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NFL Playoffs: Breaking down the Wild Card weekend



Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers

Time: 4:20 p.m.


Matchup to watch: QB Ryan Lindley vs. Panthers - Ideally, the Cardinals would have veteran Carson Palmer in this spot, but he was lost earlier in the season with a knee injury. Drew Stanton, who won five games in Palmer's sted, is also unavailable because of a knee injury that's lingered since the final month of the regular season. That puts the onus on Lindley, who has struggled in his three appearances this season. The Panthers' defense, meanwhile, has been lights out over the past month and has been particularly troublesome for opposing quarterbacks. Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw two pick-sixes in last week's 34-3 loss to the Panthers.

Browns connection: Cleveland nearly derailed the Panthers' playoff hopes just a couple of weeks ago in a narrow, 17-13 loss in Charlotte. If the Cardinals are looking for answers for how to stop Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (84 rec., 1,008 yards, 6 TDs), a review of the Browns' film might be where to start. Cleveland limited Olsen to one catch for 21 yards on just three targets.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Time: 8:15 p.m.


Matchup to watch: QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ravens secondary - Even in a 26-6 loss to Baltimore early in the season, the Steelers quarterback found some success (22-of-37, 217 yards) against a Ravens pass defense (23rd in the NFL) that has had its issues against top quarterbacks. In an early November rout of the Ravens in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and a whopping six touchdowns to five different receivers. With star running back Le'Veon Bell out with a knee injury, Roethlisberger faces even more pressure to carry the Steelers with his arm.

Browns connection: The Browns went a combined 1-3 against these teams, but their three losses were by a combined 15 points. They were either tied or in the lead at the midpoint of the fourth quarter in each of the games. The margin for error in the NFL is brutal, and in the AFC North, it's the determining factor in who represents the cutthroat division in the playoffs.


Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts

Time: 1:05 p.m.


Matchup to watch: RBs Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard vs. Colts defense - When these teams met in the regular season, the Bengals simply couldn't move the ball. For the Bengals, it quickly became a fool's errand to even attempt running the ball, as Hill finished with four carries for 15 yards and Bernard had seven for 17 in the 27-0 blanking. The Bengals' running attack, particularly when it pertains to Hill, was hot down the stretch and is one of the main reasons why Cincinnati is back in the playoffs for a fourth straight season. The Colts ranked 18th against the run during the regular season.

Browns connection: The Browns played both teams and, at times, looked absolutely brilliant on defense against them. It was the final matchup, a 30-0 blowout loss at FirstEnergy Stadium, that left a sour aftertaste for Cleveland, as it helped its in-state rival breathe a little more comfortably during its playoff push. Former Browns D'Qwell Jackson and Josh Cribbs, both with the Colts, will make the first playoff appearances of their respective careers.

Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys

Time: 4:40 p.m.


Matchup to watch: DeMarco Murray vs. Lions defense - It's the ultimate strength-on-strength matchup, as the NFL's leading rusher and top-ranked offensive line take on the league's leading rush defense. On their way to allowing fewer than 70 rushing yards per game, the Lions surrendered more than 100 yards just five times. Murray, who finished with 1,845 rushing yards, ran for more than 100 by himself on 12 occasions.

Browns connection: Former Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden has been backing up Tony Romo throughout the season. He's thrown for 303 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in spot duty. The Browns and Lions matched up in the first game of the preseason and collectively struggled on offense. Cleveland kicked four field goals while Detroit had two before Kellen Moore's late touchdown pass gave the Lions a 13-12 victory.

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