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Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers - Wild Card Weekend

If this game was taking place in early November, then there is no question about who would be the favorite. The Cardinals were 8-1 with a healthy Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington, while the Panthers were 3-2-1 and struggling mightily on defense. However it's now the first weekend in January and there is no possible way I see the Cardinals beating the Panthers in Carolina.

A lot has changed for Arizona in the past few months, including their quarterback play. After losing Carson Palmer for the year, just a few days after giving him a monster contract extension, they also lost Drew Stanton who is out for this game as he is dealing with a knee injury. So they now are relying on Ryan Lindley who has completed just 48% of his 93 passing attempts, with 2 touchdowns and 4 INTs. If he struggles early then I would not be surprised to see Bruce Arians turn to 4th stringer, Logan Thomas, who is just 1-9 on the year.

If Arizona wants to have a successful day through the air, then they'll need to get their superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald involved. Over the last 5 weeks, Fitzgerald is averaging under 4 catches a game and has failed to have more than 34 yards in any of those games. For the season Fitz finished with 63 receptions, 784 yards and 2 TDs..easily his worst season of his career. Michael Floyd who only had 47 receptions on the season, led Arizona with 841 yards and 6 TDs.

As far as the run game goes for the Cards, they'll put their trust into Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor, and that's scary. The Panthers defense has allowed 100 yards on the ground just once in their last 7 games.

Cam Newton put together a great December for the Panthers, despite being involved in a scary car accident. Newton led the Panthers to 3 wins in the month and threw for 5 touchdowns and just 1 INT. He also has scored a touchdown on the ground in 3 straight games, while rushing for more than 50 yards in those games as well.

Speaking of the ground game, Jonathan Stewart has gotten hot at the right time. Over the past 5 weeks, Stewart has averaged 97 yards rushing and has found the end zone twice (one rushing, one receiving). It could be a long day for the Arizona defense as they have given up over 200 yards on the ground the last two weeks - including 88 to Russell Wilson and 63 to Colin Kaepernick.

It won't be easy for the Cardinals secondary either, as Cam Newton has two great weapons in his rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and his talented tight end Greg Olsen. Both guys went for over 1,000 yards receiving and have combined for 14 touchdowns.

The Panthers are riding high and will have home field advantage, while the Cardinals seem to be dwindling.

I'm taking the Panthers at -6.5 and I'm taking the over at 37.5.

Prediction - Panthers 24 Cardinals 14


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