NFL Playoff Schedule 2014-15: Predictions and Viewing Info for Wild Card Weekend

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 28: Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers runs the ball in the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 28, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The ins and outs of Wild Card Weekend are vast. 

This is no ordinary slate of games. There are only four over the course of two days, but the depth of each contest surpasses a typical 16-game slate.

There is no sluggish Thursday contest. No Monday showdown. Just four games with everything at stake, in which all participants enter as equals no matter the paths traveled to get to this point.

With that in mind, some of the names lost behind the spotlight of others deserve nods with the games on approach. After all, playoff wins are team efforts, no matter how many times folks attempt to put win-loss records on quarterbacks.

2014-15 NFL Playoffs Bracket

Wild Card Weekend Predictions and Viewing Info

Saturday, Jan. 34:35 p.m. ETArizona at CarolinaESPNWatch ESPNCAR
Saturday, Jan. 38:15 p.m. ETBaltimore at PittsburghNBCNBC Sports Live ExtraPIT
Sunday, Jan. 41:05 p.m. ETCincinnati at IndianapolisCBSCBSSports.comIND
Sunday, Jan. 44:40 p.m. ETDetroit at DallasFOXFox Sports GoDAL

Underrated Players to Watch on Wild Card Weekend

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 14:  Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers runs from  Da'Quan Bowers #91 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1st quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 14, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Phot
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers owe a lot to running back Jonathan Stewart, who hit healthy status just in time for a late-season push resulting in an NFC South crown and a trip to the postseason.

Much of the story surrounding the Panthers goes to Cam Newton. Fair enough. A few weeks removed from a scary car accident, the former Auburn star carried the team to the playoffs despite a losing record.

He had help, though, as Stewart exploded over the course of a four-game winning streak to close the season:

at NO201557.81
vs. TB22753.40
vs. CLE241225.10
at ATL13493.80

For a team with no running game to speak of before the stretch, those are important numbers. 

Carolina needs more of the same Saturday with the Arizona Cardinals in town. The team figures to have DeAngelo Williams back, but coach Ron Rivera is not ready to commit to him as a starter.

“No, I’m not worried about that,” Rivera said, per Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “He’s part of this chemistry. He’s part of why we are where we are today. … When he’s healthy and ready to go he’ll get his opportunities to get on the field.”

Arizona ranks 13th against the rush this year, which places the Panthers in danger of being a one-dimensional attack through the air. In order to keep things balanced and have a chance at making it to the next round, Stewart will need to remain productive in the face of his biggest test since his return from injury.

Joique Bell, RB, Detroit Lions

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 21: Joique Bell #35 of the Detroit Lions runs the ball during the fourth quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 21, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-14. (Photo by Jamie Squ
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Most still think of Reggie Bush when it comes to the Detroit Lions backfield. 

While Bush is back and healthy, the pressure of production falls on the churning legs of Joique Bell.

Bell is the owner of 860 yards and seven scores this year on a pass-first offense. His ability to keep things balanced, even with Bush out of the lineup, took pressure off quarterback Matthew Stafford.

That is the only way the Lions will go to Dallas and beat the Cowboys, as Stafford is 0-17 on the road against teams that finish with a winning record. He simply locks up, with only a strong running game doing the heavy lifting being the remedy.

One problem: Bell will need to accomplish this feat against the league's eighth-ranked rush defense. Dallas takes a lot of slack for a porous defense, which a rank of 26 against the pass justifies, but the Cowboys rarely struggle to shut down backs.

If Bell struggles, Dallas will tee off on Stafford and force mistakes. Now the lead back, Bell better be ready for his biggest challenge to date.

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals

Dec 22, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) makes a catch during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the Cincinnati Bengals, in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive time. 

Along for the ride is the struggling Andy Dalton with only A.J. Green as a top-tier target. The opponent is the Indianapolis Colts, a team that laughed the Bengals out of the city back in a Week 7, 27-0 shellacking.

The rematch promises to be more competitive now that Cincinnati has a ground game thanks to rookie back Jeremy Hill. Key lessons from the first game are important, though.

Chief among them pertains to tight end Jermaine Gresham.

On the road and in the face of consistent pressure, Dalton leaned on his tight end in a big way. Gresham led the team with 12 targets, catching 10 for 48 yards.

The former Oklahoma star is a key cog as of late, too, with three touchdowns in as many games to end the season.

Add up recent importance, usage rates against the Colts and the fact Green is in concussion protocol, and Gresham is the most important player on the Cincinnati offense this Sunday.

Based on his recent outings, the offense is in good hands. 

Stats courtesy of Advanced metrics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

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