The NFL season moves into the play-offs this weekend. Tom Selwyn (@tom_selwyn) has taken a look at the Saturday games.
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers | Sunday 21:35 | Sky Sports 2
Wildcard weekend is here and what better place to start than with a team who’ve lost three straight going up against a division winner with a losing record?
The Panthers burned me last week by refusing to run Jonathan Stewart enough (and to be fair, their defence meant they didn’t have to), but given the performance of Arizona against two mobile QBs recently I’ll be going back to a Carolina rusher this week anyway – give me Cam Newton going Over 41.5 rushing yards!
As just mentioned, Arizona have been burned the last two weeks by some of the more mobile QBs in this league – Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. They gave up 88 yards to Wilson, followed by 63 yards to Kaepernick and you have to think that Cam Newton has been watching the film from those two games thinking he can do that as well.
Add into this the fact that Cardinals DT Dan Williams is out of the game, and you have to think there will be lanes for Newton to escape.
It’s not just that the Cardinals defence are making this favourable, Newton himself has been running a lot more effectively in recent weeks. Over his last four games, he has averaged 61.5 yards on the ground. Look for him to continue this against a reeling Cardinals team.
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers | Sunday 01:15 | Sky Sports 2
The big question mark over this game was whether Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell would play and we now know that he won’t be. As big a piece offensively that Bell is for Pittsburgh, I still like them to get a win here. I’ll be backing the Steelers -3 to progress.
Bell will of course be a big miss for the Steelers in this one, but if you think back to the previous meeting of BAL @ PIT, Bell was a non-factor on the ground, grabbing only 20 yards rushing as QB Ben Roethlisberger threw six TDs in a blowout Pittsburgh win. Defensively, both teams’ strength is the front seven and I think it will be tough for any rusher once again.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, they really don’t want to get into a game where the ball is being slung all over the place – they are 6-0 this season when they hit it less than 30 times, but I don’t think they will be able to do that in this one.
They are also dealing with injuries on the OL and will be without both their LT and RT. Given the way the Steelers pass-rushers have been playing of late (nine sacks in the last two games) it could be a long day for Ravens QB Joe Flacco.
You also have to like the the Steelers’ group of WRs (Antonio Brown has been the best WR this year in my view) against the Ravens secondary, especially given what they did to them in this matchup earlier in the season. If the run game is cancelled out for both teams, as I expect it to be, I’m going with Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh’s WRs over Baltimore, especially at home.
Arizona @ Carolina – Cam Newton Over 41.5 Rushing Yards (5/6 Paddy Power)
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh -3 (20/23 BetVictor)