PFF Pick'em: Wild Card Round
As the playoffs open, our team has once again offered themselves up for picking the winners. A weekend of good matchups doesn’t make it easy, but we ended up with a pair of consensus games, a lone wolf and a split decision.
Led by our regular season Pick’em champ, Gordon, here are our wild card selections and some brief hints as to how we’ve come to make them:
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
Ben – The Cardinals have done tremendously to reach this point but their injuries at the quarterback position are simply going to catch up with them at this point, I cannot see them winning a playoff game with Ryan Lindley at quarterback. The Panthers may have made the playoffs at 7-8-1 but at this point that record is irrelevant, for right now they’re one of the hottest teams in the league with Cam Newton in good form, I expect them to continue that and snag the win.
Gordon – Somewhat lost in the hoopla of a 7-9 team hosting a playoff game is the fact that, with the exception of a midseason wobble, Cam Newton has had a good year at quarterback in Carolina. He’s also finished the season strong, with two big performances against the Saints and Falcons in the last few weeks to drag the Panthers back into the race for the division. Perhaps more importantly, the mismatch of the Panthers defensive line against the Arizona offensive line, especially on the interior, will likely see Ryan Lindley under pressure a lot. That’s not good news for Cardinals fans, with Lindley completing just 33.3% of his passes under pressure this season.
Khaled – If Matt Ryan can’t get anything going against the Panthers’ line then what hope for whoever the Cardinals line up? Panthers defense will push them to the Divisional playoffs here.
Nathan – The Cardinals have yet to score more than 18 points over their last seven games without Carson Palmer. Things seem to be clicking for the Panthers defense, so I don’t see Arizona putting enough points on the board. The Panthers’ biggest weakness on offense is their offensive line’s pass blocking, but the Cardinals don’t have the pass rushers to take advantage of it. It should be a close game, but I think Carolina has the advantage.
Neil – The Panthers are just in the process of becoming a decent team while the Cardinals (through no real fault of their own) have drifted away from that status. The work Bruce Arians has done to get his severely compromised roster this far must win him Coach of the Year but a victory here, with Ryan Lindley under center, would be a surprise to me.
Rick – Seemed better things were on the way for Arizona this year but losing Palmer then Stanton has them spiraling away, losing four of their last six after a 9-1 start. Getting the champs of the lacking NFC South helps to balance, but the Panthers have found to way in, are at home and playing well, and their D should be enough.
Sam – It’s a pity for Arizona, but I can’t see that quarterback situation winning a playoff game, though if they’re going to do it the winners of this year’s NFC South gives them the best chance they were ever going to get.
Steve – I’ve been doubting the Cardinals for much of the season and they’ve proven me wrong to this point, always seeming to find a way to win. I do think the quarterback issues will be tough to overcome, and when you combine that with Cam Newton hitting his stride, the Panthers look primed to make some noise in the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben – With Le’Veon Bell absent (or at least limited) due to his injury this makes this game closer and brings the Ravens back into it, but I just don’t think their offensive form in the last month of the season bodes well for them being able to win this game. Injuries in two key position groups I believe have caught up with them and will continue to on Saturday, at cornerback I don’t believe they can keep Brown & Bryant quiet for the entire game and the late season injuries on the offensive line will combine to see the Steelers through, even without Bell.
Gordon – The potential absence of Le’Veon Bell hurts the Steelers, but the Ravens come into the game with huge question marks at offensive tackle and defensive backfield, with injuries really hurting both groups this season. With James Harrison and Jason Worilds both having good years, and Antonio Brown arguably the best wide receiver in football, that’s two of the worst positions for the Ravens to have injury issues heading into this game. The telling factor will be how Joe Flacco performs, with the Ravens’ signal-caller grading positively on the road just twice in 2014 in wins against the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Khaled – The toughest game of the weekend to call. The loss of Le’Veon Bell is huge, especially against a stacked Ravens front seven that is getting back a Haloti Ngata who will have a point to prove. They could get one-dimensional passing the ball and that’s a recipe for disaster when you have McPhee, Suggs and Dumervil on the field.
Nathan – I think the Ravens have a better defense than the Steelers thanks to how well their front seven has played all season against the run and pass. Ben Roethlisberger has had his best season in years, but he will either be without Le’Veon Bell, or Bell will be limited. While the Steelers won the last matchup by a decent margin, Joe Flacco has been playing a lot better since that game. I think the advantages Baltimore has outweighs home field advantage.
Neil – I think the Ravens have the better overall roster and have a far better pass rush than the Steelers but in Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers have the more consistent QB and probably the best in the league under pressure. It’s on that basis I’m going Pittsburgh in a close one.
Rick – The Bell situation makes it tough, but I’m still seeing the Steelers edge this one even without him. Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh receivers vs. the Ravens’ rush and that secondary will be what to watch and should be the source of big plays either way.
Sam – The Status of Le’Veon Bell is huge. Healthy I think The Steelers win comfortably. Out or severely hampered it’s a far closer game, and it sounds like the latter is more likely.
Steve – Even without Le’Veon Bell, the way the Steelers’ offense has progressed this season presents a difficult match up for the Ravens and their depleted secondary. Ben Roethlisberger has taken his game to a new level and their passing game will be difficult to stop. The Ravens’ offense should give them a chance, especially if they continue to run the ball well, but I’ll take the Steelers in what could end up being an uncharacteristic shootout for this rivalry.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts
Ben – The Bengals got big wins and key defeats late in the season to the Steelers but the question mark over A.J. Green is swaying me away from them here. The Colts coasted through the final couple weeks so they’ll need to ratchet it up again, but I think they’ll have enough in terms of big plays to put the game on Andy Dalton’s shoulders for the Bengals — and with potentially no A.J. Green to go to, I think we know how that ends for Dalton and the Bengals.
Gordon – As up and down as Flacco has been for the Ravens, Andy Dalton has been even more so for the Bengals. But he has graded above +0.5 from Week 7 onwards, so it’s hard to have much faith that he’ll put together a strong showing on the road in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck hasn’t played well to end the season either however, but the Colts should be just too much for the Bengals in this one.
Khaled – Once bit, twice shy. Or is thrice now? In any case I just don’t have faith in Andy Dalton in the playoffs, while Andrew Luck has a certain quality that means he can make something happen out of nothing. After the shellacking the Colts gave earlier in the year, there’s no reason to think they can’t impose themselves on the Bengals again, though it will be closer.
Nathan – The last time these two teams played the Colts won 27-0. The team’s that have made Andrew Luck look bad are the teams who have been able to get a lot of pressure on him, but the Bengals defensive line hasn’t been able to get much pressure on anyone this year. Even if the Bengals can run the ball well, I don’t think they can keep up with the Colts’ offense.
Neil – The Bengals will want revenge but with issues both stopping the run and getting to the QB I don’t see it happening. Now if Marvin Lewis can come up with a game plan like he did against the Broncos things could get interesting, but that’s a lot to ask of this roster combined with Andy Dalton as your QB.
Rick – Distancing from what Dalton will offer, Luck provides the difference, adding to his deep ball totals here where he’s already attempted more than any other QB this year (88), completed more (39), and racked up more yards (1387) as well.
Sam – The one game of the weekend I think has the biggest potential for a walkover. There’s much more to the game, but Luck vs. Dalton is only going one way.
Steve – Given their recent struggles, I’m not sure anyone is going to give the Bengals a chance in this game, but I think they’ll put up a better fight than they did in their first matchup. The Colts are a flawed team, but I’m expecting Andrew Luck to make enough plays to win the game.
Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys
Ben – The battle of the Cowboys’ offensive line and the Lions’ defensive line is the pivotal encounter in this game and could be the best position battle of the entire playoffs. Getting Ndamukong Suh “back” will be big for the Lions but when a top O-line faces a top D-line I tend to give the edge to the offensive line. I think the Cowboys will be able to generate enough on offense to shorten the game and get out in front of the Lions with their balance. Everyone is waiting for the Cowboys’ defense to crash and burn to the unit that they were projected to be before the season, I don’t think that happens this weekend and they sneak out with the win.
Gordon – The most interesting matchup of the weekend for me, and the one I struggled most to pick a winner from. Both Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant should have big games and I was almost swayed by the Lions having Golden Tate to go along with Johnson this season. I’m expecting big plays a plenty in this one but think Dallas will manage just one or two more and sneak past the Lions.
Khaled – Perhaps the contest im looking forward to the most. Recent history might suggest this is exactly the type of game Dallas would lose. Expectations high and against a team with explosive players on both sides of the ball. But I think their run game (and it’s ability to win with different runs) will allow them to control the clock and pile some pressure on Matthew Stafford to make plays and throws he shouldn’t make.
Nathan – The Cowboys and Lions line up really well against each other in a lot of positions with strengths going up against strengths and weaknesses against weaknesses. The biggest advantage either team has is the Cowboys defensive line over the Lions offensive line. That matchup could make the difference and give the Cowboys the slight edge.
Neil – Suh being on the field makes this a game but Dallas have both the momentum and the offensive firepower to win out. The truth is the Cowboys should win this but Tony Romo “the playoff QB” and a defense that’s over-delivered all year could blow up in the playoff heat against a team with far less to lose.
Rick – Likely bucking a trend here, but my gut is saying the Lions’ D is the catalyst for a win and their O caps a close game with a late score… or perhaps that last bit is just the memory of last year’s thriller in Detroit.
Sam – Getting Ndamukong Suh back is huge for the Lions, and this is the matchup of the weekend. Formidable D against the Dallas OL and offense. Coin flip where I’m leaning with the home team.
Steve – The battle between the Lions’ defensive line and Cowboys’ offensive line will be fascinating to watch and it should go a long way toward determining the outcome of the game. Of course, the quarterbacks always have a huge effect and this is where Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford each have a chance to alter perception about their respective careers with a playoff win. Romo has been excellent for much of the season while Stafford has taken a step back, but he showed signs of snapping out of it a few weeks ago. I think Dallas takes it in what might be the best game of the weekend.