I know the holiday season is technically over, but for my money, we are currently experiencing the most wonderful time of the year no matter what any carol may declare. The 2016 NFL Wild Card round kicks off the Playoffs. It’s time for best of the best start to rise to the top and after this weekend, those weakest are weeded as pretenders no longer remaining in the fray. As Don Cheadle reminds us, it’s what makes the playoffs — The Playoffs.
Oakland vs. Houston
How absolutely tragic 2016 became for the Raiders? Their quarterback, Derek Carr, had a season that boasted him as an MVP candidate. But then he broke his fibula in Week 16 and the Raiders have to go to Matt McGloin. Matters were made worse when McGloin suffered a concussion forcing rookie third-stringer Connor Cook onto the field to finish the regular season in the final week in a loss that knocked Oakland from the 2nd seed to the 5th.
Not that Houston looks great themselves. Brock Osweiler has looked disappointing as a $72 million dollar starting quarterback who was eventually benched by backup Tom Savage due to poor play. Their best offensive weapon in running back, Lamar Miller, has also missed time due to injury. All this after JJ Watt was put on the Texans’ injured reserve for back surgery. Picking the winner in this game is tough because of the mounds of mediocrity.
At day’s end, it’s Houston’s defense led by the late-blooming JaDaveon Clowney that gets the Texans over the hump to a playoff win just on dumb luck.
Lions vs. Seahawks
This game is probably the second-most intriguing game of the weekend. Last time these two teams played each other was a Monday night game last season where Kam Chancellor concluded his hold-out that ended a controversy of a ball being batted intentionally out of bounds by Seahawk linebacker, KJ Wright.
Even though it’s a year later a lot has changed for both franchises. Calvin Johnson retired from the Detroit roster and Marshawn Lynch from Seattle’s. On the whole, the ‘Hawks offense has looked pedestrian, special teams phenom Tyler Lockette is battling injury, and the defense has not only lost Earl Thomas for the year but is dealing with moral issues connected to recent outbursts from the outspoken cornerback, Richard Sherman. Meanwhile, in 2016, the Lions have overcome the retirement of Megatron with quarterback, Matt Stafford, having an MVP-caliber campaign. I personally had the Lions suffering a losing season back in early September predictions and here they are in the playoffs one Week 17 loss away from hosting this round.
But the cold fact remains that this week’s contest is in Seattle at Century Link field. So as much as I talk about Stafford’s great year, Anquan Boldin fighting Father Time to produce in the Motor City, Eric Ebron coming of age as a talented tight end and their defense overachieving expectation, I’m completely unable to pick them to over the intensity of the 12th Man’s home field advantage.
Phins vs. Steelers
The Miami Dolphins match up against the Steelers well. They are dramatically improved in run stopping since last year and can get after the quarterback on defense with Cameron Wake back to health with Mario Willaims and Ndamukong Suh in support on the D-Line. That is how they dominated Pittsburgh in Week 6, 30-15.
And that victory is the very reason they will lose this game. The Steelers are a team that play well with emotion and redemption in mind and will certainly rally that to advance to the next round. Also, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s injury in Week 14, his backup will leave Miami wanting “Moore” on offense. In short, would you take Matt Moore over Ben Roethlisberger as a 2-time Super Bowl winner . . . ? Nope — Me, either.
Giants vs. Packers
I finally have the opportunity to say “I told you so” regarding quarterback Aaron Rodgers in how he wasn’t ever the problem surrounding the Packers struggles earlier in the year. After all, how many people are clamoring for him as the MVP now? I can only assume that some of the people who were asking “what’s wrong with Rodgers?” are now discount double-checked into submission. Maybe he didn’t need to be trained by Hans and Frans after all.
Props to the Giants for dramatically improving their defense. They aren’t as good as the 2007 team that upset New England in the Super Bowl, but they may be effective in slowing Rodgers. But all the Green Bay defense has to do is focus their defense on the Giants Odell Beckham Jr. and force Eli Manning to panic and fall into the quicksand of interceptions thrown. Easier said than done, but I have Rodgers and company battling past the wild card round.