Cardinals-Panthers NFC wild-card preview

AP Images/Ross D. Franklin

Cam Newton and the Panthers host the Cardinals in the NFC wild-card round Saturday on ESPN.The Carolina Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals in the opening game of wild-card weekend, which airs Saturday at 4:20 ET on ESPN.

This is the second postseason meeting between the teams, with the Cardinals winning 33-13 in Carolina in the 2008 NFC divisional playoffs.

Top stats to know

Both the Panthers and Cardinals enter the playoffs under unlikely circumstances.

The Panthers are the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after having a seven-game winless streak during the regular season (0-6-1). However, they were one of four teams to go undefeated in December this season.

The Cardinals may have to start Ryan Lindley, who has one career win, at quarterback if Drew Stanton is unable to play. According to Elias, Lindley would be the seventh quarterback to start a playoff game with one or fewer regular-season wins. The last quarterback to win a playoff game under such circumstances was Gifford Nielsen of the 1979 Oilers.

This will be the sixth wild-card playoff game between teams with a four-game difference in the win column. The team with fewer wins has gone 4-1.

One way the Panthers could continue that trend is by exploiting the Cardinals' defensive strategy.

Matchups to watch

Cam Newton and Greg Olsen vs Cardinals blitz

Under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Cardinals have blitzed on the highest percentage of dropbacks (46 percent). The strategy works as the Cardinals have allowed the fifth-fewest points the past two seasons, but it does leave them vulnerable against tight ends.

Targeted position vs. Cardinals' blitz past two seasons

The Cardinals have allowed 25 touchdowns to tight ends the past two seasons, most in the NFL, and 17 have come when blitzing.

Greg Olsen set career highs with 84 receptions and 1,008 yards this season, ranking third among all tight ends in receptions and second in yards.

Olsen caught all five of his targets from Cam Newton last season against the Cardinals, but Newton finished the game 10-of-20 with zero touchdowns, three interceptions and seven sacks against the blitz.

Cardinals' deep passing vs. Panthers' improved defense

The Cardinals attempted an NFL-high 158 passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield this season, and connecting on them has been key.

Panthers' defense 15+ yards downfield this season

The Cardinals have completed 39 percent with eight touchdowns and one interception on such passes in wins, but have completed 32 percent with three touchdowns and four interceptions in losses.

The Panthers made changes to their secondary prior to Week 14, promoting rookies Tre Boston and Bene' Benwikere into key roles. Since then, the Panthers have intercepted a league-high five passes on throws 15 or more yards downfield.

Did you know?

Under the current playoff format (since 1990), every NFL team has played in at least one wild-card game. The Cardinals (3-0) and Panthers (2-0) are two of the three teams (Houston Texans, 2-0) that have not lost a wild-card game in that time.