NFL Weekly Predictions: Wild Card

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

Arizona @ Carolina (-6)

The Panthers destroyed the Falcons in Atlanta, 34-3, to win the NFC South division crown. Carolina rushed for 194 yards and returned two Matt Ryan interceptions for scores as the Panthers finished 7-8-1.

"The Falcons beat us in Charlotte back in Week 11," Cam Newton said, "while limiting us to 106 yards on the ground. This time, we just flipped the script. If you take a losing record and turn it upside down, it doesn't look so bad.

"The sewage system backed up in the Atlanta locker room. That what happens when you finish No. 2 in the NFC South. The cream rises to the top; the rest ends up in the Falcons locker room. And Mike Smith got fired a day later. If you're scoring at home, 'Black Monday' followed 'Brown Sunday.'

"I've played some of my best football since my traffic accident. And I've been as equally valuable in scouting Ryan Lindley. If there's one thing I know, it's a junior college quarterback."

The Cardinals enter the playoffs having lost two straight games, the latest loss a 20-17 defeat at Levi's Stadium against the 49ers. Arizona is the NFC's No. 5 seed and will face the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

"We're not exactly riding a wave of momentum into the playoffs," Bruce Arians said. "And that could easily transform into a wave of goodbye.

"But don't underestimate my team. They're very resilient. We've been through the highs and lows this season. Among the high was starting the season 9-1. Among the lows was the failure of the 'Bring Back Kurt Warner' campaign. As you know, Kurt answers to a higher calling — the NFL Network. He a very valuable part of the network's studio team — I believe he may be the only one that speaks English."

The Bank of America Stadium crowd welcomes former Panther quarterback Jake Delhomme, introduced as the game's honorary coin tosser. Delhomme's errant flip is intercepted by former Cardinal and current New York Giant Antrel Rolle, who is just passing through.

The incident serves as an unwelcome reminder of the last time Carolina and Arizona met in the playoffs. It was 2009, in Charlotte, Delhomme had 6 turnovers, and the Cardinals walked away with a 33-13 win. Don't expect a repeat of that, because there's no way the Cards can score 33 in a playoff game, or in the entire playoffs for that matter. But they can at least score 20, thanks to seven courtesy of their defense.

Arizona wins, 20-16.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

The Ravens stormed back from a 10-3 deficit early in the fourth quarter with 17 unanswered points to beat the Browns, 20-10, and capture the AFC's final wildcard spot. Joe Flacco threw 2 TD passes in the fourth quarter to boost the Ravens.

"First of all," Flacco said, "let me say, 'Hail to the Chiefs.' Personally, I think it's very honorable for a team's mascot to be named after a Native American. And the Chiefs deserve all the praise. They practically made our playoff reservation. Our playoff hopes were reeling, but a Chiefs win was just the remedy. And we took that medicine, man.

"Keep in mind, this was a Browns team playing without Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon. Apparently, they can't hold their liquor, or their job. The only thing Manziel throws well are parties. Gordon attended, and if he had to rate the experience, you can best believe it tested positive. But, if you're not going to the playoffs, you can party like there's no tomorrow.

"We know it won't be easy to win at Heinz Field. It's like Ray Rice's home — it's a hostile environment, and if things go badly, you might need to be escorted out by police."

The Steelers captured the AFC North title with a 27-17 win over the Bengals. Antonio Brown had a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter, and sealed the win with a 69-yard TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth.

"Antonio is unstoppable," Ben Roethlisberger said. "He averaged 117 yards receiving in two games against Baltimore this season, and he's looking to outdo that on Saturday night. The Ravens may say 'Nevermore,' but Antonio promises 'even more.'

"The Ravens have overcome a lot of adversity this year. There was that thing with Mike Tice and an escalator. No? Was it Jerry Rice and an excavator? Ray Lewis and an investigator? Art Modell and a ventilator? Franco Harris and an 'Immaculator?' Bill Romanowski and an 'instigator?' Oh, I know, it was Ray Rice and an elevator. But who am I to cast stones? Haven't we all had a regrettable incident with a woman in a confined space? Or two?

"But we have adversity of our own. Le'Veon Bell hyper-extended his knee on Sunday night. But there's no structural damage. I'm not a doctor, but I do like to play one, and my professional opinion is Bell won't play. That makes our offense one dimensional. And from one 'D' to another, that plays right into our hands.

"And speaking of things that bend but don't break, defense won't decide this game. Quarterbacks will. Specifically, the quarterback who has the fewest number of pass attempts. In other words, we have to stop the Ravens running game and encourage Flacco to throw."

Pittsburgh wins, 23-20.

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-4)

For the second year in a row, the Colts have the AFC's No. 4 seed, and will face the Bengals in a rematch of their Week 7 contest, won by the Colts, 27-0.

"That may have been our finest defensive effort of the year," Andrew Luck said. "And you can best believe the Bengals remember it. I hear it's on their bulletin board. Andy Dalton is thrilled about it. It's one instance in which they didn't 'pin' the loss on him.

"This is a matchup between the AFC North and AFC South. And speaking of 'North-South,' we'd love to have a back that runs in that direction. I think that's known as running 'downhill,' which makes sense, because after our rush attack does its thing, it's an uphill battle. We like to call our running game the 'San Francisco Weather' of rushing offenses — expect anything from 50 to 70, and it never, ever breaks 100.

"One thing we can always count on is the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium. It's a playoff game, plus it's 'Jim Irsay Appreciation Day,' and every fan in attendance gets a quart of Lucas 10W40. That way, everyone in attendance can be well-oiled, just like Irsay."

The Bengals lost at Pittsburgh 27-17, giving the Steelers the AFC North crown while Cincy settled for the AFC's No. 5 seed. The Bengals had three turnovers, including two Andy Dalton interceptions

"Cam Newton's truck isn't the only turnover machine in the playoffs," Marvin Lewis said. "Andy's 0-3 in the playoffs. He's yet to experience that career-defining playoff game, or he has three of them, depending on how you look at it."

Indianapolis survives a hot start from the Bengals, and Andrew Luck throws for 2 scores and runs for another.

Colts wins, 27-24.

Detroit @ Dallas (-7)

The Cowboys squashed the Redskins 44-17 last week, powered by DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant. Murray broke Emmitt Smith's season rushing yardage mark, while Bryant broke Terrell Owen's mark for TD receptions in a season.

"They're what we call the 'triplets,'" Jerry Jones said. "And I love 'triplets' as much as I do twins.

"It was awesome to see two Cowboys all-time records broken on the same day. I guess those old records had reached their end, and boy do I love to see a statute of limitations expire. Emmitt's record is 19-years-old, which is a damn fine age in my book.

"We'll be ready for the Lions. And when I say 'ready,' I mean we'll be wearing our chaps, or goalie gear, or a suit of armor. Whatever it takes to protect us from the Lions. Dominic Raiola and Ndamukong Suh may not be red-headed, but they are the 'step-children' of the NFL. It seems unlikely that of all the incidents involving a foot, they've claimed they were all unintentional.They should call Suh and Dominic Raiola the 'Double-Meant Twins,' because it's never an accident.

"This year's edition of the Cowboys is built for a playoff run. That starts with Murray. He's a tough son of a gun. He broke a bone in his left hand and hasn't missed a game. A lot of credit goes to the surgeon who repaired his left hand. Believe it or not, I was in the operating room. I even tried to help. Luckily, there was a 27-year-old stripper in the room who told me my hands don't belong there."

The Lions lost 30-22 at Green Bay as the Packers took the NFC North crown, while the Lions took the No. 6 seed.

"Our futility at Lambeau Field continued," Jim Caldwell said. "The 'Lambeau mystique' obviously has an effect on us. That turf at Lambeau may be the only thing the Lions would rather not step on ever again. According to Ndamukong Suh, 'hallowed ground' is Aaron Rodger's ankle.

"Suh's one-game suspension was overturned on appeal. That's good news for us, and bad news for whatever body part becomes mysteriously attracted to the bottom of Suh's foot. Suh is set to be a free agent in the spring. I'm guessing he'll sign a massive deal, with figures in the nine digits, and stipulations to match. I hear Suh can write with his foot, because that's his 'signature.'"

Cowboys win, 26-22.

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