NFL Wild Card weekend watchability rankings

The NFL Playoffs are here and the wildcard weekend sets up to be, well, wild. Here are the complete watchability rankings of the four Wild Card games.

After 17 weeks, the postseason is upon us and 12 teams are vying for a trip to the Super Bowl. Wild Card weekend won’t see Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott or Matt Ryan on the field, but there is plenty to watch this weekend from the NFL.

The Dolphins look to continue their surprising season against the Steelers who always seem to be in the playoffs. The red-hot Packers behind Aaron Rodgers look to take out Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants. Connor Cook makes his first career start in the playoffs after the Raiders lost Derek Carr and Matt McGloin in consecutive weeks and Bill O’Brien and Jim Caldwell could be coaching for their jobs.

With so much drama to watch, let’s take a look at the watchability rankings so you know how what you should be watching from the four games this weekend.

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (8) drops back to pass during the first half against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

4. Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers

The poor old Miami Dolphins. Entering the season with a mire of mystery and unknown; a new coach, a maligned, frustrating and yet clearly talented quarterback, and a defense pieced together like an unruly jigsaw, few could have, with great accuracy at least, predicted the fate of the franchise over the 2016 season.

And yet, under Adam Gase, the Dolphins overcame a 1-4 start with a timely but nonetheless unlikely six-game winning streak, primarily thanks to a dominating offensive line and a powerful Jay Ajayi benefitting from the beef up front.

Now, they face the task of entering into Heinz Field with Matt Moore under center after Ryan Tannehill suffered a partially torn ACL in the last-gasp win over the Arizona Cardinals. Moore is not the bewildered back up, lacking in intelligence or skill. Rather, he is a gifted thrower with a good understanding of the offense who will rely on the run game to lead the offense.

What adds to the woes for the Dolphin is their opposition as the Pittsburgh Steelers are healthy and playing their best football. Behind an improving defense, sparked by the introduction of rookies Sean Davis and Bud Dupree, a loaded offense and, and home-field advantage, it is difficult to see how this will even be competitive.

Jan 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) passes the ball during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. The Titans won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

3. Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans

The battle of the backups. Backup bowl. Brawling backups. All such alliterative names are apt descriptions of the first 2016 postseason game (that is if you class Brock Osweiler as a backup) which sees the Oakland Raiders travel to the Houston Texans.

The notorious $72 million dollar quarterback has had a terrible time since signing the dotted line in Houston. Throwing 15 touchdowns to 16 interceptions and a passer rating of 72.2 and a historically bad yards per attempt of 5.8, the former Denver Bronco has struggled greatly in an offense that was supposed to explode thanks to the additions of running back Lamar Millar and first round draft pick Will Fuller.

Thankfully for head coach Bill O’Brien who, if recent reports are to be believed, is not yet secure in his job if he is to watch his team fall to the Raiders, he has the top-ranked defense in the NFL, if measured by yards per game.

The Raiders, meanwhile see quarterback Conor Cook get the start thanks to the highly unfortunate injuries to Derek Carr and Matt McGloin. Latavius Murray, Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and a dominant offensive line will try to help him in his debut.

Oakland still has a healthy Khalil Mack who could make life miserable for Moore and the Dolphins offensive line, however. So why is this a better matchup than the Dolphins and Steelers? Simple…

Uncertainty.

Jan 1, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) scores a touchdown during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

2. Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks

While the AFC struggles to produce six sides worthy of watching in the postseason (that may be slightly unfair given the quarterback injuries), the NFC is packed with fantastically flawed matchups. I’ll get to the real headliner soon, the one must-watch game of the weekend, but the tasty tie on Saturday night is not much worse.

The Detroit Lions haven’t won a playoff game since Michael Jackson was top of the charts with Black or White. Oh, how times have changed! The Lions, after losing their last three, including the Week 17 loss at home to the Packers which resigned them to another year without an NFC North title and a road date with the Seattle Seahawks.

However, this is not the same, dominant Seahawks team that went to two consecutive Super Bowls and nearly made it another last year with a barnstorming comeback against eventual NFC Champions, the Carolina Panthers, in the divisional round. They have struggled on offense, held hostage by a young and inexperienced offensive line, and are not the suffocating defense of even 12 months ago, primarily due to the injury of star safety Earl Thomas.

This, then, is one of the more even ties of the weekend and, given the potential heartbreak for the Lions, the ‘Comeback King’ abilities of Matthew Stafford and the pedigree of Seattle, could be a very exciting encounter.

Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) stands on the field prior to the Giants

1. New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

There is not a better matchup this weekend, in any game, between any team, on either side of the ball, than the Green Bay Packers offense up against the stifling New York Giants defense. When the Giants splashed the cash in free agency last offseason in a desperate attempt to fix a defense that was the worst in the league bar the New Orleans Saints, there were many doubters suggesting that such money was wasted.

Was Olivier Vernon worth the $52.5 million guaranteed money? Was Janoris Jenkins the shutdown corner that New York hoped he would be? Would the reach for Eli Apple in the first round of the draft be vindicated?

Well, now the season is done, it is fair to say ‘Yes’.

Despite such success on the defensive side of the ball, the Giants now enter the realm of Aaron Rodgers, a one-man wrecking machine with a rocket-powered arm who can scramble for years, watching and waiting for the inch of space that Jordy Nelson shimmies his way into at the back of the end zone, before firing a bullet of a pass right into his open arms. Touchdown Packers.

This is the marquee matchup that we have all been waiting to feast our eyes on, and what a feast it is set to be.

Oh, and if you weren’t yet convinced that this is the best game of the weekend, then there’s the little factor of Odell Beckham Jr. up against a deteriorated Packers’ secondary. Now that will be fun.

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