NFC Wildcard Playoff Preview

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The NFL playoffs are here and although the Kansas City Chiefs will miss out this year, let's take a look at the games we'll all still be watching this weekend.

On the final day of the NFL regular season last Sunday, 10 of the 16 games played had playoff implications. Four divisions were decided, including the NFC South as the Panthers edged the Falcons.

Here's how the NFC playoff seeds finished this season:

NFC
1. Seattle (12-4, NFC West champion)
2. Green Bay (12-4, NFC North champion)
3. Dallas (12-4, NFC East champion)
4. Carolina (7-8-1, NFC South champion)
5. Arizona (11-5) 
6. Detroit (11-5)

The first game of the NFC playoffs is a Saturday matchup between

ARIZONA CARDINALS (11-5) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-8-1) (Saturday, ESPN, 3:35 PM CST)

Arizona tied a franchise record with 11 wins and has won 21 games under Bruce Arians, the most wins by a Cardinals head coach in his first two seasons with the club. Arizona has won four of its past six postseason games, including a 33-13 win at Carolina in the 2008 playoffs (January 10, 2009).

Arians confirmed Thursday that quarterback Ryan Lindley would start in place of an injured Drew Stanton. Lindley is 1-5 as a starter in his career.

The Cardinals will rely heavily on Lindley as they enter the game with the league's second-worst rushing offense (81.8 yards per game).

Wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown are tied in first for the team lead in targets with 103, but Michael Floyd boasts the Cardinals' best yards receiving (841) and touchdowns (6) marks.

Carolina enters the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 111-43. Under head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers have won back-to-back division titles, clinching the NFC South with a commanding 34-3 win at Atlanta last week. In December, the Panthers ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense (199.3 yards per game) and points allowed (10.8 points per game).

During the team's four-game win streak to end the season, quarterback Cam Newton started in three of the four games and threw five touchdown passes and just one interception, in addition to rushing for three touchdowns on the ground.

Linebacker Luke Kuechly leads a Panthers defense that ranks 11th in the league against the pass and 16th against the rush.

DETROIT LIONS (11-5) at DALLAS COWBOYS (12-4) (Sunday, FOX, 3:40 PM CST)

Wild Card Weekend concludes when Dallas hosts Detroit. The Lions and Cowboys have split the previous two playoff meetings between the two teams – 1970 Divisional (Dallas, 5-0) and 1991 Divisional (Detroit, 38-6).

Detroit led the NFL in rush defense (69.3 yards per game) and ranked second in total defense (300.9 yards per game). The Lions held opponents to 100 rushing yards or fewer in 14 of the team's 16 games, including five games with 50 yards rushing or fewer.

Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh received word Tuesday that he won his suspension appeal and will suit up for the game.

He will play an important part in the Lions' efforts to slow down Dallas' running game, which ranked second in the NFL (147.1 yards per game) and is led by Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray, who set a franchise-record with 1,845 yards rushing.

Murray will likely be looking at the tape from Detroit's last game against Green Bay, one of the two games Detroit was exploited for more than 100 yards rushing, for a how-to on permeating the Lions' rush defense. Packers running back Eddie Lacy led with 100 in the team's 152-yard rushing effort in the Lions' loss.

Murray's success has been largely facilitated by an outstanding offensive line, which has three players, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick, headed to the 2015 Pro Bowl.

Both teams have dynamic quarterback-wide receiver combinations: Detroit's Matthew* *Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson and Dallas' Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant. Johnson had a franchise-record 329 yards receiving in the last game against the Cowboys – the second-best single-game total in NFL history – and recorded 211 yards in his only postseason contest.

Romo led the NFL with a club-record 113.2 passer rating and Bryant's 16 receiving touchdowns were a team record and topped the league.

Like the Panthers, the Cowboys enter the divisional round riding a four-game winning streak.

2014 WILD CARD WEEKEND SCHEDULE (JANUARY 3-4)
Saturday, January 3 Sunday, January 4
Arizona at Carolina 3:35 PM (ESPN) Cincinnati at Indianapolis 12:05 PM (CBS)
Baltimore at Pittsburgh 7:15 PM (NBC) Detroit at Dallas 3:40 PM (FOX)
All times listed in Central Standard Time

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