Wild Card Preview: Cardinals @ Panthers

The Arizona Cardinals hit the road to face the Carolina Panthers in the first of two Wild Card playoff games on Saturday. Find out today’s key matchups, a betting guide and a prediction of who’ll win inside.

Preview

The Arizona Cardinals staggered home the second half of the season and will face the Carolina Panthers in Saturday’s Wild Card matchup. The Panthers (7-8-1) don’t have an overly impressive body of work in 2014, but managed to prevail in their last four contests to win the NFC South division and earn a home game in the opening round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals (11-5) were once in the driver’s seat for a much better postseason seed before injuries brought a surprising start to a screeching halt.


Key Matchups

QB Cam Newton vs. Cardinals pass defense

Outside of a handful of games, Arizona’s run defense has been stout all season long ranking amongst the NFL's top 10 for most of the year before dropping to 13th (allowing less than 109 yards per game). It’s no secret that Bruce Arians will sell out to stop Newton and Carolina’s rushing attack. That said, Newton’s ability to move the ball through the air will go a long ways towards determining who’ll be moving on to next weekend. The Cardinals pass defense ranked 29th during the regular season allowing nearly 260 yards per game proving it to be a vulnerable unit. The struggles of CB Patrick Peterson have been well document this year and his matchup against Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin will also be one to keep a close eye on.

RB Kerwynn Williams vs. Panthers run defense

Following the season-ending injury to starting RB Andre Ellington, Williams emerged out of nowhere to lead the Cardinals in rushing in three of the team’s last four games. Williams will need to find early success on the ground to open things up for QB Ryan Lindley and the Arizona passing game. In two starts, Lindley has a QB rating of only 56.8, something that will need to improve dramatically for Arizona to have a chance to win. Williams has managed to be quite serviceable in recent weeks, averaging 4.6 yards per carry including a 100-yard performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14. The Panthers don’t have an overly intimated run defense with the league’s 16th ranked unit (allowing 112 yards per game) but they’ve been better of late.


Betting Guide (Line: Carolina -6)

Arizona

Cardinals are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games following a S.U. loss.
Cardinals are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 playoff games.
Cardinals are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 road games.
Cardinals are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games as an underdog.

Carolina

Panthers are 8-3-1 ATS in their last 12 games as a home favorite.
Panthers are 6-2-1 ATS in their last 9 games as a home favorite of 3.5-10.0.
Panthers are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games following a ATS win.


Prediction

The Cardinals have performed well in the underdog spot most of this season but the injury bug that’s plagued the team all season long has finally caught up with them. With Lindley back under center for a third straight game, winning on the road in Carolina will prove to be a difficult task. Throughout Arizona’s 9-1 start, it was the defense that helped spark many of those victories with its play-making abilities. Those big plays, however, have dried up and the onus has been left squarely on the Cardinals offense, something that hasn’t panned out well for Arizona. Look for that to continue on Saturday as the Cardinals’ season will come to an end in Carolina.

Final Score: Carolina 27 Arizona 13


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