The second game on Saturday for the NFL Divisional Playoffs features the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers. Both teams can score and will bring plenty of offense. I expect Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Edgerrin James to keep it close until a late touchdown-pass to Steve Smith ends the Cardinals magical season.
The Cardinals haven't won once on the East Coast, and I don't expect them to win here. These teams met in week eight, with the Panthers winning a close one, 27-23.
The Cardinals might be without one of their two-headed monsters at receiver in Anquan Boldin. Boldin left the game early last week against the Falcons and never returned. If that happens, expect Steve Breaston to step-up and provide Kurt Warner with a nice compliment to Larry Fitzgerald. Expect the veteran Warner to have success against the Panthers, but will make at least one or two mistakes in crunch-time.
The Cardinals will try and control the clock with the re-energized Edgerrin James. James helped the Cardinals win their first playoff game in years with 73 rushing yards and averaged 4.6 ypc. The Cardinals offense doesn't have many questions, but their defense does.
Yes, they did play well last week against rookie Matt Ryan and shut-down Michael Turner, but the Panthers have too many weapons. Falcons star wide-receiver Roddy White still had a great game with 11 catches for 84 yards and one td. I expect Smith to exploit the Cardinals secondary and burn them enough to win.
The Panthers are the type of team that will give the Cardinals fits. The Falcons had a great season, but lacked enough weapons to keep up with the Cardinals last week and turned it over too much. The Panthers don't turn it over much and expect them to have a balanced attack with their own two-headed monster in running backs, the speedy and shifty, DeAngelo Williams and the powerful and tough Jonathan Stewart.
DeAngelo Williams has had an incredible season and will come up big against a defense that was 16th against the run and expect Stewart to add a touchdown or two and run for some tough yards. This will set up the passing attack for Jake Delhomme, who has had a mediocre season, but has playoff success and knows when to air it out to Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad.
Smith burned the Panthers for five catches and 117 yards and two tds. Muhammad is a veteran with poise and has also had success in the playoffs. Expect Delhomme to have a great game, because he torched the Cardinals in their last meeting for 248 yards and two tds with zero interceptions.
Prediction: AZ 24 CAR 31
Boom: All Panthers, All Cardinals
I expect this to be a high-scoring affair, because both teams have struggled to stop anybody recently. Aside from the Cardinals playoff-victory last week, the Cardinals defense was getting man-handled for weeks. They gave up 103 points to the Vikings, Patriots and the Seahawks in three games! They are much worse on the road also and the Panthers offense is too much. The Panthers defense has also struggled recently too, giving up 75 points between the Broncos, Giants and Saints. I'd play all offensive studs for both teams.
Bust: Both defenses
Since it'll be high-scoring, don't play either defense. I do expect the Panthers to force one or two turn-overs on Warner, but they'll still score a ton of points. The Cardinals defense played with a lot of intensity last week, but they get a more poised and rested Panthers team this week that will light up the scoreboard. Predictions: Cardinals: two sacks, one int, 31 pa; Panthers four sacks, two int, 24 pa
Sleepers: Edgerrin James and Jonathan Stewart
James looked like his old-self last week against the Falcons and face the 20th ranked rushing defense. Expect "Edge" to have success running the ball. The Cardinals will want to run, because the Panthers will try and make them one-dimensional which could force Warner into mistakes. I expect James to have a nice game. Stewart ha sbeen a great power combination to the quick Williams and will get enough carries to produce. If the Panthers get a big lead, they'll turn to Stewart to rest Williams for next week.
Predictions: James: 90 rushing yds, one td, three catches 30 yds; Stewart: 60 rushing yds, one td, three catches 20 yds
This might be the most fun game to watch this weekend, because of both offenses. I like the Panthers to hold off the Cardinals late to come away with the victory in a hard-fought battle. Enjoy the game!