of big hits on the field. I don’t expect the game to be as low scoring as some might expect. I don’t see it being a 13-7 game more like a 27-24 contest. Both teams passing offenses are much improved compared to years past and the secondary’s are much worse than past teams. Flacco, in my opinion, is underrated as an athlete. First of all, he is 6’ 6” and 245 lbs he is a tough guy to bring down. Secondly his pocket awareness is much improved; in 2013 Flacco was sacked 48 times this season only 19 times. He also has good speed and quickness for a quarterback. Flacco has two unique receivers that are featured in this offense. Torrey Smith has exceptional speed, has always been Flacco’s big play wide receiver. This season Torrey Smith caught a career high eleven touchdowns. Steve Smith started out the season like gangbusters. Even though his production has dipped lately, he is pound for pound one of toughest players in the league. Few receivers can match his strength, determination and fearlessness that he possess. The Ravens have a great chance to knock off the Steelers if they can protect Flacco.

The Steelers pass defense is only 27th this season. The secondary has been decimated with injuries to starting cornerbacks and safeties. I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the eventual return of injured players. I would say this week the Steelers will be susceptible to allowing big plays to the Ravens. The Ravens have good weapons and can create favorable matchups down the field. The Ravens rushing attack is very good so the Steelers will have to stop a balanced Ravens attack. The Ravens will probably attack early downs running the ball and a lot of play action plays which could lead to explosive offensive plays. The Steelers must play smart disciplined football. Keep an eye on Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds. He is the best edge rusher on the team. He is tied for team lead with 7.5 sacks. A great pass rush can neutralize a weak secondary. This my football friends will be an exciting matchup, remember you heard it here first!

Matchup No. 1 – Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo vs. the Detroit Lions’ defense.

Speaking of excitement how about them Cowboys??? The played a masterful month of December. They went 4-0 averaging over 41 points in December.  In December no team held the Cowboys to fewer than 38 points. The offense is balanced and chalk full of playmakers and breakout performers. DeMarco Murray set a team record in rushing yards in a season. Meanwhile not to be outdone, Dez Bryant now owns the team record for most touchdown receptions in a season. The Detroit Lions finished 11-5 which is great season for fans of the team. The Lions’ have gone through a little bit of a transformation this season. The offense carried the team in years past, but this season it’s all about the Lions defense.

This week the most important playmaker will be quarterback Tony Romo. As great as Murray has been the Lions have the #1 defense against the run. It may be too much to expect Murray to carry the offense against the stingy Lions run defense. Romo’s efficiency is off the charts this season. He led all quarterbacks in completion % and yards per attempt. Romo’s 34 passing touchdown put him 4th overall. No quarterback had a higher qb rating or total qbr. Believe me, I have watched a lot of Cowboys games in my lifetime and Romo deserves more credit for the season he has had. Dez Bryant had another outstanding season. He has the size and speed to dominate cornerbacks. Even when cornerbacks try to bring him down he is excellent at breaking tackles and juking defenders. Bryant is a red zone master, he led all receivers with 16 touchdowns. I now present you an amazing stat. In Bryant’s first four seasons he had nine games with at least two receiving touchdowns. In those games the Cowboys were 1-8 when Bryant scored multiple touchdowns. This season he had four games with at least two touchdowns and the Cowboys are 4-0 in those games! For most of the season the Cowboys have been able to do what they want on offense. Is there somebody, anybody that can stop them?

I now present you the 2014 Detroit Lions defense. Everybody knows they are good, but how good are they? They rank 13th against the pass but 1st against the run. The Lions were 2nd overall in total yards allowed. They were tied for 2nd in points allowed overall. The Lions have a dominating front four. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh led the team in sacks with 8.5. He is not only a dominant pass rush rusher but excellent at stopping the run. The Lions have three defensive ends that can all get after the quarterback. Ezekiel Ansah, George Johnson, Jason Jones all had at least five sacks this season. They have plenty of talent to bring pressure on the quarterback. The Lions also have a tremendous playmaker in the secondary. Free safety Glover Quin led the league in interceptions. The Lions excellent pass rush along with a ball hawk like Quin will give the Lions a fighting chance. With playmakers everywhere this is worthy of being the must see matchup of the week!


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