The NFL regular season has officially wrapped up. Seems like the season gets shorter every year doesn’t it? Great seasons from the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs who all earned 1st round byes. Wild Card weekend is upon us and it shouldn’t disappoint with the slate of games we have. With the playoff seedings locked up in each conference, I will preview and predict the matchups for this upcoming weekend.
AFC Wild Card Matchups:
(6) Miami Dolphins at (3) Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday at 1:05 PM EST Watch Live on CBS
Well isn’t this is a surprise. Who here had Miami making it to the big dance? I sure as hell didn’t. After starting the season 1-4, the Dolphins looked to be fish food for the league again this year. That wasn’t the case. In their final 11 games, the Fish went 9-2 and secured a playoff spot for the 1st time since 2008. They’re without a doubt the biggest underdog in the entire tournament.
Exciting times were coming to Miami till QB Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury. Backup QB Matt Moore has done a decent job in Tannehill’s absence collecting 721 yards, 8 touchdowns and 63.2 completion percentage. He will start at QB on Sunday. Jay Ajayi has been a blessing for the Dolphins as well in the 2016 season with 1272 yards and 8 TD’s. His breakout game came against Pittsburgh in week 6 scoring twice and 202 yards rushing.
Intimidating forces on defense such as Ndamukong Suh, Kiko Alonso and Cameron Wake are scary defensive players, but they shouldn’t scare you though. The Dolphins are ranked 30th in rushing yards allowed with 2,247. They do however rank 12th in turnovers forced with 25.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished with a record of 11-5 ending their season with a 7 game winning streak. Prior to that, Pittsburgh lost 4 in a row and one of those games was against the Dolphins in Heinz Field. Antonio Brown had an outstanding year as expected. Brown led the way for the Steelers with 12 touchdowns 1285 yards and 106 receptions. Brown wasn’t their only superstar this year as Le’Veon Bell stole the show for the final 12 games for the Black and Gold. In only 12 games played, Bell finished with 7 rushing touchdowns, 2 receiving touchdowns, 1268 rushing yards and 616 receiving yards. Then there’s Big Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger ended 2016 with 29 touchdowns 3819 passing yards and a completion percentage of 64.4 %. The Steel Curtain defense was decent this year finishing in the top 10 in points allowed. Pittsburgh’s defense only scored with 1 defensive touchdown in 2016. Miami have to be careful and can’t turn the ball over to defensive stars Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and 38-year-old veteran James Harrison.
My analysis: The Dolphins need Ajayi to have the type of game that he had back in week 6. Matt Moore can only do so much against the Steelers. If this becomes into a passing game this could be a long night for the Cinderella story of the NFL playoffs.
Pittsburgh needs to possess the ball for large chunks of time against Miami. Put the pressure on their defense and tire out the Dolphins defense. Whether it’s Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell or both they can’t turnover the ball like they did in week 6 against Miami. If that happens again Miami will be the upset of the week.
That said, Pittsburgh should walk away with a win in their home field.
Prediction: 28-17 Pittsburgh
(5) Oakland Raiders at (4) Houston Texans
Saturday at 4:35 PM EST Watch Live on ESPN
For the first time since 2002, the Oakland Raiders are going back to the playoffs. Raiders fans definitely have to be excited over the direction this team has taken under head coach Jack Del Rio. Injuries have hit the Raiders in a big way though. Starting and backup quarterbacks David Carr and Matt McGloin went out with injury and wont be available this weekend in Houston. 3rd string QB Connor Cook will takeover the starting role in the biggest game in his life. Running back Latavius Murray had an excellent 2016 with 12 touchdowns 788 rushing yards in 14 games. The wide receiving duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree is among one of the best wide receiving cores in this years playoffs. Crabtree caught the most balls on the team with 89 and the most touchdowns with 8 while Cooper led the Raiders with 1153 receiving yards. The Raiders defense have made big strides this year with the growth of Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith. They rank 2nd in the NFL with 30 turnovers forced but have given up the most yards per play at 6.1.
The Texans had a strange path to their 2nd consecutive AFC South title. Houston was without the leagues star defensive player J.J Watt virtually all season. They’ve need players to step up on defense and players like Jadeveon Clowney, Quintin Demps and Whitney Mercilus have done just that. Clowney is 2nd on the team with 6.5 sacks and is one of the most dangerous defensive ends in the game. The veteran safety Demps, is tied for 2nd in the league for interceptions with 6. The 26-year-old linebacker Mercilus, leads the team in sacks with 7.5 and 4 fumble recoveries. The Houston offense has been a work in project all season long. The Texans had hopes when they signed QB Brock Osweiler to a 4 year 72 million dollar contract that he would take their offense to a new level. That has not happened as he’s been benched in favor of backup QB Tom Savage. Savage left the game in week 17 with a concussion leaving the quarterback position in deep peril. Osweiler will be back in regular starting QB position looking to right the wrongs earlier in the year. DeAndre Hopkins has disappointed as well only scoring 4 touchdowns all season and 954 yards.
My analysis: For the Raiders to win, they’re going to need to get the ball to Latavius Murray as much as possible. You obviously can’t trust Connor Cook to do much in a loud building like MRG Stadium. Murray needs to have a better game against Houston ten their previous meeting. Murray only rushed for a season low 33 yards but received for 59. The Raiders also will have to force turnovers against a very giving Houston offense.
Much like the Raiders, Houston is going to have to force turnovers as well especially with an unknown QB at the helm for the black and silver. Brock Osweiler is going to need to wake up at some point and now would be a great time to do it. If not look for Houston to rely heavily on Lamar Miller like they have all season long. Miller scored a TD and ran for 104 yards against these Raiders.
In the end, I think these teams wont do much to muster up much offensively. I look for this to be a FG battle and a complete tossup.
Prediction: 13-9 Raiders
NFC Wild Card Matchups:
(6) Detroit Lions at (3) Seattle Seahawks
Saturday 8:15 PM ET Watch Live on NBC
The Lions are back in the playoffs after a 1-year absence and their looking to make some noise. Recently though, the Lions have gone silent losing the last 3 in a row. The Lions are ranked 13th in points allowed but have given up 90 points in that 3 game losing streak. They’re going to need to step up their game defensively if they even want a chance against Seattle. Offensively they’re in the middle of the pack with Matt Stafford at the helm. Stafford had a decent year for the Lions scoring 24 touchdowns, 4327 yards and a completion percentage of 65.3%. 36-year-old wide-out Anquan Boldin has been one of the best finds of the 2016 offseason. He signed a 1-year contract worth 2,750,000 million dollars and a 750,000-signing bonus. He’s been worth every single dollar scoring 8 touchdowns while accumulating 584 yards. Former Seahawks WR Golden Tate leads Detroit in receiving yards with 1077 yards.
The Seahawks are glad to be back in CenturyLink Field as they went 7-1 at home this year. The Hawks have one of the biggest home field advantages in the entire playoffs. Decibel levels got up to 136.6 in CenturyLink and there’s no doubt they can do that again Saturday night. The Hawks have been decimated with injuries losing both safety Earl Thomas and wide receiver Tyler Lockett for the year. It’s also being speculated that QB Russell Wilson is also working with multiple injuries as well. Wilson only has 21 touchdowns and career highs in interceptions with 11 and 4219 passing yards. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin also suffered a drop off this year. Baldwin went from leading the league with 14 receiving touchdowns in 2015 to only 7 in 2016. It’s not all bad for Seattle on offense though. Jimmy Graham had a solid bounce back year after a torn right patellar tendon. Graham went on to collect 6 touchdowns and 923 yards. The Seahawks have been known for their Legion of Boom defense for a while now and they proved it again this year. Bobby Wagner has been a force once again for the Hawks defense with 85 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Let’s not discount the work of defensive ends of Cliff Avril and youngster Frank Clark. Avril leads the team in sacks with 11.5 and forced fumbles with 5, which ranks for 2nd in the league as well. The 2nd year player Clark is 2nd on the team in sacks with 10. Not to mention Kam Chancellor is one of the hardest hitters in the league and one of the leagues best safeties.
My analysis: Lions need to get out to a early lead and quiet the 12th man. This team also cant turn the ball over or Seattle will make them pay for it. If they do these two things, they should be in good shape to stay in the game.
He maybe nursing an injury but Seattle needs Russell Wilson to have a more consistent flow of the game. Whether it’s passing or running he needs to be that game changer again for the Hawks.
The home team should take this one. No upset special in this one.
Prediction: 24-13 Seahawks
(5) New York Giants at (4) Green Bay Packers
Sunday at 4:40 PM EST Watch Live on FOX
The Giants are considered to be one of the dark horses in the playoffs. Even though they’re the 5th seed, their record is 11-5 who beat the NFC leading Cowboys not once but twice. The Giants defense has improved leaps and bounds since last year as their ranked 2nd in points allowed and the 2nd best passing defense in the NFL. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Landon Collins are prime reasons of that who rank 2nd and 3rd in the league in interceptions. Cromartie also ranked 2nd in passes defended with 21 Collins also leads the team with an astounding 100 tackles at the safety position. Jason Pierre-Paul is a superstar in the league who led the team in forced fumbles is questionable to play this weekend in Green Bay this weekend. The Giants offense doesn’t look so hot only scoring 310 points good for 26th in the league. Two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, had his numbers drop from last year as a result. His touchdowns decreased from 35 to 26 and his passing yards went from 4,432 yards to 4027 yards. Odell Beckham had a solid 2016 campaign but his numbers dropped a bit from last year also. Beckham went from 13 to 10 touchdowns and 1450 to 1367 receiving yards. With the team in need of a 2nd wide receiver to compliment Beckham, the Giants drafted Sterling Shepard in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft. The rookie had an impressive 2016 with 8 touchdowns and 683 yards. Victor Cruz will provide some depth if an injury occurs. The New York run game is pretty much non-existent as they combined for a grand total of 6 rushing touchdowns this year.
The frozen tundra will be rocking on Sunday when the Packers look to get back to playoff success. The team has won 6 in a row to close out the season and is the NFC’s hottest team. Green Bay had to clinch the NFC North division against the Detroit Lions on the final day of the season. Aaron Rodgers had a stellar 2016 leading the league with 40 passing touchdowns He also added 4 rushing touchdowns, 4428 passing yards and a completion percentage of 65.7%. Rodgers favorite target Jordy Nelson led the league in receiving touchdowns with 14 and teammate Davante Adams wasn’t far behind with 12. With Eddie Lacy done for the year, the run game was put behind the 8-ball for most of the year. The Packers defense was not pretty to watch this year. They rank as one of the worst passing defenses in football coming in at 29th in touchdowns allowed and 31st in passing yards allowed. Although the Packers still have stars on their defense such as Clay Matthews, Ha-Ha Clinton –Dix and Nick Perry. Matthews battled injury and had a so-so year only getting 5 sacks in 12 games. Clinton- Dix had great 3rd year in the league with 5 interceptions and 63 tackles. Linebacker Nick Perry turned a lot of heads this year earning 11 sacks in 14 games played this year.
My analysis: The Giants need to shred through this Packers pass defense. Eli Manning is going to need the game of his life on Sunday. He’s at his best when he has spreads out the ball to different areas of the field. On defense, they’re going to need keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. Rodgers is one of the best QB’s when he throws on the run.
The Packers need to make Eli Manning’s life a living hell. Create pass rush and force him into a turnover or 2. The Rodgers-Nelson connection has never been stronger. They;re most dangerous QB-WR combo in the playoffs and fired on all cylinders to end the regular season. I expect them to be on the same page again on Sunday.
This is going to be the best game of the weekend. This will be a thriller to watch.
Prediction 27-20 Packers