In what will hopefully be the lone weekend without the Patriots taking part in the postseason, the outcome of these next two days will obviously determine who will visit Foxboro when New England next takes the field one week from today in a Saturday night battle at 8:15 at Gillette Stadium.
Here are some thoughts and predictions of this weekend’s games:
OAKLAND AT HOUSTON: After Derek Carr’s injury, the terrific story that was the Raiders breakout season quickly derailed a year that Oakland fans have been dreaming of for more than a decade. It also took away a lot of the intrigue and excitement in what should have been potentially a fun game to watch, taking away the possibility of seeing the Raiders make a Dallas-esque run at home in their first playoff game in quite a few years.
Instead, it worked out in New England’s favor and now the Raiders are on the road and playing in a game where most are predicting a snoozer from a ratings standpoint, with ESPN airing a Saturday afternoon match-up that is already expected to be a loser for them from a financial standpoint. The biggest problem? Outside of those two cities, there’s not much excitement or intrigue surrounding this battle, with embattled Texans signal-caller Brock Osweiler set to face off against a rookie quarterback in Connor Cook. Considering this game is at home and that Houston holds much of the advantage, one would have to believe this is Osweiler and head coach Bill O’Brien’s best chance to to get a win and advance to the Divisional round.
Make no mistake, this is a huge game for Osweiler. He has the chance to silence every critic who has questioned him this season by going out and performing at a high-level in what will be the most important game of his career for a team who gambled their future on him. He can win back every teammate and fan by attacking an ailing Raiders team that is reeling from seeing a promising season fall apart in a blink of an eye after losing their quarterback at the end of an incredible regular season.
Or it go the other direction. Osweiler is facing a Raiders team with nothing to lose who will likely be going all out with a defense that has been playing pretty some good football. Teams like this who are unpredictable tend to be dangerous, and it will be interesting to see how this game unfolds given the circumstances and the stakes that are riding on it.
Prediction: Houston hasn’t had much luck in games like this and it wouldn’t be shocking to see a guy like Cook go out and “sling it” against a Texans team that has heard the whispers about O’Brien’s future being in question, and against a quarterback like Osweiler who really seems to have lost his confidence after a rough year that even saw Texans fans cheer his benching loudly weeks ago, causing his teammates to need to quiet them. While Houston winning this game wouldn’t be a shock, not seeing the Raiders win might actually be more surprising. They’ve had a great year and I think they still have some fight left in them, which might include a surprising win for Cook. If that happens, it could lead to an ugly afternoon full of frustration for Texans fans.
Sherman and the Seahawks should beat Detroit on Saturday. (USA TODAY Images)
DETROIT AT SEATTLE: File this one under another match-up that isn’t exactly a “must-see” game but it slightly edges out the earlier AFC tilt that we just discussed in terms of marquee names. But this is going to be a tough one for a 9-7 Lions team who hasn’t won a playoff game in 25-years and faces the challenge of trying to end that streak on the road in Seattle in one of the toughest stadiums in the NFL.
The Lions have enough talent to win this game. Matthew Stafford looks like he’s seemingly adjusted as he’s dealt with the dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand, but the bigger question will be whether he can avoid mental mistakes, which have cost them at times this season. He’s gotten good production from players like Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, along with the emergence at running back by Zach Zenner. However, the biggest question will simply be if the Lions can protect Stafford enough in a hostile environment for Detroit to be able to score against a stingy Seahawks defense.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks have managed to put up over 20 points per game over the last three weeks, including going over 30 in a loss to the Cardinals in Week 16 as they managed to win two of their last three games. That means the Lions need to put up points and more importantly, get an early lead and take the crowd out of the game, while hopefully not making any mistakes in the process.
Prediction: This is a tough game for Detroit, and asking them to go into Century Field and play a perfect game in the postseason is likely too much to hope for. It would be great to see the Lions knock out Seattle and end their 25-year postseason win drought, but Stafford’s tendency to turn the ball over at the wrong time seems to be a more likely scenario, especially against a tough Seahawks defense. Futility for the people of Detroit is likely in their future, which is unfortunate. However, no one here will be disappointed if the potential of a rematch for New England against the Seahawks is eliminated should the Lions pull off the unlikely upset.
MIAMI AT PITTSBURGH: This is obviously a big match-up in determining New England’s next opponent because this game has some interesting implications. Should Pittsburgh win, the winner of Oakland and Houston will be the first team to visit New England next Saturday night. But should Miami come in and upset the Steelers, that will trigger a rematch of last week’s regular season finale between the two AFC East rivals.
Not many people seem to be giving Miami much of a chance, but the Dolphins really are playing well right now and they beat Pittsburgh earlier in the year 30-15 down in Miami. As a result, they should have the confidence that they can come in and have a shot at winning this game.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are on the other end of the spectrum, with the majority of people out there believing that coming into Heinz Field with their fans waving their Terrible Towels will be too much for the Dolphins, who will reportedly be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill for at least another week. But the Dolphins join Pittsburgh with a strong ground game coming into this match-up, and quarterback Matt Moore, who aside from his game against New England last week, has played pretty well since Tannehill went down. They can run the ball and Miami’s defense is tough enough where they could potentially force a couple of turnovers.
Prediction: Most people seem to be picking Pittsburgh but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dolphins pull off the upset. As much as it’s hard to admit, Miami has improved and they’re more of a threat in this game than some might think. Seeing them get after Ben Roethlisberger and force a turnover or two seems like a reasonable expectation and Moore is experienced enough with some pretty good weapons to move the ball and score points. As a result, the Dolphins actually have a shot at proving they’re a good football team and a win in Pittsburgh would certainly make a statement. People may think a marquee match-up between the Steelers and Chiefs will play out next weekend, but I think Miami is headed to Foxboro next Saturday night, which could mean the Patriots may have to spend this week preparing for the Dolphins all over again.
NEW YORK GIANTS AT GREEN BAY: The Packers seemed like they were on their way to oblivion midway through the season, yet somehow here they are after going on quite a run at the end of 2016 by winning their final six games. The same can be said of the Giants, who started out 2-3 yet went on to win 9 of their final 11.
The Packers come into this game having already beaten the Giants once this season, winning 23-16 in Green Bay back on October 9th. Things have changed quite a bit since that match-up, with the Packers reinventing their ground game thanks to injuries by Eddie Lacy and James Starks. They’ve seen success by former receiver Ty Montgomery, who along with Christine Michael (claimed off waivers from the Seahawks) saw them re-establish some balance on the ground behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which has helped their passing game.
Meanwhile the Giants have won two playoff games at Lambeau Field with quarterback Eli Manning at the Helm, with Manning carrying a NFL record five-game postseason road win streak coming into this match-up.
The Giants have also been running the ball well, with New York totaling at least 114 yards on the ground in each of their past three games, including the regular-season finale in Washington where rookie Paul Perkins finished with a season-high 161-yards. That should help them keep the Packers off-balance and will certainly be an area to watch in this match-up.
Prediction: As much as it pains me to imagine, this Giants team looks like their Super Bowl teams of the past where they’re starting to get hot at the right time. Manning is no stranger to pulling off the upset and given his history in Green Bay, should have no reason to believe he and his team can’t win this weekend. As for the Packers, while they may have the advantage at home, New York’s defense will likely make life tough on Rodgers and get him off his rhythm. He’s not a quarterback who gets the ball out quickly and he likely won’t have the time he’s accustomed to this weekend to try and improvise and dance around in the pocket or run around against that defense.
Unfortunately, I think New York advances, which makes me shudder just thinking about it. They seem to be on a collision course with New England should the Patriots take care of business and win the two games they need to get to Houston, which would be a nauseating scenario to fathom. While a battle against Green Bay in February would be fun to see, don’t be surprised if Manning knocks off Rodgers this week and leaves open the possibility of a rematch no one would be looking forward to given the past history between these two teams.
NY Giants: 28
Be sure and check out Steve Balestrieri’s look at this weekend’s match-ups and predictions for all of these games as well – CLICK FOR LINK
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