ESPN will televise the first NFL Playoff game in its 35-year history this week when Cam Newton and the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers host Larry Fitzgerald and the AFC West’s Arizona Cardinals in a NFC Wild Card game on Saturday, January 3, at 4:20 p.m. ET (kickoff at 4:35 p.m.). ESPN’s Monday Night Football team of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden will call the game with reporter Lisa Salters from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
In addition to the ESPN telecast, the Cardinals-Panthers game will also be available in Spanish on ESPN Deportes and via WatchESPN for fans with video subscriptions from affiliated providers.
Leading up to the Cardinals at Panthers NFL Wild Card game, ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown crew will return for a special Postseason NFL Countdown edition on Saturday at 3 p.m. with Chris Berman, Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson, as well as Wendi Nix and NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen (Bristol, Conn.). Suzy Kolber with Trent Dilfer, Ray Lewis and Steve Young will join the show from the stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Postseason NFL Countdown features:
- Cam Newton Conversation with Lisa Salters: Three weeks removed from a car accident that left him with fractures in his back, quarterback Cam Newton is healthy and starting for the Panthers. Ahead of his second straight postseason, Newton sits down for an interview with MNF reporter Lisa Salters.
- Virtual Tabletop: Countdown’s Cris Carter uses the EA Virtual Tabletop to explain the matchup between Panthers rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Cardinals Pro Bowler cornerback Patrick Peterson
- C’Mon Man! Best of the Worst from 2014: Berman and the Countdown analysts share the best of the worst head-scratching plays from the regular season by revisiting the top moments from the 2014 season that had them exclaim – C’Mon Man!
ESPN NFL Wild Card Playoff Conference Call Transcript
ESPN conducted a NFL media conference call last Tuesday with Monday Night Football producer Jay Rothman and commentators Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden to discuss coverage of the Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers Wild Card Playoff game this weekend (Saturday, Jan. 3 at 4:20 p.m. ET, ESPN). Transcript. Full audio replay. Photos.
Saturday and Sunday Editions of Postseason NFL Countdown; Matt Ryan to Appear on the Program Sunday at 10 a.m.
Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson will host three Postseason NFL Countdown editions previewing the Wild Card Weekend on ESPN beginning with two shows on Saturday: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET, and at 3 p.m. leading into ESPN’s first NFL Playoff game – Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers at 4:20 p.m.
On Sunday, the program returns for its regular three-hour edition (10 a.m. – 1 p.m.) with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan joining the crew as a guest analyst. NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen will report news from around the league, and Wendi Nix will host select segments. Other highlights:
Saturday morning Countdown:
Britt McHenry (Cardinals) and Lisa Salters (Panthers) in Charlotte, N.C. will report from ESPN’s first NFL Playoff game, with Josina Anderson at the Ravens at Steelers game.
- Luke Kuechly – Trained Instinct: SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm, as part of her recurring one-on-one “Face to Face with Hannah Storm” interview series, sits with Carolina Panther Luke Kuechly for a behind the scenes look at the Pro Bowl linebacker’s unorthodox off-season training regime that includes using tennis balls and foam pads.
- Soundtracks – Bruce Arians: After an impressive season as the Cardinals head coach, Bruce Arians best in-game audio will be the subject of Saturday’s NFL Wild Card soundtracks.
Sunday morning Countdown:
Bob Holtzman (Bengals) and Sal Paolantonio (Colts) will report from Indianapolis with Ed Werder (Lions at Cowboys) at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
- Conversation with Jerry Jones: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sits down for a conversation with Countdown’s Michelle Beisner on the team’s turnaround this season and more.
- Joique Bell: Before becoming a Detroit Lions running back, Joique Bell was a security guard for the team. Jim Trotter reports on Bell’s journey from watching over Detroit’s playmakers to becoming a starting Lions’ running back.
- Jeremy Hill’s Letters: Faced with off-the-field incidents that would have derailed his chance of being selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, Jeremy Hill made a unique move – he wrote a letter to all 32 NFL teams explaining the reasons for his past at LSU and how he plans to overcome it. The Cincinnati Bengals took the chance on him and the rookie has been the team’s top running back since week 9. SportsCenter’s Lindsay Czarniak reports.
- Soundtracks – Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is well known in the league for complimenting opposing defensive players after they hit him. Soundtracks feature in-game audio from Luck.
- Jimmy Wilson’s Journey: After two murder trials and acquittals for shooting and killing the boyfriend of his aunt, Miami Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson second chance in the league has become symbolic of his team’s redemption story this season, reports Josina Anderson.
NFL Matchup Previews all Wild Card Games
ESPN NFL Matchup with host Sal Paolantonio and analysts Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski will air on Saturday at 4 a.m. (reairs at 8:30 a.m. on ESPN2) and Sunday at 4 a.m. (reairs Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on ESPN2). Highlights:
Arizona at Carolina:
- Factor Back – Cam Newton’s Option Runs: Hoge explains how the resurgence of the Carolina Panthers run game, particularly through the use of quarterback Cam Newton as a runner, has contributed to the team’s winning streak.
- Hoge Breakdown – Panther Linebackers in Pass Coverage: Hoge explains how the Panthers defense has improved recently, especially in pass coverage, where linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis foil pass attempts by opposing offenses throwing down the middle of the field.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh:
- The Red Zone – Roethlisberger to Bryant Connection: Jaworski outlines the importance of a credible red zone threat in the playoffs, which the Steelers have in rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
- Inside the Matchup – Steelers Blitz Creates Sack: Hoge shows how the Steelers used a unique blitz in their last meeting to confuse the Ravens offensive line, resulting in a sack on Joe Flacco.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis:
- Let’s see it Hoge – Colts Pass Protection Issues: Hoge shows examples of a recurring theme for the Colts’ offense, the inability to protect quarterback Andrew Luck from pressure coming through the middle.
- Factor Back – Jeremy Hill: Hoge highlights the physical attributes of Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill that solidified the rookie as Bengals starting running back.
- The Red Zone – Andrew Luck to Dwayne Allen: Jaworski shows how the Colts are a dangerous red-zone offense through their use of a creative play design with multiple athletic tight ends.
- Between the Lines – Colts Third-Down Defense: Jaworski shows how important it is for the Bengals to convert and move the chains against the best third down defense in the league.
Detroit at Dallas:
- Coaches Clicker – DeMarco Murray: Hoge outlines the qualities of Dallas running back DeMarco Murray and explains how the Cowboys run game can be effective against a stout Detroit defensive front.
- Jaws Shot Play – Romo to Bryant Touchdown: Jaworski explains the deep play potential of receiver Dez Bryant, a perfect complement to the Cowboys run game.
NFL PrimeTime will also air two live shows – late Saturday at midnight (9 a.m. PT) and Sunday at 8 p.m. Additionally, Trey Wingo will host a two-hour SportsCenter Special: Wild Card Weekend Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPN2, recapping the weekend and looking ahead to the NFL Divisional Playoff round.
ESPN.com “Hot Read” on What Expanded Playoffs Would Look Like
In this week’s “Hot Read,” NFL Nation’s Kevin Seifert takes a look at the myriad possibilities that could be implemented with expanded NFL playoffs as soon as next season. The NFL news and information site also offers wall-to-wall coverage of all four Wild Card games. Other highlights:
- Playoff X-factors: Senior NFL columnist Jefffri Chadiha identifies under-the-radar players poised to make a big impact in the postseason;
- Flem File: ESPN The Magazine senior writer David Fleming offers a loser’s guide to the playoffs;
- John Clayton’s First and Goal: Clayton, the senior NFL writer and commentator, presents his All-Pro team selections.