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Wild Card Weekend, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
6 years ago at 10:37 am ET
Posted Under: NFL Commentary

Wild Card Weekend, What to Watch For

The Patriots are on a well-deserved bye week and will watch the goings on this weekend to learn who’ll be making the trek up to Foxboro next Saturday night. But the Divisional Round talk must wait, as the Wildcard teams square off this week.

The NFL begins with a snoozefest and ends with a bang. The first game of the weekend pits two quarterback-needy teams in Houston and Oakland and ends with a pair of Super Bowl MVPs in pitting the Green Bay Packers against the New York Giants.

Both the AFC and NFC, barring any big upsets appear to be three team races. With neither the Texans or the Raiders having a viable QB to lead them in the postseason, it looks to be Pittsburgh, Kansas City and New England vying for the AFC crown.

The winner of the Giants – Packers game will join the Falcons in having the best chance of beating the Cowboys in Dallas. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a look at how these games will break out and we’ll take a shot at predicting them.

Oakland 12-4 @ Houston 9-7:
Houston gets the home field advantage, courtesy of their winning the weakest division in football. But this game is defined by who each team is playing at QB. Houston shelled out big bucks for free agent Brock Osweiler this spring and to say he’s been disappointing would be an understatement. He was benched for Tom Savage but is now thrust back into the starting role due to Savage’s concussion.

The Raiders were a sexy pick to represent the AFC with an opportunistic defense and the stellar play of Derek Carr until he broke his leg. Matt McGloin came on until he too was injured. Now the Raiders turn to Connor Cook who starts his first game of his NFL career in the playoffs.

Houston won because of their defense which allowed the fewest yards in the league, just 301 yards per game. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel knows Cook is making his first start and may have some nerves entering. And he knows how to mix things up. But look Romeo to dial it up with his edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.

Key matchup for the Texans defense will be CB Jonathan Joseph on WR Michael Crabtree. If Cook can get time to throw, look for him to target his 1000-yard receiver. The Raiders offense was potent all season and Crabtree was a big reason why.

Oakland’s defense was ranked 26th this season, allowing 376 yards per game but they have two edge rushers of their own with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin who is playing some of his best football of his career with the Silver and Black.

This game will come down to defense, the two met in Mexico City earlier this season with the Raiders making a late comeback to win. But prior to that, Lamar Miller had a big day rushing for over 100 yards. The Texans will get Miller back this week and they’ll lean on him hard for this game. Osweiler has to stay out of third and long situations.

Who Wins? This one may come down to turnovers and who can protect the ball best. Houston, for all their warts were 7-1 at home. I think Miller has a productive day and the Texans defense makes a big stop to preserve a low-scoring affair. Texans 17-13

Detroit Lions 9-7 @ Seattle 10-5-1:
This will be an interesting matchup of two teams that rely on the comeback ability of their QBs to get it done at crunch time. While the first game had two teams hurting at the QB position, this one does not. However, Seattle and Detroit are two of the worst running teams in the playoffs.

The Lions win or lose off the arm of Matthew Stafford. In their nine wins, he’s tossed 17 TDs and just three interceptions. In their seven losses, his numbers are just seven TDs and seven INTs. He’s playing with a split on the middle finger of his throwing hand.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson has had an up and down year, he had to deal with the absence of a running game for the first time in his career and he struggled at times. The Seahawks defense still has Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett on the defensive line but the secondary really misses Earl Thomas.

Who Wins? Detroit hasn’t won a road playoff game since 1957. Seattle is a notoriously tough place to play and the crowd will be loud in this one. I don’t think Stafford will be able to generate a late comeback this time around, especially with the absence of a running game. Wilson gets it done and the 12th man is a big part. Seattle 24-21

Miami 10-6 @ Pittsburgh 11-5:
Pittsburgh won their last seven games of the season and enter the game as one of the hottest teams in the league, and this despite sitting Ben Roethlisberger in the final game of the regular season. Miami had one 9 of 10 before laying an egg at home last week against New England. They will be without QB Ryan Tannehill who sprained an MCL in Week 14. Matt Moore will start and he’s a 10-year veteran.

Miami won an October matchup 30-15 as Jay Ajayi rolled for 204 yards on the ground and Roethlisberger had one of his worst games of the season. Miami is going to need a big game for Ajayi to take the heat off of Moore, who has played very well since coming in for Tannehill. One thing Miami must do, and that is to start quicker. They have been notoriously slow starters all season. Last week they were down 20-0 to New England before waking up. If they start they slowly in Pittsburgh, they’ll get run out of there.

The Steelers big three of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and LaVeon Bell are dangerous and should be primed for big games. Pittsburgh’s OL will have to account for Cameron Wake but Bell I believe will have a monster day against a Miami team weak against the run. Ryan Shazier is my “X” factor on defense.

Who Wins? Miami is being written off much too quickly and people forget their big win over the Steelers in October. However, the Steelers are a different team than they were then and playing in 20-degree temps in Heinz Field is a bit different than playing in the hot, humidity of South Beach. Bell carries the Steelers on offense while Shazier has a big day. Pittsburgh is on to a matchup in KC. Steelers 27-14

New York Giants 11-5 @ Green Bay Packers 10-6:
This matchup is the best for last as this should be the game of the week. Two Super Bowl MVP QBs in Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, cold temps in Lambeau Field and two historic franchises fighting it out.

Green Bay was scuffling along at 4-6 and the cries were “What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers?” and he made a little prediction about the running the table and voila! The Pack wins six in a row and the Discount Doublecheck guy is being mentioned as an MVP candidate. During the winning streak, Rodgers was hot, flinging 15 TDs and zero INTs, completing 71 percent of his throws.

New York’s offense struggled all season, despite having Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, Manning scuffled along, being only the 22nd rated QB in the NFL this season. The Giants offense as a whole struggled, being just 25th in yardage and 26th in scoring. New York is hoping Manning turns it on as he did in the SB winning years of 2007 and 2011 in the playoffs which both had big wins at Lambeau.

Who Wins? The difference in this game may be the Giants defense. They were putrid in 2015 and then went out and spent a ton of money retooling it. And at first glance, they have the 23rd ranked pass defense in the league allowing 251 yards per game. Don’t be fooled by it. This unit got better as the year went on and they held their last four opponents to under 200 yards passing. They can ball hawk too with 19 interceptions in 2016. Upset alert. The Giants get a key late turnover and Manning leads a late field goal drive to send NY away with an upset victory. Giants 24-21. You know where this is going to lead…. Don’t you?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Posted Under: NFL Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Detroit Lions Green Bay Packers Houston Texans Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Giants NFL Oakland Raiders Pittsburgh Steelers Seattle Seahawks Wildcard Weekend 2017

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