Wildcard Weekend Preview

Sat – 9:35pm: Arizona Cardinals vs Carolina Panthers (Sky Sports 2)

Sun – 1:15am: Baltimore Ravens vs Pittsburgh Steelers (Sky Sports 2)

Sun – 6:05pm: Cincinnati Bengals vs Indianapolis Colts (Sky Sports 2)

Sun – 9:40pm: Detroit Lions vs Dallas Cowboys (Sky Sports 2)

It’s the dawn of a new year and that can only mean one thing – it’s play-off time! Let the fun begin.

An enthralling season came to an end last week and now we’re gearing up for Wildcard Weekend. The action starts in Charlotte as the only team in the postseason with a losing record take on the faltering Cardinals. At the end of November the Panthers had only won three of their first twelve games. They clinched their play-off berth in exciting fashion by winning their final four games, including the 34-3 victory in Atlanta. That game in Week 17 was a shoot-out and came just a few weeks after their star quarterback broke bones in his back as a result of a shocking car accident.

Arizona haven’t had much luck with injuries this year. Despite losing three quarterbacks at certain points throughout the season, they managed to clinch their place in the postseason by mid-December. Concerns will be with their form going into January. After winning nine of their first ten games they only won two of their final six. No team has played a Super Bowl in their home stadium and Arizona are favourites to falter at the first hurdle this weekend.

In the early hours of Sunday morning two divisional rivals go head-to-head as the Baltimore Ravens travel to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers will be without their star running back Le’Veon Bell after he suffered a knee injury last weekend in the clash against the Cincinnati Bengals. Bell was the second-leading rusher this season, so his absence will be a blow.

The Ravens have a strong defence, so this is going to be a huge test for Ben Roethlisberger. Baltimore sneaked into the play-offs and will be feeling confident going into this one.

On Sunday evening it’s the other AFC wildcard game, from Indianapolis. Andrew Luck’s Colts take on Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals. Luck’s stats dipped in December and the Bengals need to stop him from finding his rhythm if they are to pick up their first postseason win since 1990.

Luck threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals in October and they were beaten quite convincingly in last week’s shootout in Pittsburgh.

The stars will be out in the Lone Star State on Sunday night. Matt Stafford, Golden Tate, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson travel to Dallas to tackle Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray.

Murray has been inspirational this season and he comes up against a dominant Lions defence. The Cowboys haven’t made the postseason since 2009 and they were written off by many at the start of the season. Romo has had one of his best seasons, throwing 34 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. His partnership with Bryant is what most franchises dream of, but it’s their defence that’s suspect.

This is an intriguing encounter between two big shooters. The winner could go a long way.

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