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Prisco's Picks: Week 18

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Senior NFL Columnist
Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and can be seen throughout the week on CBS Sports' NFL shows. When he's not watching game tape you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015
The conventional thinking in this one is the Panthers come in on a roll, and the Cardinals are staggering into the playoffs. Arizona has lost two consecutive games, and they are playing a second straight road game, but don't discount how good the defense can be. It has carried this team all season long. Even with Ryan Lindley, the third-team quarterback in the game, I think they can force a few turnovers to give the Cardinals a short field. The Carolina offense is predicated on the running game. They were seventh in the league in rushing this season, which is why that will be key here. Arizona hasn't been great against the run, so that could be in favor of the Panthers. Cam Newton has a huge edge on Lindley at quarterback, but I think the Carolina offensive line will have issues here winning against the Arizona defense. The Cardinals defense will load up the box and slow down Carolina and turn that, plus a turnover or two, into a tough road victory.
Result: Arizona Cardinals 16, Carolina Panthers 27
I see this one being a shootout, even if running back Le'Veon Bell doesn't play for the Steelers. Pittsburgh finished ranked second in total offense and seventh in scoring offense, while the Ravens were eighth in scoring offense. Both teams had major issues defending the pass, which is why I see Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger both having big days. The secondary play is suspect for both teams, and that's being kind. The Baltimore pass rush is better, which has helped hide bad play on the back end at times. The injury situation on the Ravens' offensive line bears watching. Right tackle Ricky Wagner is out, and guard Marshal Yanda moved over there last week and did a nice job. Left tackle Eugene Monroe missed last week's game, but he is expected back this week. I think the real key here will be Roethlisberger's ability to move away from the Baltimore pressure and make plays down the field to Antonio Brown. The Steelers will advance in a fun game to watch.
Result: Pittsburgh Steelers 17, Baltimore Ravens 30
Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis will be trying to win his first playoff game in five tries. Quarterback Andy Dalton is 0-3 in the postseason. That's pressure. The Bengals lost to the Colts 27-0 earlier this season, but these teams are a lot different now. The Bengals can run much better with Jeremy Hill, who had just four carries in the first meeting. The Colts are 23rd in rushing yards per attempt against, which could mean a lot of Hill to keep Andrew Luck off the field. The Cincinnati defense is last in the league in sacks, which could be a major issue against Luck. He will kill them if they don't have pressure. But I think this is a game where Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins get after Luck a bit. The Bengals will take the game to the Colts on the ground and not force Dalton into bad situations. That's the formula you need to win on the road in the playoffs, and I think the Bengals will get it done.
Result: Cincinnati Bengals 10, Indianapolis Colts 26
The Cowboys are rolling on offense as they enter the playoffs. That will mean little if Tony Romo can't overcome the perception that he can't win a big game. Romo has put himself into the MVP conversation with some great play over the past month. The Cowboys offense is ranked seventh in yards and fifth in scoring. But the Lions are second in total defense and second in scoring defense. The Cowboys have had big success with running back DeMarco Murray carrying a lot. Dallas is second in the league in rushing yards, with Murray getting nearly 2,000 of them, but the Lions are first in run defense and yards-per-attempt against. That's with Ndamukong Suh, who won his appeal Tuesday to overturn his league-imposed suspension for stepping on the leg of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in last week's game. That's huge for the Detroit defense. The Detroit offense hasn't been as potent as in years past. The Lions finished 22nd in scoring. Quarterback Matt Stafford also wasn't nearly as good on the road as he was at home. Even though the Dallas defense isn't great, ranking 19th, I think they are feisty and good enough to slow the Detroit offense down. I don't think there's any slowing down the Dallas offense. Tony Romo and the Cowboys will move on.
Result: Dallas Cowboys 24, Detroit Lions 20
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