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Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
2009 NFL Playoffs
Note - Not a Key Release
The Arizona Cardinals advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs by virtue of their 30-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week. As their reward, they get to travel East to take on the rested Carolina Panthers, who had a 1st round bye. The Cards were the 4th seed in the NFC with their 9-7 regular season record, which was good enough to win the weak West division by 2 games. Carolina, winners of the strong NFC South, received the 2nd seed with a 12-4 regular season record.
The Panthers were just an eyelash away from the top seed in the NFC, but faltered late in the Week 16 showdown at New York in a 34-28 OT loss to the GiantsÖa game in which they dominated early and still led 28-20 entering the 4th Q. They again faltered late in their season finale at New Orleans, blowing a 30-10 4th Q lead and allowing the Saints to take a 31-30 lead with just 3:11 remaining in the game. But they were able to drive 57 yds on their final possession to nail the 42 yd FG for the slim win.
Carolinaís 12-4 record was largely due to their stellar play at home, where they were a perfect 8-0. In road games they were just 4-4. There was definitely quite a difference in their home and road play. At home they averaged nearly 30 pts per game, while holding the opposition to just under 14 pts, on average. Overall in their home games, the Panthers held 5 of 8 opponents to 17 pts or less, with 23 pts being the most allowed by any team (Arizona and Tampa Bay). On the road they average just 22.5 per game and gave up a little over 27 pts per game. And in their last 4 road games of the year, they actually gave up over 35 pts per game. I guess itís a good thing they have this game at home.
These two teams met in Carolina back in Week 8, with the Panthers having to fight back from 17-3 and 23-17 deficits to finally pull out the 27-23 win by scoring the last 10 pts of the game. The Panthers stifled the weak Arizona running game, allowing just 50 yds total, and with 30 of those yds coming on a handoff (or wildcat formation) to Anquan Boldin. Other than that, the Cardinals only attempted 13 rushes, netting just 20 yds total for a measly 1.5 yd per carry average. Kurt Warner had a lot of success though, throwing for 381 yds and 2 TDís on 35 of 49 passing. He was picked off once and sacked just 2 times. The Cardinal receiving corps of Boldin, Fitzgerald and Breaston all had huge days, combining for 25 receptions for 269 yds, with Boldin catching 2 of his 9 receptions for TDís. Arizona was aided by a huge defensive play in the 2nd Q as LB Karlos Dansby hit Panther QB Jake Delhomme in the backfield, causing him to fumble at his own 5 yd line. Warner hit Boldin on the next play for the TD and an early 10-0 lead.
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For the Panthers, Jake Delhomme was 20 of 28 for 248 yds ,with 2 TDís and no INTís, and was sacked just the one time on the fumble. RB DeAngelo Williams had 108 yds and a TD on just 17 carries, for a 6.4 YPC average, but the Cards held Jonathon Stewart in check with just 10 yds on 8 carries. Panther WR Steve Smith had just 5 catches, but they went for a total of 117 yds and 2 TDís, with one of them being a 65 yd catch and run off of a short dump pass.
Arizona had some rather meaningless games down the stretch as a result of clinching their division title in Week 11. They went just 2-4 in their last 6 games, but, in their defense, they played some really tough teams that had a lot at stake. But they regrouped in the season finale against Seattle, and with the win last week against Atlanta they have now scored 64 pts in their last 2 games. In 10 of their 17 games this year, they have scored 29 pts or more. But they have not been a good road team, having won just 3 of 8 away games, and all 3 of those were against weak division foes. In fact, 6 of their 9 wins were against teams in their own division, where Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis combined for just a 13-35 record. Itís kind of hard to get a good read on the Cardinals because they clinched so early. If you look at just their road games before they clinched, they were 0-3 outside of their division, with a 7 pt loss at Washington and the 4 pt loss at Carolina, but they got hammered by the Jets.
As for Carolina, 5 of their 12 wins were by 4 pts or less but 5 of their 8 home wins were by 15 or more, with one more being by 9. If you take away the gift TD in the first match-up with Arizona, the Panthers win by 11. Based on Carolinaís perfect record at home and Arizonaís road struggles, and the fact that the Panthers are rested, itís just about a given that they will win the gameÖ.or is it?
The Carolina defense is not one of the NFLís elite by any means. They are ranked 18th in overall defense, 20th against the run and 16th against the pass. And they are ranked 12th in points allowed. Arizona is ranked 4th in overall offense, 32nd in rushing and 2nd in passing, and they are the 3rd highest scoring team. Lately their running game has started to come on a little, and their defense has made some big plays. Overall they are 19th in defense, 16th against the run and 22nd against the pass, but they have given up lots of points with a ranking of 28th. Carolina has the 3rd best running game and is 19th in passing and 7th in scoring.
Cardinal WR Anquan Boldin tweaked his hamstring in the 2nd Q last week and had to leave the game, so he may not be 100% this week, if he plays at all. However, I still think this spread is a few points too high. When these teams met in Week 8, Carolina was just a 4.5 pt home favorite and Arizona covered by the hook. Now we have the same match-up in the playoffs and itís all of a sudden Ė10!?
If you look at round 2 of the playoffs over the past 2 years, you will find that the dogs have gone 7-1 ATS and 4-4 SU. Last year, San Diego was a 10 pt dog traveling to a rested Indianapolis and the Chargers won SU 28-24 with a hobbled offense. The N.Y. Giants traveled to a rested Dallas as 7 pt dogs and won SU 21-17. Jacksonville traveled to a rested New England as a 13 pt dog and lost by just 11, covering by 2. Seattle was the only ATS loser getting blown out at Green Bay. In the previous year, Indianapolis traveled to a rested Baltimore as a 4 pt dog and won SU 15-6. Seattle traveled to a rested Chicago as a 9 pt dog and lost by just 3 in OT. New England traveled to a rested San Diego as a 5 pt dog and won SU 24-21. And Philadelphia traveled to a rested New Orleans as a 6 pt dog, losing by just a FG, 27-24. So thatís 8 teams that had to play a 1st round game, traveling to 8 rested opponents as dogs and only one of them lost ATS, with 4 of them winning outright. So there is certainly a precedence.
This is not saying that Carolina wonít win by double-digits. You never know how the game will unfold. But I think the value is obviously with the high-powered Arizona offense and the 10 pts, and thatís going to be my pick. The Arizona Cardinals +10 pts.
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