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NFL Betting: Wild Card Saturday Previews

Posted by Stan Jenkins on 1/2/2015 10:18:08 AM

The NFL playoffs begin on Saturday with two games, one in the NFC and one in the AFC. It will be fascinating to see how these matchups unfold, because they’re very different in nature.

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers – Saturday, January 3

The Cardinals will probably have Ryan Lindley in at quarterback in this game. Drew Stanton, the backup in place of starter Carson Palmer, has suffered an infection while trying to heal the injury that knocked him out of commission in week 15 against the St. Louis Rams. There is a chance he could play in this game, but it is not to be expected. Lindley is the most experienced hand the Cardinals have, and he should be seen as the likely starter instead of fourth-stringer Logan Thomas. He threw three interceptions this past Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, so a lot of people are going to look at that result and think the Cardinals are in deep trouble against the Panthers, who looked great on Sunday in a dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons on the road.

However, Arizona has one of only three defenses in the NFC which surrendered under 300 points this past season. The Cardinals have shown themselves to be the kind of team that stays in games and makes enough plays on offense to win. Arizona doesn’t play entertaining football, but the Cardinals have fought against the odds to be one of the more surprising 11-5 teams in the league, winning bunches of games despite a litany of injuries. The Cardinals are a very good choice to cover the point spread, and they’re going to win the game outright as well.

Pick: Cardinals +6.5

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Saturday, January 3

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are familiar enough to each other, since they play twice a year and knock the stuffing out of each other whenever they play. These teams hate each other, and they go at each other tooth and nail, so there’s not a lot of mystery to how they play. This game will not come down to scouting reports or schemes. It will be about the ability of each team to execute, and that generally comes down to the quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh has been much better than Joe Flacco of Baltimore this season, especially over the course of the second half of the 16-game schedule. It is true that Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell got injured late in the Steelers’ Sunday night win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but even without him, Roethlisberger was able to do what it took to get that win. At home, it is hard to trust Flacco, given that he’s in bad form right now. Even with the injuries the Steelers absorbed against Cincinnati, they look stronger than a Baltimore team which was outplayed at home by the Cleveland Browns for most of the first three quarters this past Sunday. Baltimore lost at Houston and beat Jacksonville at home by only one score. The Ravens just aren’t playing well enough right now – they’ll get beat unless they are dramatically better.

Pick: Steelers -3.5

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