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