Don’t let anyone tell you the “most wonderful time of the year” is in the rearview mirror. The first weekend in January signals the beginning of the NFL playoffs, with Wild Card weekend offering a four-game feast of win-or-go-home action.
A look at the slate:
Arizona at Carolina (Saturday, 4:35 p.m., ESPN)
Just one month ago, the Panthers had three wins. Now, they’re a solid bet to advance to the Divisional Round. In the last three games Cam Newton has played in, Carolina is 3-0 and has outscored its opponents, 92-26. In the past three games Ryan Lindley has played in, Arizona is 1-2 and has been outscored 35-61.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 8:15 p.m., NBC)
It seems as though these two meet in January every year, but in actuality the AFC North rivals have clashed just three times in the postseason. The Steelers are 3-0 against Baltimore all-time in the playoffs though it’s important to note that all three of those games were at Heinz Field. Saturday’s game is again at Heinz Field. Does the trend continue?
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Cincinnati at Indianapolis (Sunday, 1:05 p.m., CBS)
Early in the season the Bengals looked like world-beaters. That is until they played the Patriots in Week 5. Midway through the season the Colts looked like world-beaters. That is until they played the Patriots in Week 11. These Patriots punching-bags meet in the early game Sunday. The winner will see the … you guessed it … Patriots in Round 2 as long as Pittsburgh takes care of business Saturday night.
Detroit at Dallas (Sunday, 4:40 p.m., FOX)
The Lions haven’t beaten a 2014 playoff team since they edged the Packers, 19-7, in Week 3, so it’s been awhile since they’ve truly impressed. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have been arguably the most impressive team in the league in December as they averaged 41.2 points per game in the regular season’s final month.