Hi, hello & welcome to Wild Card Weekend! It’s been an up & down NFL season, and I think it’s reflected in the excitement level surrounding these playoff matchups. Basically, there is none. We’re excited about the final game of the weekend. The other three games? Not so much. Quarterback injuries have derailed a couple of teams, a couple of teams don’t really belong, and some of these teams are heading in the opposite direction you want to be heading in playoff season.
The thing about sports, and life in general, is that you never really know. Perhaps these games will be more competitive & exciting than we think. Maybe one of the teams we’re writing off this week will make a tremendous run through the playoffs and go down in history as a Cinderella story that nobody believed in.
Let’s run through the picks. In case you’re curious just how my prognosticating career is progressing, I ended up with basically the same regular season record as 2015…somehow I picked two more games in 2015 than in 2014 or 2016? Don’t know how that happened.
Saturday, January 7
Oakland at Houston (-3.5)
Let’s be honest, the AFC had itself a down year. The usually reliable Denver Broncos were even more offensively challenged than they were last year. The Cincinnati Bengals fell off from their usual performance due to injuries and a lack of adjustment to circumstance. The Indianapolis Colts have completely fallen apart around Andrew Luck. So we’re stuck with some questionable teams here in these AFC Wild Card games, which will result in some questionable games.
The Texans are back in the playoffs yet again as AFC South Champions. The division was somehow worse than it usually is this season, with the Jags being the Jags, Indy bringing nothing to the table other than Andrew Luck & TY Hilton & a 45 year old Frank Gore, and Tennessee being a nice surprise but still a year away from legitimacy. So it didn’t matter that Brock Osweiler was even worse than the other schlubs Houston has trotted out at quarterback since Matt Schaub stopped being useful. They were in the right division to have success.
The Raiders were pretty darn good for most of the season, but Derek Carr got hurt in Week 16 and to say that they aren’t the same team without him is an understatement. I wasn’t sure about the MVP conversation surrounding him until I saw the Raiders’ Week 17 “effort” on offense. Matt McGloin paled in comparison, and now that he’s hurt we got Connor Cook (no relation) starting a playoff game. You might be asking who Connor Cook is…ah, hell, why not? I got nothing else interesting going on in this game.
-Born in Hinckley, Ohio. It’s an unincorporated community named after Judge Samuel Hinckley, a land speculator from Massachusetts. That’s all it took to get something named after you back in the day.
-How does one get a job as a land speculator, anyway? I do a lot of speculating every day, somebody should be paying me for it.
-Went to Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, the same high school as former NFL linebacker Mike Vrabel…who happens to be the linebacker coach for the Houston Texans.
-Holds the record for most career wins at Michigan State
-Drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft, with the 100th overall pick
-Would be the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in a playoff game.
He wasn’t completely terrible against Denver last week, but the game was well out of hand by the time he got in and he did nothing to make it better. I wouldn’t expect too much from him. The Texans are pretty dreadful offensively but do have a stout defense. That should be enough for them to squeak out a win & nominate themselves for “Worst Team To Win A Playoff Game”. In all likelihood they will get massacred next week, like they always do in the playoffs.
Detroit at Seattle (-8)
Much like the Raiders, the Lions were pretty decent once upon a time. Heck, they were one of the hottest teams in the NFL in November. They’ve stumbled, bumbled & fumbled their way into the #6 seed though, limping into Seattle with a three game losing streak & looking for answers in a place where it’s generally tough to find answers. Primetime? In Seattle? That’s not a good combination for road teams, who either get blown out or lose tight games due to interesting officiating. There’s no in-between.
I don’t see a scenario where the Lions roll into Seattle without a running game & much of a defense and win. Eight points is a lot though, and the Seahawks haven’t inspired much confidence with their play the last couple of weeks, losing to Arizona and only beating the sorry, no-account 49ers by two points. While I think Seattle advances, I think the Lions will at least keep it within eight points. And if any franchise knows about being on the wrong end of interesting officiating in the playoffs, or in Seattle for that matter, it’s Detroit.
Sunday, January 8
Miami at Pittsburgh (-10)
You might recall that the Dolphins actually beat the Steelers 30-15 back in Week 6 in Miami. Mostly because Ben Roethlisberger got injured during the game, but one also has to credit Jay Ajayi & his 204 rushing yards in the matchup. That was Ajayi’s breakout game as an NFL running back and part of a three-game stretch where it looked like he was going to be the next great rusher. He’s dropped off since then but still went off for 206 yards in Week 16 in Buffalo, showing that cold weather isn’t a dealbreaker for his production. (I mean, the dude went to Boise State University, so this shouldn’t be a question.) Matt Moore has replaced Ryan Tannehill at QB…he isn’t anything special but he isn’t too much of a dropoff from Tannehill either.
If you take a look at the teams Miami has defeated this year, Pittsburgh has one thing going for them that the rest of them don’t:
NY Jets (twice)
Yup…none of these teams made the playoffs. Miami’s been beating up on bad teams all season and managed to get ten wins out of it. It’s one thing to beat a Steelers team with their QB out of commission, but to beat one with Big Ben, Antonio Brown & Le’Veon Bell going at full speed is another thing entirely. I see the Steelers winning this rematch handily.
NY Giants at Green Bay (-4.5)
By far the most interesting game of Wild Card Weekend, this matchup pits the two teams most experts (including me) think have the best chance of beating the Dallas Cowboys on the NFC side of the bracket. Whenever the Giants make it to the playoffs, they end up going all the way. Two out of the last three times they’ve qualified for the playoffs they’ve won the Super Bowl & Eli Manning has taken trophies off of Tom Brady’s mantle. The Giants have beaten the top-seeded Cowboys twice this season & certainly appear to have their number, along with the number of the Patriots should they end up meeting in February.
The Giants might be the #5 seed, but I think they’re getting more respect going into the playoffs than they did in the 2007 or 2011 seasons. Eli has some serious weapons at his disposal with Odell Beckham & the emerging Sterling Shepard. More importantly, the Giants have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They put a lot of money into it this past off-season, and it’s certainly paid off.
They’ll need every bit of that defense this week against the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has been on another planet the last six weeks while the Packers ran the table to win the NFC North. He’s thrown fifteen touchdowns and zero interceptions during the timeframe, silencing critics worried that he wasn’t performing up to Aaron Rodgers standards this season. He has now, with 40 touchdowns & 7 interceptions on the season. As long as Rodgers is producing at that level, the Packers are viable.
The Packers beat the Giants 23-16 in Lambeau Field back in Week 5, a different time when you see names like Eddie Lacy popping up in the box score. The Giants excel at stopping the run but can be had through the air…which is a shame because that’s the Packers‘ specialty. Green Bay is on an unbelievable roll and I think it continues this week.
Week 17 Results: 8-8
2016 Regular Season Results: 134-113-9