In an NFL season that has put mediocrity at the forefront, it’s not a surprise that this year’s NFL Playoffs leave a lot to be desired. Nearly half of the teams competing on Wild Card Weekend limp into the playoffs with injuries at the quarterback position with the Oakland Raiders down to their 3rd string quarterback.
Consistency has been a major issue a large number of NFL teams this year and that is certainly the case with most of the teams competing on Wild Card Weekend. The Seattle Seahawks and the Oakland Raiders are the only two teams to have less than 3 losses at the midway point of the regular season. In both cases (largely due to injuries), the Seahawks and Raiders have struggled to carry momentum in the postseason, looking like Super Bowl contenders one week and pretenders the next.
Let’s take a look at all four of this weekend’s match-ups and determine who will advance to the Divisional Round.
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Dolphins limp into the playoffs fresh off of a 35-14 loss to the Patriots and while they’ve won 4 of their last 6 games, not one of those victories was over a playoff team. It looks like Ryan Tanehill will not be ready to return from his knee injury for Sunday’s game, which puts Miami in a position where they will have to once again start Matt Moore.
The antithesis of the Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been on fire down the stretch, winning their last 7 games in a row. While the Steelers opponents over the past 7 games haven’t been all that impressive, they do hold a victory over two other playoff teams this year in the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Dolphins won their encounter with the Steelers during the regular season 30-15, but Pittsburgh was handicapped, having lost QB Ben Roethlisberger to an injury during the course of the game. With the tables now turned, look for Pittsburgh to dominate a Southern Florida team that will have to contend with the elements and a gritty Steelers squad, all without their star quarterback.
The Steelers were my pick to win the AFC back in May and I still believe that their only obstacle in their road to the Super Bowl is the New England Patriots.
Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans
When speaking of the quarterback situation in this game, you might as well call this “Disasterpiece Theatre”. With injuries to both franchise quarterback, Derek Carr and backup Matt McGloin, the Raiders will likely start 3rd round rookie quarterback, Connor Cook in their first playoff game since 2002. While some would say that the Raiders can get by on their running game and defense, they didn’t look like a playoff team in Week 17, suffering a 24-6 beatdown from the defending Super Bowl Champion, Denver Broncos.
Speaking of the Broncos, it looks like the decision to let Brock Osweiler walk was the correct one as he has struggled to cement himself as the Texans’s starting QB all year, being benched for Tom Savage in a December game against the Jaguars. Under Tom Savage, the offense of the Texans seemed to open up downfield as they were able to secure victories over both the Jaguars and Bengals.
After suffering a concussion against the Titans in Week 17, Tom Savage was forced to leave the game, bringing the Texans right back to where they started, having to put Brock Osweiler back onto the field. Houston was in a similar situation last year, struggling at the quarterback position and refusing to bench Brian Hoyer whose 4 interceptions helped lead to a 30-0 loss to the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round.
The Raiders won their encounter with the Texans in Week 11, but without Derek Carr and potentially a third-string rookie under center going against one of the best defenses in the league, the outcome will be the opposite come Saturday. While Brock Osweiler has been inconsistent this year, he still has experience winning big games and he will do just enough against a tough Oakland defense to send the Raiders packing.
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks
At this point, it’s hard to believe that the Lions were ever even penciled in as the #2 seed. It has been the tale of two teams this year for Detroit, first starting with a 1-3 record, but righting the ship, winning 8 of 9. Of course, that all came crashing down when the Detroit Lions faced the New York Giants in Week 15. In the last three games of the season, the Lions were outscored by their opponents 90 to 51. Making matters worse, all 3 losses were to playoff teams. As a matter of fact, the Lions are 0-5 against playoff teams for the season.
While Matt Stafford usually keeps his team in games, he doesn’t have the running game to rely on this year and is also missing his all-pro wide receiver in Calvin Johnson who retired after last season. The biggest saving grace for the Lions might be that they will be facing a team that has been wildly inconsistent this year as well in Seattle.
After holding the New England Patriots on a goal line stand in Week 10 and earning a 31-24 victory, the Seattle Seahawks looked poised for a Super Bowl 49 rematch in February. However, since Week 11, the Seahawks have not been able to string together back-to-back victories. One week the defense costs Seattle the game, the next it’s the offense. It has even been the case from half to half. The jekyll and hyde nature of the 2016 Seahawks has frustrated many a fan (especially yours truly).
To be fair, the Seahawks have had horrible luck when it comes to injuries this year with C.J. Prosise, Thomas Rawls, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett all missing time and Earl Thomas and Tyler Lockett out for the season, each with a broken leg. Couple that with the inexperience and inconsistency of the offensive line (rookie left tackle, George Fant having never played the position prior) and it’s not hard to see why the Seahawks weren’t able to secure a first round bye.
All things considered, the Seattle Seahawks have only lost one game at home all season (a last second loss to division rival, Arizona) and for a struggling Detroit team, it will be a tough task to go on the road and attempt to win their first playoff game in 25 years. Matthew Stafford will keep his team in the game and it will be close, but some late game magic from the Seahawks will punch their ticket to a rematch with the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round.
New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
With the Dallas Cowboys being most people’s lock to win the NFC, it has been the consensus that the New York Giants could be the biggest spoiler of the postseason, being responsible for two of the Cowboys’s 3 losses this season. After starting off 2-3, the Giants were able to win 9 of their last 11 games, finishing the season with an 11-5 record. Despite having the Cowboys’s number, the Giants record of 1-2 against other playoff teams doesn’t look so great. One of those losses came in Week 5 at the hands of their opponent this Sunday, the Green Bay Packers.
No team has shown more fire lately than the Green Bay Packers who just a few weeks ago were sitting two spots out of the Wild Card race. Due to the incredible drive of Aaron Rodgers and his squad, the Packers were able to string together six straight victories to finish the season, defeating three fellow playoff teams in the process. Green Bay has won despite resorting to Seattle castaway, Christine Michael and wide receiver, Ty Montgomery at the running back position and having a defensive backfield that has become a wasteland due to injuries.
There’s something about the Giants and the Packers in the playoffs that always makes for an exciting match-up. Aaron Rodgers has a long history of struggling against great defenses and with New York touting a top 10 defensive unit, look for the Giants to have the Packers number once again.
Should these prediction hold true, we would be set for Texans at Patriots, Steelers at Chiefs, Seahawks at Falcons and Giants at Cowboys in the Divisional Round.
Please comment below with your picks for the playoffs in the Wild Card Round.