Wild Card Weekend
Jan. 5, 2017
by Chase Gage
After 17 weeks of NFL action flashed before our eyes in a matter of what seemed like mere seconds, the playoffs are ready to kick off. This weekend will feature some great playoff matchups between some of the best teams in the league.
Football just never seems to last. It feels like it was just yesterday that the Panthers and Broncos took the field on Thursday Night Football in a Super Bowl L (emphasis on the “L” for the Panthers) rematch. Well, now all 17 weeks have come and passed and we are left with just 11 more NFL games until we kiss football goodbye again. This season has been full of stories. The rookie domination that is the Dallas offense; Tom Brady redefining what it means to be “old”; the “Christmas miracle” victory for the Browns; the return of the Rams to Los Angeles; the list goes on and on.
None of those stories matter now. The only thing that matters is the Lombardi Trophy. Only 12 teams remain out of 32, and only one can reign as champions of the NFL. The Raiders, Texans, Lions, Seahawks, Dolphins, Steelers, Giants, Packers, Cowboys, Falcons, Patriots and Chiefs will battle to the (figurative) death to find who will be immortalized as the Super Bowl LI Champions.
Enough chit-chat. Let’s get to the predictions.
AFC Wild Card: 5 Raiders at 4 Texans, Jan. 7, 3:35 p.m. CT
What a year it could have been for the Raiders. Derek Carr was one of the frontrunners for MVP before suffering a season-ending leg injury. Rookie Connor Cook out of Michigan State will start in his place. It will be Cook’s first ever NFL start. In fact, he will be the first rookie quarterback to ever make his first start in a playoff game. On the other side, the Houston quarterback situation is not much better. After signing Brock Osweiler to a huge deal in the offseason, he was benched in favor of backup quarterback Tom Savage before getting the job back in week 17 after Savage was injured. Osweiler has more NFL experience than the Raiders’ rookie, and the Texans are playing at home. I give them the advantage in this matchup. The dream season in Oakland falls short of their expectations as we look back at what could have been.
NFC Wild Card: 6 Lions at 3 Seahawks, Jan. 7, 7:15 p.m. CT
What a crazy year for the Lions. After starting the season 1-3, the Lions reeled off eight victories in their next nine games, reaching a record of 9-4. Of those nine wins, eight of them were thanks to 4th quarter comebacks led by quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions’ season then took a wrong turn, as they dropped their last three games, surrendering the division title in the process. The Seahawks had a solid season behind quarterback Russell Wilson but were not as dominant as they have been in the past, especially offensively. They scored 12 points or less in five games:
12-10 win against the Dolphins
3-9 loss to the Rams
6-6 tie with the Cardinals
5-14 loss to the Buccaneers
10-38 loss to the Packers
However, they also managed to score over 30 points in five games, winning all but one:
31-34 loss to the Cardinals
31-24 win over the Patriots
31-25 win over the Bills
37-18 win over the 49ers
40-7 win over the Panthers
Depending on which Seattle team shows up and which Detroit team shows up, this game could go two drastically different directions. However, the playoffs come down to quarterback play and defense. I will take Russell Wilson (two Super Bowl appearances, one win) and the Seattle defense over Matthew Stafford and the Lions defense, especially with the season on the line. Count on the Seahawks to prevail.
AFC Wild Card: 6 Dolphins at 3 Steelers, Jan. 8, 12:05 p.m. CT
It should be safe to say that the Steelers are the best AFC team playing this weekend. The trio of Big Ben, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell may be the best in the league. When the Steelers are hot, they are nearly impossible to beat, and they’re hot. They have won their last seven games in fact. The Dolphins will be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill so they will have to rely on backup Matt Moore, who will be making his first ever playoff start. Running back Jay Ajayi, who rushed for 204 yards against the Steelers earlier in the season, will likely be the key for the Dolphins. However, like I have previously mentioned, quarterback play is always a key factor. Roethlisberger is making his 18th playoff start versus Moore’s first. Roethlisberger is 11-6 in the playoffs and has three Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl rings. The Steelers are clicking and are hot at the right time. They have three players who are arguably the best at their respective positions. They win this game and advance to the next round.
NFC Wild Card: 5 Giants at 4 Packers, Jan. 8, 3:40 p.m. CT
The Packers may be the best team in football right now. Aaron Rodgers may be the best quarterback in football right now. The Packers may be the team most likely to go from the Wild Card round to the Super Bowl. But first, they have to go through the Giants. This matchup pits two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks against each other in Rodgers and Eli Manning. Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson led the NFL in receiving touchdowns. Odell Beckham Jr. for the Giants led the NFL in yards after the catch on touchdown receptions and is consistently one of the biggest scoring threats in the league on any given play. A four-yard slant route could end up being an 80-yard touchdown when OBJ is on the field. These are two teams that know how to win. These are two teams that have their eyes on the Super Bowl. This could be the best game of Wild Card weekend. The Packers are nearly unbeatable when playing at Lambeau Field. Green Bay pulls off the close victory and advances to the next round.
Check back next week to see what I got right (all of them, obviously) and wrong as well as the predictions for the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.