Less than a month ago Ryan Lindley was the third string quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. Fast forward to Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers, and Lindley will make the first playoff start of his young career.
With Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton both succumbing to knee injuries, Lindley’s been tabbed to lead the Cardinals to their first playoff victory since 2009. In his third season out of San Diego State, Lindley has started Arizona’s last two games and the results have been less than stellar.
The Cardinals (11-5) lost control of the both the NFC’s top seed and the NFC West, with Lindley completing 48.4 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and four interceptions. But he has shown improvement. In last week’s 20-17 regular season finale loss to San Francisco, Lindley threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns but showed his lack of experience with three interceptions.
Lindley will next hit the road to Bank of America Stadium, and Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians expressed confidence in his young quarterback.
“When you get experience in big games, and those were big games, it affects how you play,” Arians said to the Seattle Times. “I think he’s more than ready to play extremely well.”
Lindley does have the benefit of two top targets in Cardinals leading receiver Michael Floyd, and former All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald. Though he’s battled injuries this season, Fitzgerald leads the team with 63 receptions for 784 yards and two touchdowns. Floyd was tops with 841 yards and six scores off 47 receptions.
Arizona will also send out a rookie running back with no playoff experience in Kerwynn Williams, but he’s responded well since taking over for Andre Ellington in Week 14. Williams has tallied only 246 yards, but he’s gaining 4.6 yards per carry and faces a Carolina defense allowing 112 rushing yards per game.
But that number is slightly deceiving, given it accounts for how the Panthers played all season and not just their current four-game winning streak. Carolina (7-8-1) needed to win out in order to claim the NFC South, and during its streak have held opponents to 10.8 points and 278.3 yards per game. The Panthers have also forced nine turnovers in that span, which has given quarterback Cam Newton a huge boost.
Forced to sit out one game after a scary car accident near the Panthers home field, Newton has bounced back with five touchdown passes to one interception and another three scores on the ground in his last three starts.
He’s also received a huge amount of help from seventh-year running back Jonathan Stewart, who’s gained 409 yards at a rate of 5.0 yards per carry in the last four games.
If Newton and Stewart continue their hot play, it could spell trouble for a Cardinals defense that was one of the best in the NFL but has crumbled in the last two weeks. Arizona let up 35 points to Seattle and another 20 points on the road to San Francisco, with both foes compiling more than 200 yards rushing.
Start Time: 4:20 P.M. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Carolina -6
Over/Under: 38 points
Prediction: Carolina over Arizona, 27-13