Sunday's NFL Wild Card Game Previews

January 4, 2015

Wild Card Saturday in the NFL saw one team protect its turf (Carolina) and saw another lose at home (Pittsburgh) to a bitter division rival (Baltimore) after its star running back was unable to play.  Such is the fickle nature of the NFL’s second season, and more surprises could be on the way today.

“The message is pretty much the same for everybody,” said New England head coach Bill Belichick about playing the postseason. “We all know that this is single elimination and you put everything you have into it. There’s nothing to save it for, nothing to hold back. You compete with all you’ve got. I think that’s true for everybody. This should be the best we all have.”

Week 17 came right down to the wire as 10 of the 16 games played on the final day of the regular season had playoff implications. Sunday’s excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season’s final day, a tradition instituted in 2010. And four divisions were decided on the last day of the regular season, including the AFC North in game No. 256 of 256 as Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati.

“We’re excited about getting to where we are,” said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson about the team winning the NFC West and clinching the No. 1 seed in the conference. “The first goal that we had was winning the NFC West and getting to the playoffs and we were able to do that. It’s definitely exciting going into the playoffs.”

Here is a look at today's matchups:


The Bengals have won five of their past seven games and are in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season under head coach Marvin Lewis.  Unfortunately, the Bengals have yet to experience a deep playoff run with quarterback Andy Dalton at the helm, and are hoping that perhaps this will be the year things change.

“At the end of the day, there are only so many teams that get this opportunity,” said Cincinnati tackle Andrew Whitworth about the playoffs. “It doesn’t matter what your record is anymore. It doesn’t matter where you’re seeded. All that matters is if you win.”

Winning will be a lot tougher for the Bengals if Dalton's favorite target, star wideout A.J. Green, is unable to play due to a concussion.  He is listed as doubtful for Sunday.

The Colts, meanwhile, have won nine of the past 12 AFC South division titles. In Week 7, quarterback Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes as Indianapolis shut out Cincinnati 27-0. Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and was named to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his first three seasons.

“It’s one-and-done now,” said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano about the postseason. “We all know the stakes get higher and it’s single elimination. Whatever we have to do to win a game, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”


Wild Card Weekend concludes when Dallas hosts Detroit. The Lions and Cowboys have split the previous two playoff meetings between the two teams – 1970 Divisional (Dallas, 5-0) and 1991 Divisional (Detroit, 38-6).

This game will be a fascinating matchup of strength on strength -- Detroit's stout run defense versus the Cowboys dominant offensive line and the running ability of star back DeMarco Murray.

“Controlling the line of scrimmage is important,” said Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell, who tied a franchise record with 11 wins in his first season with the club. “Our defense has been really strong in that area throughout the year.”

Detroit led the NFL in rush defense (69.3 yards per game) and ranked second in total defense (300.9 yards per game). The Lions held opponents to 100 rushing yards or fewer in 14 of the team’s 16 games, including five games with 50 rushing yards or fewer.

The Lions were given a huge break this week when defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, the anchor of Detroit's front seven, had his one-game suspension lifted in place of a $70,000 monetary fine.  Suh had previously been suspended for stepping on the leg of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Lions will look to slow down Dallas’ running game, which ranked second in the NFL (147.1 yards per game) thanks to its standout offensive line and Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray, who set a franchise-record with 1,845 rushing yards.

Both teams have dynamic quarterback-wide receiver combinations: Detroit’s Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson and Dallas’ Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant.

Johnson had a franchise-record 329 receiving yards in the last game against the Cowboys – the second-best single-game total in NFL history – and recorded 211 yards in his only postseason contest.

Romo led the NFL with a club-record 113.2 passer rating and Bryant’s 16 receiving touchdowns were a team record and topped the league.

“We’re just getting started and we’re excited about the opportunity in front of us,” said Romo about the postseason.

Romo, in fact, has never looked better, despite recovering from back surgery in the offseason.  He recently was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December.

During last month, Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December as the team won the NFC East.  He completed 83 of 111 passes (74.8 percent) for 987 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception for a 133.7 passer rating, the highest December passer rating in NFL history (minimum 100 attempts).

Romo had a 100+ passer rating in all four games during the month, throwing multiple touchdowns in each contest.

“We’re excited about being in the playoffs,” said Dallas head coach Jason Garrett.  “This is what we worked for. Winning the division is the first goal and now we’ve got the opportunity to play in the playoffs. Now it’s time to take advantage of it.”

Wild Card 2014 Injury Reports

DETROIT at DALLAS - Injury Report

Detroit Lions

G Larry Warford (knee)
DT Nick Fairley (knee)
DE Ezekiel Ansah (toe), WR Calvin Johnson (ankle), DE Darryl Tapp (not injury related)
Practice Report
Dallas Cowboys 
T Doug Free (ankle)
DE Tyrone Crawford (illness), LB Anthony Hitchens (ankle)
LB Bruce Carter (knee), DT Nick Hayden (shoulder), S Jeff Heath (thumb), G Zack Martin (ankle), LB Rolando McClain (knee, illness), RB DeMarco Murray (hand), DT Josh Brent (calf), QB Tony Romo (back), S C.J. Spillman (groin), LB Dekoda Watson (hamstring)


Cincinnati Bengals 

WR Dane Sanzenbacher (concussion), WR James Wright (knee)

WR A.J. Green (concussion)

TE Jermaine Gresham (back), RB Cedric Peerman (concussion, shoulder)

Indianapolis Colts

G Hugh Thornton (shoulder)

C A.Q. Shipley (ankle)

RB Trent Richardson (illness)

TE Dwayne Allen (knee), WR Joshua Cribbs (not injury related), LB Jerrell Freeman (hamstring), G Joe Reitz (ankle), LB Erik Walden (knee), WR Reggie Wayne (groin), LB Bjoern Werner (shoulder)

By Staff of

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