Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
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With the NFL Playoffs 2017 all set up and ready to go, it’s time for predictions. Which teams will cause the most noise to start off Wild Card Weekend?
It’s the most exciting time of the year for NFL fans, as we prepare for the excitement that the NFL Playoffs 2017 offer us.
For most teams in their respective brackets, the playoffs come on a regular basis. Others, such as the Raiders and Lions, have a lot to prove not only to themselves, but for the NFL and its record books. The Lions haven’t had a Super Bowl appearance since 1957; before the NFL adopted the Super Bowl Era. They defeated the Cleveland Browns (what a surprise) 59-14. Atlanta Falcons fans hope to celebrate a Super Bowl victory, as they’ve waited 51 years to say “we’ve won a Super Bowl.” Will this be their year?
Three teams in this year’s playoffs haven’t won a playoff game in 10+ years. Detroit has gone 25 years since their last playoff win, holding the NFL’s second-longest losing streak in the category. Miami Dolphins fans have craved a playoff win since the 2000 AFC Wild Card, holding a losing streak of three games since. The Black Hole has been deprived of a playoff win since the 2002 AFC Championship (14 years), as they lost to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl that year. This was also their last appearance in the postseason.
So, before I start throwing statistics left and right, let’s dive in to the NFC/AFC brackets, and make some Wild Card predictions.
Richard Sherman (25) encourages fans during the fourth quarter in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks won 26-15. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports” width=”850″ height=”565″ /> Nov 20, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) encourages fans during the fourth quarter in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks won 26-15. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
History plays a big factor in this Wild Card matchup. As stated in the opening, Detroit hasn’t won a playoff game in its past eight attempts (25 years). The Lions also have never won a game in Seattle in franchise history, which doesn’t bode well with this: Seattle rarely loses at home, and hasn’t lost at home in the playoffs…. ever. The Seahawks went 7-1 at home this year, and are 38-6 at CenturyLink Field since Russell Wilson became their starting quarterback in 2012 (including playoffs).
Matthew Stafford is 0-2 in his career in the playoffs, and I don’t think that “third time’s the charm” will mean anything in this one. Detroit is without its dual-threat running back core, as Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are on the Injured/Reserved list. Also to note, the team’s starting center, Travis Swanson, and receiver/return specialist Andre Roberts, have been limited to practices all week. If they aren’t good to go, especially Swanson, things won’t bode well for Stafford against a Seattle defense that racked up 42 sacks this year.
The Verdict: Seattle wins, 23-17
Both Stafford and Wilson have been battling injuries throughout the year. Wilson with his knee and ankle injuries, and Stafford with a finger injury on his throwing hand. This has led to both teams to go run-heavy. Seattle has been known for their ground-and-pound offense, but Detroit hasn’t. Although Seattle has had a season plagued with injury to their backfield, Wilson can still get the job done on his feet with ease, despite injury. The Seahawks hold a defensive front that, against a diminished Detroit offensive line, will dominate in all aspects. Seattle lost safety Earl Thomas III, but I don’t believe this loss will change the fact that Stafford won’t be efficient with a bum finger against an elite defense. Both teams have been on bad stretches going into the playoffs, but Seattle being home with that defense, changes everything.
A top offense against a top defense. This will be one of the most exhilarating games of the week, if not the whole playoffs. The Giants have had a dream season, finishing 11-5 with another elite defense that can fuel another historic run and propel them to the Super Bowl. Quarterback Eli Manning had a very weird year, for lack of a better word. His quarterback rating was 86.0, his lowest since 2013, but he was also sacked 21 times, the least since that same year (39 !!). Manning had 26 touchdowns, a number he’s surpassed only five times in 14 full seasons. This came as a surprise, as he has one of the most explosive receivers in the game in Odell Beckham Jr. and a rookie stud in Sterling Shepard.
Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, had yet another year for the record books. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer threw for 40 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Of his 40, eight came within the last two weeks of the regular season, as he had four in each game. Rodgers has been sacked 35 times this year, something that he’s way too fond of throughout his career. With such an aggressive defense in New York, the Packers’ front-line must stay up to the task. The Cheese Heads have finally gotten play from their backs. After losing Eddie Lacy in Week 6, Green Bay has a trio of backs that can get the job done. Ty Montgomery, Aaron Ripkowski, and recently-acquired Christine Michael have combined for 721 yards on 142 carries. They have a combined 5.07 yards-per-carry. That being said, Rodgers’ arm + a consistent run game = offensive advantage.
The Verdict: Green Bay wins, 34-24
Aaron Rodgers has been to the playoffs every year since 2009, going 7-6. When scoring more than 20 points, Rodgers is 7-3. He faces a dominant defense in the Giants. New York finished 10th in the league in yards allowed per game and was 3rd in the league in rushing yards allowed. On the other hand, they were 22nd in the league in passing yards allowed per game.
The Packers have already beaten the Giants once this season. But, they will, like before, have some caution to consider when throwing the ball against the Giants, as All-Pro cornerback Janoris Jenkins is playing. Jenkins missed Week 16, and only played the first half in Week 17 with a bruised back. Giants corners have accumulated 17 interceptions this year. This position play has been vital for the team, as their top-four corners also are within the team’s top-ten tacklers for the season. Rodgers has always been one of the best when it comes to creating an opportunity for his receivers and other players, and I expect him to do nothing less here. With Randall Cobb looking to return after missing the final two games of the season, Rodgers will have to utilize players like Ty Montgomery in the passing game more, where he has excelled throughout the season.
OBJ is New York’s only weapon…
Green Bay has a banged-up secondary. But, New York doesn’t have another explosive player next to OBJ that could take over a game. Their running game is atrocious, and if you double-up on OBJ and take away the slant, I don’t see the Giants doing much offensively. New York also holds a very young team with playoff inexperience looming them. I believe, and it’s clear, that Rodgers is a more talented quarterback with the more talented offense. They say defense wins championships, but I can’t see that of New York being able to hold a red-hot Green Bay team, especially in Lambeau.
Nov 21, 2016; Mexico City, MEX; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) carries the ball against the Houston Texans during a NFL International Series game at Estadio Azteca. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans
Oh, brother. The Oakland Raiders caught the injury bug at the worst of times. Football on Christmas Eve is a thing of beauty. It’s an early present for fans around the world. Unfortunately, when Derek Carr went down and was seen repeatedly saying “it’s broken,” the hearts of fans shattered. Carr was having a season-to-remember, and emerging as one of the best in the league. He accumulated 28 touchdowns with only six interceptions and was bringing Oakland back to the playoffs. Week 16, in a 33-14 game with most of the fourth quarter remaining, Carr was sacked and broke his fibula. Matt McGloin was next-in-line for Oakland, and he went down in Week 17. Now, the Raiders look for rookie Connor Cook to send them to the next round.
On the other hand, the Houston Texans have completed their third 9-7 season in a row. They’ve also won their division in consecutive years, although many claim to say that the AFC South is the weakest in football. I would have to agree. Houston ranks 29th in the league in three offensive categories: points-per-game, yards-per-game, and passing yards-per-game. They are 8th in the league in rushing yards-per-game. Defensively, though, Houston is superior. 11th in points allowed, 1st in yards allowed per game, and 2nd in passing yards allowed per game. Two totally different sides of the coin, to say the least. They scored a mere 26 touchdowns in the regular season, as rough play from Brock Osweiler eventually ended up in a benching mid-game in Week 15. He was replaced by Tom Savage, who played in Week 16 as well.
This is going to be an ugly game. A very, very ugly and boring game. Once thought of as Super Bowl contenders, the Raiders now look for their third-string quarterback to do the job against a top defense. I don’t see this being successful in any way, shape, or form. Now, you might ask how Houston will only put up 17 against the tragic defense of the Raiders. The Texans have only scored more than 20 points six times in games this season. They scored 20 in a 27-20 loss to Oakland earlier in the regular season.
The Raiders are banged-up, and it’s absolutely ridiculous. Their star receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have been limited, along with guard Kelechi Osemele and linebacker Malcolm Smith. Tackle Donald Penn has been ruled out. Oakland had the top offensive line in the regular season, and now their offense as a whole is decimated. A matchup between Connor Cook and Brock Osweiler is something that nobody saw coming, and definitely something nobody wants to see. I’d be shocked if Oakland comes out with a win. Even if they do, I can’t picture either team beating New England.
Dec 11, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs after a catch during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. The Steelers beat the Bills 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s been a magical season for the Miami Dolphins, who are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. They haven’t won a playoff game in their last two attempts, totaling 15 years since their last win. Unfortunately, just like Oakland, the Dolphins also sustained an injury to their franchise quarterback. Ryan Tannehill suffered a knee injury in Week 14. Luckily, though, it wasn’t season-ending, and reports are saying that if the Dolphins pull an upset, Tannehill will have a chance to play in the divisional round. Miami is pretty much middle-of-the-league in both defensive and offensive statistics. They are 8th in rushing yards-per-game, thanks to Jay Ajayi, but are 30th in rushing yards allowed, and total yards allowed. Ajayi surpassed 200 rushing yards in two straight weeks, and three games total this season. He tallied1,272 yards rushing yards on 260 attempts; almost five yards per attempt.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, though, are not a team to be reckoned with. And when the playoffs come, it’s only tougher. The Steelers hold one of the most dynamic offenses in football. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown, and running back Le’Veon Bell, the Dolphins, and any other team in the playoffs, have a lot to prepare for. The veteran quarterback had yet another efficient year, totaling 29 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Brown added on to his list of 100-reception seasons, making it four; all of which have come consecutively. He has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving yet again, a feature he has done five times in his young career. Undoubtedly the best and most talented receiver the NFL has to offer. Bell, who served a three-game suspension to begin the year, still found a way to surpass 1,000 yards rushing. His numbers were very similar to Ajayi’s.
The Verdict: Pittsburgh wins, 40-20
The Steelers will put up a 40-piece on the Dolphins and will do it with ease. Miami is stuck with Matt Moore under center, and although he lit up the New York Jets, he won’t do the same here. Miami defeated Pittsburgh earlier in the year, in one of Ajayi’s 200-yard games, but this is a different environment and a different team. Pittsburgh’s defense has vastly improved this year, and it’s ready to stop the J-Train and whatever Moore decides to give it. They rank 10th in points allowed, 12th in total yards allowed, and 10th in rushing yards allowed. The secondary is also ranked 16th in passing yards allowed, which has been a struggle for the team in the past.
Although receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker are a great and dangerous duo, they aren’t getting passes from an elite, or semi-elite quarterback. They will have their plays, but their impacts won’t be enough to stop the Terrible Towels from swinging in fans’ hands. Just ask Jeremy Hill what happens when you disrespect the towel. Big Ben will feast on a beat-up Dolphins secondary who will be without cornerback Byron Maxwell. Their defense will also be missing defensive end Jason Jones, who was waived earlier in the week. Mario Williams might be seeing time this week. He’s been a disappointment, to say the least, only having 1.5 sacks and 13 total tackles this season.