The NFC playoffs are going to be a ton of fun. The Seattle Seahawks are going for their second consecutive Super Bowl title, and have home-field advantage in their back pocket. The Green Bay Packers will have a bye, Aaron Rodgers and the venerable Lambeau Field, always a tough challenge for anybody to face. Additionally, the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions have potent offenses and will be a terrific Wild Card round contest.
Then, there is the other Wild Card game, featuring the Arizona Cardinals visiting the Carolina Panthers. Carolina is the second team in NFL history to enter the playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike shortened season, at 7-8-1. Arizona is a solid 11-5, but has lost two straight with quarterback Ryan Lindley at the helm. Lindley is easily the worst starting quarterback in the postseason, throwing two touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his career.
So, is the Panthers-Cardinals matchup the worst in NFL history?
Yes, but there are some close to this benchmark.
Consider the 1979 NFC Championship between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams. The quarterback matchup was Doug Williams and Vince Ferragamo, and the best skill-position player was Wendell Tyler. Both teams entered the playoffs 9-7, and neither made any significant noise in the years after. Los Angeles won 9-0, and advanced to Super Bowl XIV. Another horrid game was in 2004, when the Seahawks (9-7) hosted the Rams (8-8) in the Wild Card round. St. Louis won 27-20, behind the arm of Marc Bulger. It was largely forgettable as St. Louis was pasted by Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons the next weekend.
Still, it is hard to find a game worse than this on paper. Lindley is one of the worst quarterbacks to play in past 25 years, let alone in the postseason. The Cardinals are a legitimate team in all other facets, featuring a terrific defense with the likes of Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Bruce Arians is a top-flight coach and the receivers are legitimate, but Lindley brings the team down multiple notches.
Carolina’s record speaks for itself. The Panthers won the NFC South last year with 12 wins and are the first team to repeat as champs in that division, but they lack any punch. Entering Week 17, the defense is ranked 22nd in points allowed per game (24.7), 19th in sacks (34), 19th against the run (115.3 yards/game) and 22nd on third down (42.3 percent conversion rate). The offense is nothing special either, checking in 14th in total yards (349.4/game), 22nd in points (20.3/game) and the 19th-ranked pass attack (226.6/game).
None of those numbers are unspeakably bad, but they certainly don’t scream playoff team.
Maybe Carolina and Arizona will surprise us. Maybe Lindley will throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns, becoming an unlikely postseason hero. Maybe the Panthers will turn their four-game winning streak into a magical run which nobody sees coming.
Perhaps, the game is simply awful, and a source of comedy for everybody outside the Arizona and Carolina markets.