At long last, the NFL playoffs are here. The first round will begin this weekend with four Wild Card matchups. The top two seeds from each conference will have to wait a week before their chance on the field. That means the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers will all be sitting at home resting this weekend. That doesn't, however, mean it won't be an entertaining weekend in the NFL. The four Wild Card games offer some intriguing matchups.
It will begin with the Arizona Cardinals at the Carolina Panthers Saturday afternoon. Carolina slipped into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed despite a 7-8-1 record thanks to a win on the road in Atlanta last week to clinch the NFC South. The Panthers host a Cardinals team that, after losing their top two quarterbacks to injury, faded down the stretch and got overtaken by the Seahawks for the NFC West title. Arizona signal caller Ryan Lindley, who lost in both of his starts after taking over for Drew Stanton, is expected to start over rookie Logan Thomas.
Next up is an AFC North showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field Saturday night. The Steelers clinched the division last week with a win over Cincinnati, while Baltimore clawed their way into the playoffs after the San Diego Chargers lost and relinquished the final Wild Card spot. The Ravens and Steelers split their season series, but the Week 9 game in Pittsburgh was a 43-23 win by the home team.
With home field out the window after the loss to the Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals now have to head on the road to Indianapolis, where they were shut out, 27-0, back in Week 7. Andy Dalton, who is still looking for his first playoff win, went 18-of-38 in that game for just 126 yards and Cincy rushed for just 32 yards.
The final game is the late Sunday afternoon showdown between the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. Riding record-breaking performances from DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant, Dallas clinched the NFC East and a 12-4 record. Detroit lost out on the NFC North title after a rocky outing in Green Bay last week, but still comes in with an 11-5 mark. Dallas ranks No. 7 in total offense, while the Lions rank second in total defense, which should make for an intriguing game.
As a reminder, these are picks to win the game (not against the spread), so choose wisely and do your research before making your own predictions this week:
|Week 17||Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||PFT Commenter||Matt Ufford||OddsShark Computer|
|ARI @ CAR||CAR||CAR||ARI||CAR||CAR||CAR||CAR||ARI|
|BAL @ PIT||PIT||BAL||PIT||PIT||PIT||BAL||PIT||PIT|
|CIN @ IND||CIN||CIN||IND||IND||CIN||CIN||CIN||IND|
|DET @ DAL||DAL||DAL||DAL||DAL||DAL||DET||DAL||DAL|
Our panel consists of: David Fucillo, SB Nation's fantasy guru; Danny Kelly, SB Nation NFL contributor; PFT Commenter, SB Nation's hot takes expert; Joel Thorman, SB Nation NFL blogs manager; Matt Ufford, editorial producer, SB Nation studios; Ryan Van Bibber, SB Nation's NFL editor; and Stephen White, retired NFL defensive end and SB Nation NFL contributor.