It took 17 weeks but we have finally arrived at the real portion of the football season. The regular season did not fly by. Our patience was tried and our hopes of great games were let down at times. But that was then and this is now. All the stinkers have been vetted out–except for Brock Osweiler, that dude won’t go away–and what we are left with are the best of the best. Wild Card weekend is the final weekend where subpar play will survive. After this week any team or player lacking in the talent department will be shown the door. This weekend’s games will be especially odd given the unusual amount of backup quarterbacks. The Raiders, Dolphins and Texans will all be trotting out their backups in hopes of advancing.
Many believe a backup cannot succeed in the playoffs which could be true based on the opponent. In the case of Matt Moore it may not swing momentum away from the Dolphins because Ryan Tannehill is not that good to begin with and the offense is run-heavy mixed in with quick passes for the most part. Brock Osweiler’s return for the Texans is a little deflating, but he will enter the rematch against the Raiders as the more experienced guy. Which brings us to Raiders starter Connor Cook. The rookie from Michigan State has not started a NFL game yet so the panic meter might be a little high in the Bay Area. But Raiders fans should remember this–they still have their offensive line and running backs. If the defense plays well everything will sort itself out.
Backup quarterbacks may be the talk of the week, but that’s not all we should be focusing on. Let us enjoy our first weekend of do or die football because no matter how bad the play is watching elimination games are always entertaining. Home teams are in CAPS.
Raiders (+3.5) over TEXANS
Wild Card weekend kicks off with the worst possible matchup. This is good because we are getting it over with, but bad because we have to see the winner again next week. Had Derek Carr not broken his leg this game would have been a warm up for the Raiders as they got ready to face the Chiefs or Patriots. Without Carr the Raiders look like a team that lost its edge. With Matt McGloin and Conor Cook under center the offense carry that same swagger that propelled them into relevance. If I had to choose between McGloin or Cook I’d go with Cook just based off the unknown. There is not a whole ton of film on the rookie other than his Michigan State highlights. The Raiders can use that to their advantage as they try and keep a good Texans defense off from stacking the box.
Speaking of that Texans defense, how about Jadaveon Clowney. It sucks that J.J. Watt is not around to enjoy Clowney’s arrival, but moving forward that has to be the league’s deadliest pass rush. On Sunday the team will need Clowney to control the line of scrimmage and ruffle Cook’s feathers. If the defense shut the Raiders out that’d be ideal given the return of Brock Osweiler. The $72 million bust will never be used in the same sentence as the phrase “return on investment” and should never be given points. Osweiler got his starting job back thanks to Tom Savage going down with a concussion last week. The one bright spot for Osweiler was his ability to find star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. After a season of being at the mercy of his inept quarterback, Hopkins had his best game of the season racking up 123 yards on 7 catches. It is still foolish to trust the Osweiler-Bill O’Brien duo in prime time as they have not given us any reason at all to trust them.
Prediction: Raiders 13, Texans 10
SEAHAWKS (-8) over Lions
The Seahawks have graduated into the NFL’s elite. The best franchises in the league are built so well they can navigate a path to the playoffs despite being banged up. The Patriots, Packers and Steelers are perfect examples of this while the Panthers serve as a cautionary tale. For the Seahawks to make it to the playoffs with as many injuries as they had is impressive. They are definitely not the favorites they have been in years past, but drawing a bad Lions team first can help restore some confidence. Russell Wilson and the offense have been really good or really bad with no inbetween. Thomas Rawls has done a poor job replacing Marshawn Lynch as the cowbell which has contributed to the Seahawks’ struggles. Unlike Beast Mode, Rawls cannot overcome a subpar offensive line. The best form of attack would be to utilize that monster Jimmy Graham and go from there, but that’s just me.
Matthew Stafford used to have one of those monsters on his team too, his name was Calvin Johnson. At one point in the season the Lions looked like a Ewing Theory candidate, but heading into the playoffs with three straight losses quickly put that to rest. What happened? For starters Theo Riddick not being on the field hurt. Riddick was the most valuable weapon on tehe offense as Stafford’s safety valve. Without him there is not much Stafford can do to get team’s off the pass. Zach Zenner has looked slightly better than Dwayne Washington which isn’t saying much. One player to keep an eye on this week is veteran Anquan Boldin. He is immune to playoff pressure at this point and will be a good person for Stafford to depend on in crucial moments. Golden Tate’s return to Seattle should add a little spark to the matchup, but will not affect the end result.
Prediction: Lions 17, Seahawks 27
Dolphins (+10) over STEELERS
Double digit spreads in the playoffs never look pretty. There would have to be a major problem with one of the teams. The Dolphins are definitely not Super Bowl contenders, but not worth the disrespect of a double digit spread. When these two met in Miami during the regular season Jay Ajayi had his coming out party. His 200-yard performance was the beginning of a winning streak that clinched them a spot in Saturday’s game. Expect the Dolphins to go back to that game plan this week in the cold weather. Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker must be accounted for too because they can go off at a moment’s notice against a Steelers defense that will never be mistaken a traditional Steelers defense.
The Steelers’ best defense happens to be their offense. Le’Veon Bell has been on a tear all year, accounting for 1,884 yards from scrimmage in just 12 games. He is also the first player in NFL history to average 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in a single season. And we haven’t even talked about Antonio Brown. The star receiver showed up big time in a play-in game versus the Ravens in Week 16, scoring the game winner to punch the Steelers’ playoff ticket. 2016 was business as usual for AB who recorded another 100 catch season with 106 receptions, 1,284 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger has not been himself this year, but with Bell and Brown at his side he just has to exist in the five seconds he gets the snap and hands the ball off or gets the ball downfield.
Prediction: Dolphins 13, Steelers 20
Giants (+4.5) over PACKERS
Styles make fights which makes the final game of Wild Card weekend the best. The Packers have been an unstoppable force during their six game winning streak. Aaron Rodgers said the Packers could run the table at 4-6. Rodgers finished one of his best seasons with 4,428 yards, 40 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. That is without mentioning the feast or famine defense and nonexistent running game. This may well be the best version of Rodgers we see, but he still has to prove he can beat the Giants in the playoffs. Eli Manning has as many playoff wins at Lambeau Field as Aaron Rodgers at two. On their way to the Super Bowl in 2011 the Giants came into Green Bay and took down the 15-1 Packers. T
This season the Giants are the perfect foil. Their strongest area is their secondary led by Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins. This unit that also includes Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and rookie Eli Apple has quietly been the best in the league. In their first meeting in Week 5 Rodgers was able to get the win, but right now the Giants can go man-to-man and force Ty Montgomery to beat you running the ball. On offense Odell Beckham should be favored heavily. The Packers defense is not very good and if there is one specific weakness it’s in the secondary where guys signed off the street will be playing. Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz should each draw favorable matchups, all Eli has to do is get them the ball.
Prediction: Giants 24, Packers 20
Last Week: 10-6