With the 2016 NFL regular season in the rear view mirror, it is time to look forward to the NFL Playoffs, which start this weekend.
The Wild Card and Divisional Weekends are (arguably) the two best weekends in the NFL. For six hours on Saturday and Sunday, all we have to do is sit in front of a television and watch playoff football. With that being said, let’s preview the four games.
(6) Detroit Lions @ (3) Seattle Seahawks
If this game is anywhere near as good as the Monday Night Football game these two teams played in 2015, we are in for a treat. Remember K.J. Wright batting the fumble out of the back of the end zone to effectively end the game? Even if you don’t remember, here’s what you need to know for this game:
What Seattle Needs To Do
Seattle is not as good this season as they have been in the past. However, Detroit is a fairly underwhelming opponent, even if they have nine wins. They have trailed in the fourth quarter of nearly every game this season, and they don’t have much of a running game. If they’re going to beat Seattle, they cannot be a one-dimensional team. For Seattle to win, they need to make sure they hold Matthew Stafford in check. The offense needs to maintain some balance so that Russell Wilson doesn’t have to do everything. With the best home field advantage in all of football, Seattle just needs to play their game.
What Detroit Needs To Do
Detroit needs to run the ball if they want to leave Seattle victorious. With Earl Thomas out of the picture, if the Lions can get Zach Zenner going, then the Hawks will need to start bringing more players into the box. This opens things up for Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate (who needs to have a big game), and Eric Ebron in particular. On defense, if they can keep Wilson in the pocket and keep the Seahawks under 100 yards on the ground, they can compete with this team.
Prediction: Seattle 28, Detroit 24
(5) New York Giants @ (4) Green Bay Packers
Both eight and four years ago, the Giants won in Green Bay en route to Super Bowl wins. This year, the Giants are nowhere near the underdog they were in prior games. Will history repeat itself, or will the Pack win their seventh straight game?
What Green Bay Needs To Do
It all starts with Aaron Rodgers. If A-Rod plays as well as he has the past month and a half, one would expect the Packers to win. The Giants’ offense has been subpar in the second half of the season, so if the Packers passing offense is up to speed, they should outscore New York. The Giants have the third-best rushing defense in the NFL, so for the Packers to get solid run production is probably expecting too much. On defense, it is absolutely, 100% about containing Odell Beckham. The Giants’ offense is 26th in scoring, so as long as OBJ doesn’t have a career day, the Packers should walk out of Lambeau victorious.
What New York Needs To Do
New York wins games by sticking around long enough to compete in the fourth quarter. Eli Manning is an incredibly clutch playoff QB, so the Giants want to have the ball last. Offensively, they won’t be able to do much running. The Packers have a great run defense and the Giants have had no rushing attack all season. Eli, OBJ, and Sterling Shepard need to have good games for the Giants to score some points. On defense, they need to do their best to contain Aaron Rodgers. They should be able to stop the run, but similar to playing against Tom Brady, that won’t be enough. They need to turn the Packers over, which will likely need to come from a fumble considering Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception since November 13th.
Prediction: Green Bay 23, New York 21
(6) Miami Dolphins @ (3) Pittsburgh Steelers
Miami is in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season and will look to win their first playoff game since 2000. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is trying to make their fifth AFC Championship since 2004.
What Pittsburgh Needs To Do
The three B’s need to play well. If Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell all play up to their potential, the Steelers should have little trouble putting up 28+ points. Expect the Steelers to feed Bell (playing in his first career playoff game) early and often in both the passing and running games. On defense, everything hinges on containing Jay Ajayi. The Steelers allowed 200 yards rushing to him the last time they played. This defense has been getting after the quarterback, and a few sacks on Matt Moore would go a long way. As long as Pittsburgh plays on par with the way they have over their current seven game winning streak, they should win.
What Miami Needs To Do
Feed Jay Ajayi early, continue giving him the ball all day, and hope for the best. Matt Moore needs to play a great game and avoid turnovers. Their best chance of winning this game is winning the time of possession by at least 10 minutes. If they keep the Steelers off the field, their chances of winning increases exponentially. On defense, Miami needs to contain Le’Veon Bell, something that is much easier said than done. The Pittsburgh offense has been turnover prone during their winning streak, so forcing two turnovers would change the complexion of the game significantly.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Miami 20
(5) Oakland Raiders @ (4) Houston Texans
Oakland was destined for a bye, until their star quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr broke his leg. Now, they are starting rookie QB Connor Cook. Houston has had plenty of quarterback problems themselves. This expects to be a low-scoring affair.
What Houston Needs To Do
Houston has the best defense in the NFL according to yards allowed. This unit is suffocating, and a lot of it starts with former #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. If they can force turnovers on defense and give Brock Osweiler a short field, that would go a long way against a leaky Oakland defense. Offensively, they need to run the ball against a 23rd-ranked run defense. They will win time of possession and keep the already limited Oakland offense off the field.
What Oakland Needs To Do
First thing’s first: Connor Cook needs to play like a 10 year veteran. His first career NFL start will come in a road playoff game against probably the best defense in the playoffs. The offensive line needs to show why they have been talked about as one of the best groups in the NFL. If they can run the ball effectively, that makes Connor Cook’s job far easier. On defense, they will need to slow down a weak offense. Turnovers will help give Connor Cook a short field and this offense has certainly had its fair share of mistakes this year. If they run the ball well, force a turnover or two, they can win this game.
Prediction: Houston 17, Oakland 13