It is almost that time of the year, which every sports fan has been waiting for — the Super Bowl. But before then, we get to enjoy the lead up better known as the NFL playoffs with the six best teams from each conference battling it out for the opportunity to play in the big game.
Most are expecting the Patriots to play in the Super Bowl, and all of Dallas Cowboys’ fans think they will be playing in Houston, too. However, another week will pass before we see the two favorites in game action again. Until then, we get to enjoy four wild card matchups.
Oakland at Houston: Christmas was not kind to the Raiders. After clinching the playoffs, their Carr broke down before reaching the road to the Super Bowl; MVP candidate QB Derek Carr broke his fibula in the second to last game of the regular season, then backup Matt McGloin was injured in the final game, which leaves them with a rookie third-string quarterback running the offense.
Based on the above, the Texans are favored to win this game. This franchise has relied on the best defensive player in the NFL, JJ Watt, to make plays and inspire the team but unfortunately, Watt could not score points for them in last year’s wildcard game, as they were shutout. To remedy that situation, Houston tried to make a splash in the off-season by signing QB Brock Osweiler to a huge deal. The result of that move was finishing 29th in total yards and tied for 28th in points.
The best thing that happened to Osweiler’s teams, both last season and this, was his benching. The Broncos ended up winning the Super Bowl but the Texans will not be so lucky since Tom Savage suffered a concussion last week and will not suit up this week. The Raiders have a ball-hawking defense that forced 30 turnovers this season and the offense only gave it up 14 times, equaling a plus16 differential — the best in the league. Compare that to Houston’s minus seven and they do not have JJ Watt.
My pick: Oakland 20, Houston 17
Detroit at Seattle: Watching the Seahawks this season, I sometimes got the feeling they were going through the motions and just waiting for the post-season to begin. On defense, most things look familiar, but on offense, they have struggled to come to grips with their new pass-first identity due to the retirement of RB Marshawn Lynch. Whether you want to blame poor offensive line play or his wobbly wheels, QB Russell Wilson has not been his normal efficient self.
The Lions have trailed in 16 of 17 fourth quarters this season, which have resulted in eight of their nine wins being the “come from behind” variety. Although it gives them confidence that they can win any game, that is not the usual formula for success. The Lions have a turnstile at the running back position and have not had a player rush for 100 yards in a single game this season.
As shaky as the Seahawks have been this year, they could not have asked for a better matchup than Detroit. With no running game to speak of, the Lions are playing right into Seahawks defensive scheme. The controlled passing offense the Lions employ will have a hard time scoring points in Seattle. The Seahawks also have a hard time running the ball but will not have to worry about balance this week.
My pick: Seattle 27, Detroit 16
Miami at Pittsburgh: One of the most underrated stories of the NFL season has been the development of the Dolphins as legitimate title contenders. The Dolphins had a six-game winning streak after a 1-4 start to the season; the streak began with a 30-15 victory over this week’s opponents. In that game, RB Jay Ajayi broke out with 204 rushing yards. However, Miami suffered an injury to its starting quarterback and played the last three games with backup Matt Moore at the helm.
The Steelers have one of the hardest offenses to game plan for because they are highly explosive on both the ground and through the air. This team is as unconventional as it comes with a variety of playmakers and plays that utilize them, which keeps defenses off balanced. Sometimes they fall victim to questionable decision-making at critical times.
This season has been a success for the Dolphins, no matter what the outcome of this game is because nobody anticipated them still playing, and because of that, I expect them to play loose and give the Steelers more than they can handle. However, Pittsburgh might have taken the Miami too lightly early in the season due to its poor start but I think they come out ready to shut down the run and force Matt Moore to make plays.
My pick: Pittsburgh 31, Miami 21
New York at Green Bay: In late November, QB Aaron Rodgers predicted his 4-6 Packers would “run the table” and make the playoffs. Last week’s win over Detroit fulfilled his prophecy and his team is now the hottest in the league. During the winning streak, Rodgers has thrown 15 touchdowns to zero interceptions. Teams have not been able to pinpoint which player to try to contain because of Rodgers ability to spread the ball around to his playmakers at all levels of the field.
The Giants’ play has gone under the radar for most of the season. Most of the attention have been directed at what their start receiver is doing off the field or his antics on the sidelines. Not being discussed is how they have made a resurgence on the defensive side of the field; Janoris Jenkins has outplayed everybody at cornerback this season, he always seems to make the big plays.
It is hard for a visiting team to brave the elements of Lambeau field in the wintertime and leave with a win. The Packers are full of confidence and expect to advance to either Atlanta or Dallas. However, QB Eli Manning has played on this exact stage before and taken a bow. Quiet as kept, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo served on the Packers staff as tight ends and quarterbacks coach for seven seasons; therefore, he is very familiar with that team’s tendencies.
My pick: New York 23, Green Bay 21