“Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game! Another game.”
Little did Jim Mora know that his rant would go down in infamy whenever playoff football approached. With that, the NFL Wildcard kicks into full gear this weekend. Here’s your preview of the full slate of games this weekend.
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans. Jan. 7th, 4:35 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN
Wildcard weekend kicks off with perhaps the least anticipated game of the weekend when the 9-7 Houston Texans will host the 12-4 Oakland Raiders. The two teams met earlier this season when Oakland pulled off a 27-20 win in Mexico. This match-up is likely to be much different as both teams are reeling from injuries. The Raiders were a major surprise in 2016 as they made the playoffs for the first time since since 2002. Oakland sports an explosive offense as they rushed for at total of 1,922 yards. Both Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper ecclipsed 1000 yards. They rank 7th in the league with 26 points per game on the season. They were among one of the teams to beat until Derek Carr went out with a broken leg to end his season.The Raiders also lost second string quarterback Matt McGloin last week and will be going into this week with former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook making his first start.
Houston’s offense has been lackluster all season and have never really been able to get the pass game going. The Texans haven’t had an answer at quarterback all season with Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage both getting time at the helm. Osweiler will get the nod this weekend against the Raider’s 26th ranked defense, however pro bowler Khalil Mack won’t make it easy as he has gotten to the quarterback all season. The Texans have lived off their defensive play this season allowing an average of 20 points per game and ranking 1st giving up only 301.3 yards per game this season even with J.J. Watts injury. This game is likely to be decided by the first team to get to 20. The Raiders have stars all on the offensive side of the ball. However, without Derek Carr being the glue to hold it all together, the Texan’s defense will be too much for Connor Cook.
Prediction: Texans 21 – Raiders 10
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks. Jan. 7th, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
The 9-7 Lions come limping into the playoffs losing their last three games of the season against the 10-5-1 Seahawks. Matthew Stafford and the Lions have won some gritty games this season but have also lost games against good teams and ones with strong offenses such as the Packers (twice), Giants, Cowboys, and Saints. The Lions can’t afford to go into Seattle and be one dimensional on offense. Detroit has leaned on their passing game this season but will have to get the running game, which ranks 30th in the league, going strong. Seattle are favorites in this game and for good reason as they’re 7-1 at home this season.
The Seahawks offense hasn’t been spectacular this year, but they”ve been able to win big games when it matters against Patriots, Falcons, and Bills. The teams offense flows through Russell Wilson’s good decision making and scramble ability.Russell Wilson has had a nagging angle and knee injury all season but he plays best in big games. Seattle’s run game is also non-existent as it ranks 25th in the NFL. As it is no surprise, the Seahawks defense is one of the league’s best as they only give up 18.2 points per game and 318 yards on average. The defense has fallen slightly since since Earl Thomas’ season ending injury in week 13 against the Panthers, but still has several stars to still be formidable. The Lions will have trouble moving the ball against Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, and Bobby Wagner. The Seahawks defense will be after Matthew Stafford all day as they have 42 sacks on the season. Look for the Seattle to shut down Detroit’s run game and rely on Matthew Stafford to move the ball. Detroit will keep this game close but Seattle will pull away in the 4th quarter.
Prediction: Seahawks 28 – Lions 17
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers. Jan. 8th, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS
On Sunday, the 10-6 Miami Dolphins will face the red hot 11-5 Pittsburgh Steelers. The two teams met earlier this season in week 6 in which the Dolphins won in a blowout aginst the Steelers 30-15. Ben Rothlisbergeralso left the game with an injury. Miami is much improved in the 2016 season thanks in large part to Clyde Christensen becoming the offensive coordinator and turning Ryan Tannehill into a workable NFL quarterback. Tannehill will not be playing against the Steelers in this game. Matt Moore will start at quarterback this week and has filled in suitably since Tannehill’s injury completing 63 % of his passes and 721 yards in 3 games. The Dolphins bread and butter on offense has been Jay Ajayi’s explosive play making ability in the running game. If Ajayi can get into open space against the Steelers defense he can definitely change the game for the Dolphins.
Pittsburgh has won games impressively against some of the leagues best. These include the Redskins, Chiefs, Giants, Ravens, and only coming 42 seconds away from beating the Cowboys. The Steelers have one of the best trios in football with Ben Rothlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell that will be a headache for the Dolphins to try and stop. The Steelers offense has been making explosive plays all season and rank 7th in the league in yards and 5th in passing yards. Big Ben will likely remember the injury he sustained against the Dolphins and likely play all out to win this game. This isn’t the Steelers defense of old, but it is still hard to beat at home. Also, they sit 10th in the league, only giving up 20 points per game. The Steelers offense will have a big day against the Dolphins 29th ranked defense. Meanwhile, their defense will hold Matt Moore and Jay Ajayi at bay.
Prediction: Steelers 31 – Dolphins 14
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers. Jan. 8th, 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX
The saying “save the best for last” is true in this match-up of two of the NFL’s most historic franchises. These two teams faced off in week 5 at Lambeau when the Packers beat the Giants 23-16. Things are different this time around as the Packers have gotten healthier on offense. Meanwhile, the Giants defense has been playing lights out since they buffed up on defense this season with several free agent signings. These include Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Keenan Robinson. It appears to have been well worth the money as the defense has improved to 2nd in points allowed with 17 and 10th in yards allowed per game with 339. The defense has also accounted for 35 sacks and 17 interceptions on the season. While the defense has been spectacular the offense has left much to be desired. Per game, they’re only averaging 19 points. They also have a lackluster run game that ranks 29th. While Eli Manning has thrown 16 interceptions in the regular season, he takes his game to the next level in the playoffs, becoming clutch. The Giants have come up big against major opponents this season such as the Cowboys (twice), New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, and Washington.
The Packers risked missing the playoffs this season, but railed off six straight wins to run the table and win the NFC North. The Packers are one of the hottest teams in the playoffs thanks to their offense. Green Bay has one of the best offenses in the league scoring 27 points per game. Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams have been a prolific set of wide receivers scoring a combined 26 touchdowns on the season. Aaron Rodgers has played flawlessly the past six games making his case for MVP with a 15 touchdown run to 0 interceptions. While the Packers are 31st in the league for passing yards allowed, but have a ball hawking defense with 17 interception and have gotten after the quarterback with 40 sacks. The Giants defense is going to show up, the question is whether Eli Manning and the offense can put up enough points to keep pace with the Packers. If Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. can connect early this could prove to be a long day for the Packers. If the Giants can jam the Packers’ receivers while making Aaron Rodgers hold on the ball long enough for the pass rush to get to him, the Giant will win. However, if Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams get past the defense and coverage then Green Bay will come away victorious.
Prediction: Packers 21 – Giants 17