Few teams could manage to pull off the feat of dropping six games straight in the NFL and then somehow not only making the playoffs but also winning their division. The Carolina Panthers managed to do both by being in the woeful NFC South where a 7, 8 and 1 record wins the division and by sweeping the table in December, winning four games straight. The Panthers late season turn around seems to have come primary on the backs of a defense that stepped up, limiting teams to a grand total of 43 points in the final four games. A primary factor leading to the Panthers defensive domination over the last month of the season has been the emergence of their young secondary allowing a combined passer rating of only 64.6 over four games. Starting quarterback Cam Newton has also looked good in the final two weeks of the season, running for a touchdown each week. This following a car accident in which he injured his back forcing him the week 15 game.
While the Panthers were ending the season as one of the hottest teams in the NFL the Arizona Cardinals were dropping 4 of their final six games leading to an 11 and 5 record and most likely costing them the NFC West title. Most of Arizona's late season struggles can be directly tied to injuries occurring to both their starting quarterback Carson Palmer and their second string quarterback Drew Stanton leaving the position in the hands of third year and third string QB Ryan Lindley. Lindley is coming off a career high, yardage wise in a game where he also threw for two touchdowns and three interceptions in a losing effort to the 49ers by the score of 17 to 20. He will need to be considerably more efficient in this afternoons match-up if he hopes to lead his team to victory while facing Carolina's emerging secondary. The Cardinals have been carried much of the year by their 5th ranked defense which has given up an average of 18.7 points per game.
- TV: ESPN
- TIME: Saturday, January 3rd, 4:35 PM EST
- LOCATION: Bank Of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
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