Tomorrow is the big day - the first playoff game of the 2014 NFL season. The Cardinals will take on the Panthers on the road and hopefully move on to play Seattle or Green Bay. This game is the closest to call of wild card week because despite records, the two teams seem evenly matched. We'll give you the bad news first.
Keys to a Panthers Victory
1) Cam Newton:
The Cardinals were not able to defeat Collin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson late in the season and Cam Newton poses a similar threat. Newton has picked up over 250 yards on the ground in his last 5 starts. The Cards have to engage in a quick pass rush and record sacks while staying disciplined on defense in order to keep Newton from scrambling to a victory. Not only has Cam been great, but also his running backs have been doing well. Moving the ball on the ground against a struggling Cardinal run defense should help them wrap this one up.
2) Greg Olsen:
Olsen has had nearly 180 yards in his last 5 starts with Newton taking the snaps while the Cardinals have consistently given up the most yards to tight ends down the stretch this season. The Cardinals secondary will need to play smart to help out the linebackers cover Olsen so they don't give up big plays.
The Panthers have won their last 4 out of 6 games while the Cardinals have lost their last 4 out of 6. The Panthers got the momentum early against an Atlanta team that came off of a huge win against the Saints. Keeping the momentum from the blowout against the Falcons will be a key to their victory over the Cardinals.
4) Ryan Lindley:
Instead of walking into a game against MVP candidate Tony Romo, the Panthers get to play 3rd string quarterback Ryan Lindley who threw three interceptions last week. The Panthers defense was able to create turnovers in their last game and disrupting an already nervous Lindley can kill the Cards momentum early and help the Panthers roll to the next round.
Keys to a Cardinals Victory
1) Ryan Lindley:
Arizona has averaged around 12 points a game. Lindley has to play to near perfection in order to defeat this defense because of his lack of experience. If he performs the same way he did against the 49ers in week 17 (minus the interceptions) and put points on the board, the Cardinals can and should win.
2) O-Line Blocking:
With a quarterback that lacks a great amount of experience in comparison to his competitor, the offensive line has to give Lindley time to make good decisions and stay out of trouble. One of his interceptions last week was a result of a situation where he had to scramble and force a throw. If the O-Line offers protection and time, Lindley will have a chance to create plays.
The Cardinals defense is coming off of a two game dry streak of creating turnovers and this could come at a worse time. The Cardinals need to force turnovers and create sacks to keep Cam Newton from getting too comfortable. With an offense they haven't been able to depend on to eat clock and put up points, they will have to force three and outs and give them as many chances as possible.
4) Running Game:
The forecast for the game on Saturday is rainy and the Cardinals have lost their starting running back Andre Ellington. They need to pound the ball on the ground and keep Carolina's defense on their toes. Establishing the run game early is a key to Arizona's success.
5) Receiving Core:
The Cardinals have the advantage when it comes to catching the ball with big names like Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald on their side. Spreading the ball around to John Brown and dumping some passes to Stefan Taylor once in a while will keep the defense on their toes.
Any keys we missed? Comment below and let us know!