The playoffs have arrived. Here is a brief overview of all four Wildcard games taking place this weekend as the quest for the Lombardi Trophy begins.
Oakland at Houston: This game could be decided by which team can find somewhat adequate QB play in the midst of a mess of a situation at that position for both teams. Derek Carr suffered a season-ending injury last week against Indianapolis and in Sunday’s loss to Denver Matt McGloin left the game with a left shoulder injury. He is currently listed as highly doubtful to play, which means rookie QB Connor Cook out of Michigan State would be the starting QB for the Raiders in their first playoff game since 2002.
Things aren’t much clearer for Houston. Tom Savage experiencing concussion symptoms and questionable for Saturday’s game could force Bill O’Brien’s hand in giving Brock Osweiler the starting reins back again.
Oakland’s noticeable lack of spirit and will in their loss to Denver with a chance to win the AFC West and get the No. 2 seed and a bye to the Divisional round concerns me as the Raiders got physically pushed around by a Broncos team that was already eliminated from the playoffs.
The biggest handicapping factor for this game is whether or not the belief that they can win a playoff game will be there in that Oakland locker room as they head to Houston knowing they could be looking at starting a raw rookie under center. It makes perfect sense why the total in this game is the lowest one of the four games this weekend.
Detroit at Seattle: The Lions will get rewarded with facing the Seahawks on the road in an NFC wildcard game following their home loss to the Green Bay Packers, which gave Green Bay the NFC North crown.
Detroit’s secondary is their main area of vulnerability right now and it showed in their last two games against Dallas and Green Bay as they surrendered 73 points combined and 411 total yards per game. A recent injury to Darius Slay (the best player in the Lions secondary) and a season-ending injury to Quandre Diggs have tested the depth of the Lions pass defense.
Seattle has a fairly balanced offensive attack between the pass and run but the Lions struggled to contain Aaron Rodgers from moving outside the pocket on Sunday. That is the same challenge they will have in this game against the dual threat ability of QB Russell Wilson leading the Seahawks offense.
It may be up to Matt Stafford and the Lions to make some big plays in order to give Detroit a chance at hanging around and pulling off the upset playoff road win.
Miami at Pittsburgh: The Dolphins are the biggest underdog of Wildcard weekend currently +10 as they take on the surging Steelers who ended the season on a 7-game winning streak going 5-1-1 ATS against the closing number.
QB Matt Moore had no problems moving the ball on offense for Miami against lesser foes like Buffalo and the N.Y. Jets but in a step up in class type of opponent on Sunday against New England, it was a struggle for the journeyman backup. Moore was held to barely 200 passing yards along with an INT, and the team scored just 14 points and amassed 280 total yards.
Miami will have to run the football with success behind RB Jay Ajayi to give themselves a chance in Pittsburgh and take pressure off the right arm of Matt Moore. Unfortunately, that could be easier said than done with the Steelers holding foes to 4.6 yards per rush and exactly 100 yards per game on the ground.
Pittsburgh’s offense was lethal down the stretch with a healthy Ben Roethlisbeger at QB, Le’Veon Bell at RB and a dangerous receiving corps led by Antonio Brown. Miami’s defense will need to step up. They struggled on that side of the football late in the season, giving up 66 points in their last two games combined against Buffalo and New England.
N.Y. Giants at Green Bay: Other than Houston, there may not be a team playing better football on defense right now than the Giants. New York held opponents to 17.2 points per game this season ranking them 2nd in the NFL in scoring defense. They shut down Washington’s solid offense in a game the Redskins needed to make the playoffs holding them to 10 points and just 284 total yards.
The defense was rebuilt and plenty of dollars were committed to improving the team on that side of the ball and it has paid dividends. The surprising aspect of the Giants is it’s their offense that has struggled. It was expected to be the strength of the team before the season but Eli Manning and the Giants are averaging 19 points per game (26th in the NFL) and putting up just 330 total yards per contest (25th in the NFL).
Green Bay’s offense found their footing late in the season with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers scoring at least 21 points in every game during their 6-0 SU, 5-1 ATS close to the season. The biggest concern for Green Bay is on defense where their secondary is losing bodies at a rapid rate due to injury.
The Giants depth of receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz can potentially exploit that Packers DB weakness.