@TSFSports NFL Wildcard Picks: The Carolina Panthers have landed on their feet and are ready to pounce


Just a month ago, we weren’t sure if Cam Newton would be in the playoffs — let alone running.

Twenty-six days ago, Cam Newton’s SUV flipped and in the process threw the Carolina Panthers franchise player and their playoffs hopes into a tizzy.

Triumph emerged from potential tragedy as the Panthers won four in a row — with Newton starting in the last two to win the NFC South. Today the Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals in the first of four NFL Wildcard games this weekend.

Saturday January 3, 2015: Games at 4:20 pm and 8:15 pm

Arizona Cardinals (11-5) at Carolina Panthers: (7-8-1) – The Panthers head into the postseason winners of four in a row. The Cardinals have won only two of their last five and three of their final seven since losing starting quarterback Carson Palmer to a torn ACL on November 9th.

Drew Stanton gets the nod for the Cardinals who still have a formidable passing game with deep threats John Brown, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald — who has been under the radar this season, but is still dangerous.

Prediction: Johnathan Stewart has revived the Carolina running attack — which makes Cam Newton that much more dangerous. DeAngelo Williams returns to the backfield. Kelvin Benjamin should have some success against Patrick Peterson — who has been less than stellar this season. Tight end Greg Olsen could be in for a huge day. The Panthers defense looks revived after a dominant performance against the Falcons last week.

Panthers 27 – Cardinals 17

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – The loss of AFC rushing leader Le’Veon Bell hurts the Steelers chances of controlling the clock and maintaining any kind of offensive balance. The next closest rusher to Bell is LeGarrette Bount who was released by the team after eleven games. Undrafted rookie Josh Harris will assume the backfield duties. Receivers Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton will be busy. Watch for tight end Heath Miller tonight.

The Ravens have survived the Ray Rice drama and will get back Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata — who served a four game suspension for failing a test for Adderall. The Ravens found a gem in Justin Forsett and a valued leader in Steve Smith.

Prediction: The thought of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethliesberger potentially dropping back 40+ times without the safety net of a running game plays into the hands of the Ravens defense. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs have combined for 29 sacks and will be looking for Big Ben on the regular.

Ravens 24 – Steelers 20

Sunday January 4, 2015: Games at 1:05 and 4:40 pm

Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5) – Andrew Luck continues to amaze in his third season. Without much of a running game, Luck passed for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns. The electric T.Y. Hilton (82/1,345/7) has become one of the most feared deep threats in just his third season. The timeless Reggie Wayne (64/779/2) was second on the team in receptions and yards. Tight end Coby Fleener has been Luck’s main man in red zone and short yardage opportunities.

Hard to tell if the Bengals are coming or going.The one certainty is the critics will come out in droves if Andy Dalton is unable to shake his postseason demons. Dalton has two grinding backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard capable of breaking big gains at any time. A.J. Green hasn’t set the world on fire, but when he’s been healthy he’s almost unstoppable. One the other side, receiver Mohammed Sanu is more than capable of giving the Colts secondary problems.

Prediction: The Bengals are more than capable of pulling off the upset as they are one of the NFL’s best road teams. Andrew Luck is primed for games like this, how can we forget last year’s wildcard performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. Once he gets a reliable running back he’ll be unstoppable.

Colts 31 – Bengals 23

Detroit Lions (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – The Dallas Cowboys are the team no one wants to face in these playoffs. The NFL’s leading rusher DeMarco Murray is fronted by an offensive line that will be tested against a ferocious Lions pass rush. Wide receiver Dez Bryant has been in playoff mode since December and is going to be a matchup problem for the opposition. Tony Romo is having his best year despite the bumps and bruises, he’s been able to ride the wave of a strong running game and offensive line.

The Lions have the firepower to keep up with the Cowboys, Joique Bell and Reggie Bush are able to catch their share of passes as well. Golden Tate was flat-out great when Calvin Johnson was out and his play was sub par. Matt Stafford didn’t post the eye-popping numbers we’re used to seeing, but he’s capable of going off at any time.

The Lions run defense was gashed last week against the Green Bay Packers. This Dallas O-Line is much bigger and capable of creating holes for Murray. The true task of the day is protecting Tony Romo and giving him time to get he ball downfield. The Lions secondary is tough and could be a difference-maker if Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fraley can create pressure. This is going to turn into a game of wills and the Cowboys have the most will at this point.

Cowboys 29 – Lions 21

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