Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com’s NFL simulation engine generates predictions and box scores for every NFL game for the coming week. Our highly sophisticated algorithms simulate every play of every game to produce each team’s likelihood to win. Each matchup is simulated 501 times.
To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating games on Thursdays through the season.
Note: Our predictions use the latest available team and player information, while NFL SimMatchup includes all players that were or will be available at any point during the 2016 season so that theoretical and “what if” scenarios can be simulated.
Oakland at Houston
Get ready for some very shaky quarterback play. After losing MVP candidate Derek Carr to a season-ending injury, the Oakland Raiders will be forced to start Connor Cook with Matt McGloin suffering an injury in Week 17. Things aren’t much better for the Houston Texans. Brock Osweiler has been a bust and was benched late in the season, but a concussion to his replacement, Tom Savage, will thrust him right back into the starting job.
It’s safe to say that both teams will look to rely heavily on their defenses and play old school, conservative playoff football. That should bode well for both running backs, as Texans RB Lamar Miller will return from an ankle injury while Raiders RB Latavius Murray will likely see an increased workload. Miller was one of just 12 running backs to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, while Murray was one of just seven backs to score double-digit rushing touchdowns.
If it comes down strictly to which team stops the run, the Texans have a clear advantage. Houston was 12th in the league in rushing yards allowed, giving up just 4.0 yards per carry. Oakland, meanwhile, ranked 23rd and gave up 4.5 yards per carry.
So which team is projected to advance? Our simulation engine likes the Texans to protect home field and win 57.5 percent of the time by an average score of 21-18.
Does Matthew Stafford have one more great comeback in him? The Detroit Lions QB has an NFL-record eight fourth-quarter comebacks to his name this season, but playing the Seattle Seahawks on the road is certainly no easy task. Add in that the Lions are down to their third-string running back in Zach Zenner, and Stafford will really have to shoulder the load against a stout secondary in Seattle.
The good news for Detroit? Seattle’s offense isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, either. Thomas Rawls is averaging less than two yards per carry in each of his last three games. Moving the chains against Detroit might not be easy, and a lot will depend on which Russell Wilson shows up. Will he be the QB who threw five interceptions in Week 14, or the one who threw four touchdowns in Week 16? Wilson has a 14-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home this season, and his ability to keep the Lions out of scoring situations will be important in this one.
The Seahawks have won their last nine playoff games at home, and Wilson has never lost a playoff game at home. The Lions, meanwhile, haven’t won a road playoff game since 1957. History seems to be on Seattle’s side in this one, although Stafford has pulled off too many miracles this year to count the Lions out completely.
Our NFL simulation engine does indeed have the Seahawks pulling out the win, however. We have Seattle winning 58.3 percent of the time by an average score of 26-23.
Of all the Wild Card matchups, this one appears to be the most lopsided. The Dolphins are entering the postseason with journeyman QB Matt Moore at the helm, as Ryan Tannehill is unlikely to return from injury. Moore has never started a playoff game and has just three games under his belt as the starter for Miami.
Of course, the Steelers have plenty of championship experience on their side with Ben Roethlisberger, and arguably the most talented RB/WR combo in the game with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The Steelers should be able to move the ball fairly easily against a Miami defense that is just 30th in total rushing yards allowed and is giving up 4.8 yards a carry.
To stay with Pittsburgh’s potent offense, the Dolphins will need to rely heavily on Jay Ajayi. The emergence of Ajayi as a workhorse back actually started in Week 6 when Miami beat the Steelers 30-15. Ajayi ran for a whopping 204 yards and two touchdowns in that game. The blueprint for Miami to win is clear: run Ajayi, win the turnover battle and limit the big plays for Brown and Bell.
That may be easier said than done. Despite winning the head-to-head battle earlier this year, our simulation engine doesn’t feel that Miami has Pittsburgh’s number. We have the Steelers winning 58.8 percent of the time by an average score of 25-22.
If you’re looking for a big Wild Card round upset, this might be the game to target. Conventional wisdom would certainly lean towards the Packers at home in a January game at Lambeau field with Aaron Rodgers rolling, but the Giants aren’t an opponent to take lightly when the postseason rolls around.
Even though Eli Manning has won two playoff games in Green Bay before, it’s the defense that should give the Giants a good chance at an upset bid. The Giants are second in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (3.6) and have more interceptions (17) than passing touchdowns allowed (15). New York has given up more than 25 points just one time all season, way back in Week 3 against Washington. This is an incredibly potent defensive unit.
There’s probably no tougher test in football than going up against Aaron Rodgers, however. Rodgers shook off a bad start to the year and finished the season as an MVP candidate with his league-leading 40 passing touchdowns. Despite an up-and-down running game, Green Bay’s offense has been on fire as of late thanks to Rodgers and his connection with Jordy Nelson, who has 14 touchdowns on the season.
For what it’s worth, the Packers took care of business in the head-to-head matchup between these two teams in Week 4, winning 23-16 thanks to a staunch defensive performance from Green Bay.
So who wins this marquee matchup? We have the Giants pulling off the upset and winning 60.1 percent of the time by an average score of 23-20.