Friday, January 2, 2015

NFL Playoffs - Wild Card Round Preview

Some familiar teams and some surprises are in the playoffs this year as the NFL looks to crown another Super Bowl champion in about a month from now.
The wild card round gets started this weekend with two games taking place in both the AFC and NFC while four division winners (New England, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle) have the bye week.
The following is a breakdown of the four games this weekend ... followed by the Heftyinfo picks for the games.

AFC Wild Card Round

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers - These two teams do not like each other and the Steelers will be looking to make it four in a row against their rivals in the post-season.  They split the season games in the AFC North battle with Pittsburgh blowing out Baltimore, 43-23 in early November. The Ravens blasted the Steelers, 26-6 in Week Two.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco passed for just under 4,000 yards this season with 27 TD passes and just 12 interceptions while Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger had his best ever regular season (statistically) with 4,952 yards passing along with 32 TD passes and only nine picks thrown.
The Steelers rate the edge in offense with Antonio Brown at wide receiver and Heath Miller at tight end, but they will be without Le'Veon Bell (1,361 rushing yards this year) who was injured (knee) in last week's season finale against Cincinnati.  Ravens RB Justin Forsett (1,266 yards rushing) enjoyed a renaissance season after starter Ray Rice was suspended for off the field issues and then released by the team back in early September.
Both teams defenses reflect each other as each has good run defense with sub-par pass defense that had eleven interceptions by the secondaries for each team.

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts -  The Colts shut out the Bengals (in Indy) 27-0 back in October and rate the edge in this one as well.
However, Cincinnati has since found a running game with rookie back Jeremy Hill going for 1,124 yards (5.1 ypc average) teaming with Gio Bernard (680 yards rushing) who missed time this season with various injuries.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton is 0-3 in the playoffs and looks to get rid of the negative tag that has plagued him come January. The "Red Rifle" often turns into the "Red Ryder BB Gun" once the playoffs arrive.
As for the Colts, they have been on a roll of sorts late in the season, winning five of their final six games with QB Andrew Luck throwing 40 touchdown passes with 16 interceptions to go with 4,761 yards. Wideouts Reggie Wayne (64 receptions) teams with All-Pro T.Y. Hilton (82 receptions for 1,345 yards and seven TD) and tight end Coby Fleener (51 catches and eight TD) to offset a weak running game.
The Bengals have a stellar defense that seems to be rounding into form at the right time, especially the pass defense, which had 20 interceptions this season. The Colts defense has been steady all season, allowing 343 yards per game while registering 41 QB sacks.

NFC Wild Card Round

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers - These teams met after the 2008 season in the playoffs and the Cards surprised the heavily favored Panthers, but the Cardinals are the slight favorites this time around, facing a team with a 7-8-1 record.
The Panthers are led by QB Cam Newton, who threw for 3,127 yards with 18 TD and 12 picks in a sub par season while also missing time with injury. Running back Jonathan Stewart came on strong late in the season, gaining 809 yards (4.6 ypc average) while rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin (73 grabs for 1,008 yards and nine TD) and TE Greg Olsen (84, 1,008, six TD) provide targets for the passing game.
Arizona has third string QB Ryan Lindley starting this game and has good targets in wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (team leading 63 receptions), Michael Floyd (17.9 yards per catch) and rookie John Brown, who made 48 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns.
The Panthers have been on a roll defensively, allowing only 43 points in a four-game winning streak that propelled the team into the playoffs for the second straight year.
Arizona's defense was among the best in pro football this season, giving up just 18.7 points per game.

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys -  This game has the potential to be the best this weekend as one of the best defenses in the NFL takes on one of the league's best offenses.
The Lions defense gave up just 301 yards per game and was tops in the NFL against the run, allowing only 69 yards per game while the pass defense was adequate, picking off 20 passes and getting 42 QB sacks this season. In addition, the Lions gave up 282 points, which was third best among defenses in the NFL.
On the flip side, the Cowboys ranked second in the NFL in rushing, gaining 147 yards per game with running back DeMarco Murray leading the way with a league best 1,845 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.
The Cowboys can score points and their passing game was among the best in the NFL as well as QB Tony Romo passed for 3,705 yards with 34 TD and only nine interceptions. Wide receiver Dez Bryant was a beast, catching 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns. Tight End Jason Witten is another target for Romo, grabbing 64 passes for 703 yards and five touchdowns.
The Lions offense was up and down this season with QB Matthew Stafford throwing for 4,257 yards along with 22 TD and 12 interceptions. Wide receivers Golden Tate (99 receptions for 1,331 yards with four TD) and Calvin Johnson (71, 1,077 yards, eight TD) are the go to guys for Stafford while running back Joique Bell ran for 860 yards while rushing for seven touchdowns.
The Dallas defense allowed 355 yards per game (103 rushing and 252 passing) while picking off 18 passes but registered just 28 sacks while allowing 352 points.

The Heftyinfo picks for the Wild Card Round (Home teams are listed in BOLD)

Arizona over Carolina
Pittsburgh over Baltimore
Cincinnati over Indianapolis
Dallas over Detroit

Last Week's Record:  11-5

SEASON RECORD:  174-81-1

Lock of the Week Record:  15-2

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