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Cardinals vs. Panthers 2015 picks and predictions: Carolina is heavy favorite

The Panthers are back in the playoffs for the second straight season, while the Cardinals are back in for the first time since 2009.

The NFL playoffs begin Saturday when the Wild Card round kicks off with the Carolina Panthers hosting the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers won the NFC South division with a 7-8-1 record, while the Cardinals finished at 11-5 and earned a Wild Card spot after placing second in the NFC West behind the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks.

Despite Arizona boasting a better record, Carolina is a whopping 6.5-point favorite, per OddsShark. That seems less crazy when you realize the Cardinals may once again have to use their third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley if backup Drew Stanton is not ready to go. Stanton suffered a knee injury in Week 15, and Lindley went 0-2 as a starter in Stanton's place. On the other hand, the Panthers are riding a four-game winning streak and only allowed 43 points in the entire month of December.

The Panthers' defense will look to feast on Lindley in the same way it did Matt Ryan to end the season. In Week 17 at Atlanta with the division on the line, Carolina sacked Ryan six times and picked him off twice, both of which were returned for touchdowns. The Panthers dominated the entire game for a 34-3 win.

Unsurprisingly, the experts favor Carolina in this matchup. The CBS Sports eight-man crew went with the Panthers by a 7-1 margin. The one guy who picked Arizona was senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco, and here's why he picked the Cardinals to win at Carolina:

The thinking by many is the Panthers are on a roll and the Cardinals are toast with Ryan Lindley at quarterback. But I think the Arizona defense will keep them in this game long enough to find a way late to pull it out. It's too easy to bury the Cardinals and anoint the Panthers, who have played well as of late, as the flavor of the week. I just think the Cardinals are better than most think, and they will rise up to play good defense here and move on.

At ESPN, 10 of the 13 experts sided with the home team. Our SB Nation team agreed, favoring Carolina by a 6-2 margin:

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