There are four games on tap this wild card weekend, between teams that know each other well (Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore), teams that need to prove a point (Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts), teams going in opposite directions (Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers), and teams that *are* opposites (Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys).
Conventional knowledge says that home teams have the advantage, but it also acknowledges that 1 in 4 contests will be upsets (home team loses). I agree with convention in this respect, and I think one of these road teams will emerge victorious after this weekend, but it might surprise you the one I see coming out alive.
ARIZONA @ CAROLINA
These teams are indeed going in opposite directions, because not long ago this Cardinals team was the team with the best record in the NFL, but it has all fallen apart in recent weeks against solid teams. Is Carolina a solid team? They certainly seemed like it at the end of the season as they stole the NFC South from first the Saints and then the Falcons. But I don’t buy into the Panthers as a legitimate contender because of their inconsistency. Yet, I think they win this home game because the Cardinals are too beat up, and they’re starting Lindley.
BALTIMORE @ PITTSBURGH
Much has been made about Joe Flacco’s struggles on the road against Pittsburgh, but he’s been more accurate this season, and I think getting crushed by Pittsburgh on the road earlier was actually a good thing for the Ravens. Don’t expect Roethlisberger to throw six more touchdowns in this one, and he doesn’t have Le’Veon Bell. Count on the Ravens to target Antonio Brown and keep him honest for most of the game, and heavy doses of Justin Forsett will help keep Big Ben off the field as well. Here’s your road upset in the making.
CINCINNATI @ INDIANAPOLIS
No, I’m not sold on the Colts as the next great team. They just don’t have the defense for it right now, but they won’t need an awesome defense to beat an A.J. Green-less Bengals team on the Colts’ home turf. Sure, Jeremy Hill will run wild, but Dalton will have to throw the ball sometimes, which is when he tends to make mistakes, particularly in the playoffs. I just don’t see them having that breakthrough here, although I do see it being a high scoring affair, and a close one at that. Bengals remain winless in the playoffs during the Marvin Lewis / Andy Dalton era.
DETROIT @ DALLAS
You know I’m decidedly anti-Cowboys, but they are still playing some of the most solid football at this crucial juncture. If Tony Romo stays healthy they have a legitimate shot at getting to the Super Bowl this year because despite what people have continuously said, this team runs through him, and not through DeMarco Murray. The offensive line does as much to protect Romo as it does to provide holes for Murray to run in. That Detroit defense just got gashed by the Packers’ running game, and I see similar things happening here. It will be close, but Cowboys roll, even at home.
The Fantasy Ace