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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.