The holidays are meant, at least in theory, to be a time of relaxation and serenity, but they often turn into a span of a few weeks where you are forced to spend time with relatives you hate more than anyone else in the world out of pure obligation.
The amount of humble brags seems to equal that of actual brags from the cousin who found a mediocre job and cannot seem to stop talking about it. Being an actuary isn’t cool and I don’t care about your $250 holiday bonus, sorry Josh.
But once Joan Rivers lookalike Jenny McCarthy finally disappears from the television, a new year is thrust upon us. Resolutions are made and forgotten but one thing is absolute: the NFL playoffs are finally here.
Four games in two days and yes, the NFC South has been allowed to have their “champion” take place in the playoffs.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-6.5)
These two teams come into this game on two completely different paths. The Cardinals saw themselves sitting at a record of 9-1 through their first ten games, while the Panthers sat at a lowly 3-6-1. The difference is that the Panthers have won their last four games while the Cardinals went 2-4 in their final six games heading into the weekend.
The Cardinals’ recent slide can be attributed to the absence of not only Carson Palmer, but backup Drew Stanton. Ryan Lindley will be making his first career playoff start, which is not the situation most Cardinals fans had in mind when they were 9-1 and atop the NFC.
The Panthers come in as nearly touchdown favorites, but they have not played tough competition all season. They have not played a winning team since they were defeated 45-21 by the Philadelphia Eagles on a Monday night in Week 10. Their four-game winning stream comes against the other three teams in the NFC South and the Johnny Manziel-led (well, he started the game) Cleveland Browns.
The Cardinals’ defense has struggled giving up 35 and 20 in their last two games to the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers respectively, but they still allow a 5th-best 18.7 points per game.
The game will be a close one, and the Cardinals will take it with their added 6.5 points.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)
Following a game featuring a team from the weakest division in football, this matchup features two of the three teams that made the postseason from the league’s toughest division, the AFC North.
The Steelers were able to take the division from the Cincinnati Bengals on the final game of the regular season while the Ravens got some help from Chase Daniel and the Kansas City Chiefs to put them in this game.
The two teams split their season series, and appear to be rather even coming into this game. The only concern is that the Ravens had to comeback against the Browns last week after being shutdown in Houston the week before. Joe Flacco went 21-50 for 195 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions two weeks ago against Houston, which is not exactly a great sign of stability right before the playoffs.
The only negative for the Steelers is that Le’Veon Bell has been missing practice this week after he injured his knee last Sunday, but he is being positive in the media in saying that he hopes to play.
Even without Bell the Steelers look to be a team that can compete for the AFC, while I do not see the same with the Ravens.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (-3.5)
Do you believe in Andy Dalton? I don’t. For the fourth straight season the Bengals find themselves in the Wild Card round where they are looking to avoid their fourth consecutive loss.
They take on the Colts who shut out the Bengals 27-0 in Week 7. Dalton threw for 126 yards and obviously had zero touchdowns.
All five of the losses for the Colts on the year come against winning teams, while the Bengals have that one ugly loss against the Browns on Thursday night in which Dalton went 10-33 for 86 yards and three interceptions.
Andrew Luck is a quarterback who finds a way to win, while Dalton is one who is too unpredictable to bet on. Also, A.J. Green is still questionable after suffering a concussion. If Green does not play then the Bengals stand zero chance in this game.
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5)
The Dallas Cowboys come into the playoffs with four consecutive double-digit wins that allowed them to clinch the NFC East after losing out on the division title three years in a row against three different teams in the final game of the season. They also broke away from the 8-8 record they were stuck with the past three seasons.
The Lions had a chance to win the NFC North but fell short against the Green Bay Packers last week in Green Bay.
They have done nothing to look weak heading into the playoffs, but the Cowboys simply look too dominant to lose, especially in Dallas. The Lions just got the misfortune of playing one of the best teams in football in the first round of the playoffs.