The day NFL fans have been waiting for all year is finally upon us. After nearly an 11-month wait, postseason football begins again on Saturday.
Just 12 teams remain in the hunt for the Super Bowl, with four ultimately being eliminated this weekend. Surprising results around this time of year have become a constant, so fans can expect a wild ride this weekend to kick things off.
This year, the action will get started on ESPN with the Arizona Cardinals travelling to take on the Carolina Panthers. More traditional markets NBC, CBS and Fox will then take over to finish out the Wild Card showdowns.
In anticipation of the big games finally getting underway, below is a look at the full schedule and breakdown of the Wild Card Round.
|2014 NFL Wild Card Schedule|
|Saturday, Jan. 3||4:35 p.m. ET||Arizona at Carolina||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Saturday, Jan. 3||8:15 p.m. ET||Baltimore at Pittsburgh||NBC||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Sunday, Jan. 4||1:05 p.m. ET||Cincinnati at Indianapolis||CBS||CBSSports.com|
|Sunday, Jan. 4||4:40 p.m. ET||Detroit at Dallas||FOX||Fox Sports Go|
In one of the biggest clashes in AFC North history, the Baltimore Ravens will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round. However, the Steelers will have to do so without one of their biggest playmakers.
Le'Veon Bell was ruled out for the game on Friday, via Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. The second-year tailback has been one of the catalysts for Pittsburgh's offense this season with 2,215 total yards and 11 touchdowns.
ESPN Stats & Info points out just how crucial Bell has been for the team:
The injury for Bell might completely reshape the playoff picture, as the Ravens come in with plenty of confidence after closing the season strong. Already having a win in the first meeting this season with Bell on the field, Baltimore clearly has a formula that can lead to success.
Over in the NFC bracket, one player's return from injury has inspired the turnaround for the Panthers. Cam Newton suffered a back injury during a car accident in December but has returned to lead Carolina into the playoffs after winning the NFC South.
Not only is Newton playing well, but he's rounded back into old form. Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles spoke about that exact point earlier this week, via Britt McHenry of ESPN:
In his last three games played—the final two coming after the accident—Newton has gotten the job done on the ground. Averaging 65.7 rushing yards per game and at least one rushing touchdown during that span, Newton has certainly looked like the one who led Auburn to a national championship.
Along with Newton, several other quarterbacks will look to notch crucial playoff wins. Andy Dalton vs. Andrew Luck on Sunday will give way to a nightcap between experienced quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo.
The four quarterbacks playing on Sunday have a combined two playoff victories between them. A lot will change this weekend, with some legacies being built and others decimated yet again.
Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.