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What to watch for: Wild Card Weekend

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After a long and fascinating NFL season, we've arrived at the payoff: the postseason. If we've learned anything from Dallas, Arizona and Pittsburgh, it's to always expect the unexpected when it comes to predicting 16 games in August. Will that trend continue this weekend? Here are three things we're looking for from each of the upcoming matchups.

SATURDAY


No. 5 Arizona Cardinals at. No. 4 Carolina Panthers:

1. In his last performance against the Cardinals in 2013, Cam Newton and a much better Panthers team scored just six points. Newton threw three interceptions and completed just 53 percent of his passes. He faces a better defense this time around. Will the Panthers create opportunities for him to get out in space more?

2. Kelvin Benjamin has grown up a lot this year, but the Panthers need him to be better than he's ever been on Saturday. The Cardinals have two fantastic cover corners and if Benjamin can't break out of some pressure at the line, Newton will be in a similar position as he was last year.

3. Ryan Lindley completed almost 60 percent of his passes and tossed a pair of touchdowns (although one was on a gimmick play) against a 49ers team that was going full tilt for the departing Jim Harbaugh. It was by far his best game of the season. If Drew Stanton cannot play, all eyes will be on the 2012 sixth-round quarterback who won't have much run game support against that Carolina defensive line.

No. 6 Baltimore Ravens at No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers:

1. Gary Kubiak's offense has looked anything but playoff ready over the last few weeks, a dismal stretch that has included five turnovers in four games. Joe Flacco was out-dueled by Case Keenum. They've been kept in games thanks to a stunning effort by their defense, but how will that change against an offense that looks better than ever?

2. How will Haloti Ngata look after serving a brief suspension, and how could that impact a game that may or may not feature Le'Veon Bell? Certainly an ability to slow down the run would interrupt Ben Roethlisberger's highwire passing game.

3. Can Antonio Brown be stopped in the playoffs? The last time he faced the Ravens secondary, he caught 11 balls for 144 yards and a touchdown.

SUNDAY


No. 5 Cincinnati Bengals at No. 4 Indianapolis Colts:

1. We're ready to see Andrew Luck coast through a masterful postseason and make the leap into the divisional title game. He has a lifetime completion percentage under 60 in the playoffs, and has a sour taste in his mouth after a four-interception game in Foxborough last January.

2. Pep Hamilton seems to evolve in waves before landing back to earth again. The highly-sought offensive coordinator has done some brilliant things as he reinvented his Stanford offense, but is there a sense that he should be doing more with the talent on hand? A convincing win over the Bengals could go a long way.

3. Will Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis get that playoff win? Think about how much this would mean to the franchise and the city. If they under-perform once again with a solid core, they might be running out of excuses.

No. 6 Detroit Lions vs. No. 3 Dallas Cowboys:

1. If Ndamukong Suh's suspension is upheld, the weight on the Lions' front seven shifts dramatically. Early penetration could slow the DeMarco Murray train, but if the Cowboys get the running game going at home, all bets are off.

2. This is the stage Jerry Jones has been waiting for. All eyes will be on a team built on restraint and pragmatism over the past few years. He has a quarterback in his prime, a slew of veterans and a deep ball wide receiver that has been punishing defensive backs all season. This is the time for Dallas to make the next leap.

3. Matthew Stafford's 16-game road losing streak against winning teams will begin to look awfully suspect if he cannot keep the Lions in this game. Detroit has invested heavily in a high-powered offense, but needs a veteran performance from their former No. 1 overall pick.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Week 17 game and debates the MVP race between Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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