AFC Wild Card Round

Oakland Raiders vs Houston Texans

The matchup between the Raiders and Texans may be the worst quarterback matchup in a playoff game in the history of the NFL. Connor Cook is the first quarterback in NFL history to make his first start in the playoffs. On the opposing side of the ball, Brock Osweiler will be starting for the Houston Texans and he has been an absolute disaster throughout the season. Before the Raiders lost Derek Carr, they were a Super Bowl contender because Carr was a MVP candidate. Although Carr will not be under center, the Raiders still have quality offensive weapons like Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree. In addition, Cook showed during his years at Michigan State that he can win games against top competition. If Cook can limit the turnovers, he should be able to take advantage of his weapons. On the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders should be to stop Brock Osweiler without much difficulty. Although the Raiders’ defense has not been very consistent this season, they have talent throughout the defense. However, the Raiders have Khalil Mack, who was the first player ever to be selected to the All-Pro at two different positions during the same season. Mack has the potential to disrupt an entire offensive game plan, if he can apply constant pressure. Outside of Mack, the Raiders will rely on Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, and Reggie Nelson. The Raiders should be able to frustrate the Texans and do enough on offense to overcome the Texans, who are playing at home.

Although the Texans lost Defensive Player of the Year, JJ Watt, and received terrible quarterback play from Brock Osweiler, the Texans were able to claim the AFC South Division for the second straight season. When the Texans signed Osweiler to a 4 year/$72 million deal this offseason, Coach Bill O’Brian was believing that they finally acquired the right quarterback to pair with their stout defense and make a run in the playoffs. Even with stars around him like Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller, Osweiler threw more interceptions than touchdowns. If the Texans are going to score enough points to outlast the Raiders at home they are going to need to heavily utilize Lamar Miller. Miller had one of the better years for a running back this season by accumulating over 1200 yards of offense from the line of scrimmage and 6 touchdowns. While the offense will play a conservative style, the defense should be aggressive from the kickoff and try to disrupt Cook and force him into errant throws. Although they do not have Watt, the Texans pass rush is formidable with Jadeavon Clowney having the best season of his career and Whitney Merciless. In addition, the Texans boast one of the better secondaries in the league as they have allowed the second least passing yards in the NFL. The combination of their effective pass rush and ball hawks in the secondary such as Quintin Demps and Kareem Jackson force quarterbacks into mental mistakes and turnovers.

Score: Raiders win 13-10

Miami Dolphins vs Pittsburgh Steelers

The Dolphins and Steelers are a rematch of their week 6 matchup, which saw the Dolphins dominate the Steelers 30-15. In this contest, the Dolphins were able to expose the Steelers’ porous rush defense as Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, the Dolphins will not be starting their best quarterback Ryan Tannehill in this game due to a knee injury. Although Tannehill will not be under center, Matt Moore is a competent veteran quarterback and he has a string of weapons to utilize on offense. The Dolphins will stick to a basic game plan by feeding Jay Ajayi early and often and putting the ball in the hands of star wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry is one of the best slot receivers in the league and should be able to record double digit catches against the Steelers’ defense. On defense, the Dolphins will have their hands full with Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. The trio is the best QB-RB-WR combination in the entire league. The Dolphins will need a huge effort from their defense in order to slow the Steelers’ dynamic offense. Suh, Andre Branch, and Cameron Wake will have the responsibility of dominating the line of scrimmage, stopping Bell, and applying pressure on Roethlisberger. If the Dolphins can contain Roethlisberger and not allow him to scramble outside the pocket, they can stop him from completing his passes down the field.

The Steelers have been one of the most frustrating teams in the league because they have the talent to score every possession, but frequently underachieve. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are arguably the best players at their respective possessions. Bell is an incredible running back because he has great vision and patience, which allows him to find holes and get to the second level. In addition, he is the best receiving running back in the NFL and accumulated over 600 passing yards in 11 games. Along with Bell, Brown had a fantastic season even with Roethlisberger missing a few games. Brown put up over 1250 yards of offense while recording 12 touchdowns. If the Steelers’ offensive line can protect Roethlisberger and provide holes for Bell, they should be able to score enough points to beat Matt Moore and the Dolphins. On defense, the Steelers are going to need to play as a team in order to stop the Dolphins’ running attack. Outside of Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh does not have any stars on defense. However, they are stacked with former first round picks so they have the talent to put forth a dominating effort. The Steelers should look to apply constant pressure on Moore and hope that it will lead to turnovers and better field position for the offense. Ultimately, the offensive prowess of the Steelers will be too much for the Dolphins, especially without Tannehill to take advantage of their defense.

Score: Steelers win 27-20

 

 

NFC Wild Card Round

Detroit Lions vs Seattle Seahawks

The Detroit Lions are heading into Seattle in hope that they can win their first playoff game since 1991, which is the second longest drought in NFL history. The Lions will be led by their offense and Matthew Stafford. Although the Detroit offense has not been dynamic, Stafford has led the most 4th quarter/Overtime comebacks in NFL history. When Detroit has needed Stafford to make the important plays, he has frequently succeeded and that is the reason why the Lions are in the playoffs. Outside of the recent success by Zach Zenner, the Lions have had no consistent running game to rely on . Stafford has been forced to rely on short and intermediate passes, especially since the Lions no longer have Calvin Johnson to stretch the field. However, their passing attack has been very successful with multiple weapons such as Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, Anquan Boldin, and Theo Riddick. Due to the Seahawks’ defensive line and the absence of Earl Thomas, the Lions will be passing early and often. If the Lions are going to have any chance at upsetting the Seahawks in CenturyLink Field, Matthew Stafford is going to need to play the game of his career and the defense will need to contain Russell Wilson. The Lions will have difficulty stopping the Seahawks because they have ranked in the middle of the league throughout the season in points and yards allowed per game.  The Lions are going to need to big performances from their best pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah and their best defensive back Darius Slay in order to slow down a potentially dynamic Seattle offense.

Although the Seahawks are the heavy favorites in their spout with the Lions, especially at home in front of the 12th Man, they cannot take the Lions for granted if they are going to advance to the Divisional Round. Over the past two seasons, the Seahawks have been one of the most erratic teams in entire league. One week the Seahawks look like the team that won the Super Bowl while another week they look like a borderline playoff team. The biggest reason for this sporadic play is their offensive line and inability to protect Russell Wilson or establish a consistent running attack. When the Seahawks’ offensive line plays well, Russell Wilson is able to scramble in the backfield and find Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham down the field for big gains. Although the Seahawks should be able to defeat the Lions’ defense solely with their passing attack, they need to have Thomas Rawls start playing at a high level if they are going to advance far in the playoffs. While the offense can be dynamic, Seattle is led by their stout defense, which still rank as one of the top three defenses in the league. Even though they do not have All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, the Seahawks still possess some of the most talented defensive stars such as Kam Chancellor, KJ Wright, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, and Michael Bennett. The Seahawks should be able to leverage their talent on defense and Russell Wilson’s ability to win and move onto the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Score: Seattle wins 24-13

New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers

The matchup between the Giants and Packers is by far the most compelling and interesting this weekend. The last time the Packers played the Giants in the playoffs at home was the legendary game in 2008, in which the Giants were able to win on a Lawrence Tynes’ field goal in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl. Similar to the last contest, the weather should be a factor because of the cold in the “Frozen Tundra”. The Giants have looked like the teams that have won Super Bowls in the past because Eli remains one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the league and the defense has the ability to carry the team on the road. While the Giants do not possess a consistent running game, Paul Perkins, a rookie, has been emerging as a factor over the past few games as they have finally decided to give him more touches. Perkins’ contributions will only help Manning attempt to pick apart a weak Packers’ defense. The Giants have a strong set of receivers around Manning such as Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, and Rashad Jennings. The Giants will be looking to feed OBJ the ball because he is one of the most dynamic players in the league and can take a 10 yard screen and make it into a 60 yard TD. Along with the offense, the defense has significantly improved from last season. The defense has talent all around the field with JPP, Landon Collins, Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, and Janoris Jenkins. The Giants will need to apply pressure on Rodgers and force him into errant passes if they are going to stop the Packers.

Merely 6 weeks ago, it looked like the Packers were not going to make the playoffs and certainly not going to host a playoff game. However, after 6 straight wins, they are the hottest team in the NFL and ready to make a playoff run. The difference for the Packers has been the reemergence of Aaron Rodgers. Over the past 6 games, Rodgers has been by far the best quarterback in the entire league because he has stopped committing turnovers while throwing for more yards and touchdowns. Since the emergence of Ty Montgomery as a running back, the Packers have been able to attack teams by throwing and passing the ball. Along with Montgomery, Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb have been dynamic options because they all have the ability to make big plays around the line of scrimmage and down the field. While the Packers’ offense has taken many leaps forward, the defense remains very streaky and is the major reason why they may not win the Super Bowl. They have questions all over the field because they cannot consistently rush the passer with only an aged Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry. In addition, the secondary has question marks, especially with the potential loss of Quinten Rollins. Although the Packers’ defense has question marks, Aaron Rodgers and the offense will be too much for the Giants and they will advance to play America’s team in Big D.

Score: Packers win 31-27