This Wild Card weekend alone features four new playoff teams (Oakland, Detroit, Miami, and the New York Giants). So let’s put aside the MVP discussions for now and bring in the Wild Card Weekend for this 2016-17 edition of Crunchtime Matchups.
Crunchtime Matchups: 2016-17 Wild Card Weekend
We’ve made it through the 2016 season, and though it had many ups and downs, we are now approaching the first week of the postseason. This year, due to various injuries and a league almost completely made up of parity, a bunch of new teams have made the playoffs, in addition to familiar ones.
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
It’s been an interesting season for both of these teams. The Raiders are in for the first time since 2002 thanks to an explosive offense featuring one of the best receiving groups in the league, a strong backfield, the play of Derek Carr (before the injury), and of course, the incredible offensive line.
The Texans, on the other hand, are 9-7 for the third straight year under Bill O’Brien. Someone has to win the AFC South, and despite Brock Osweiler‘s best efforts, Houston managed to come out on top of the worst division in football. Still, with the arrival of the underrated Lamar Miller, the offense improved, and on defense, Jadeveon Clowney finally stayed healthy and proved his worth as a second superstar on the Texans’ defense.
Oakland comes in without Carr thanks to an injury sustained in a week 16 game against the Colts, but even with rookie Connor Cook making his debut in the postseason (the first time it has ever happened), the Raiders should help him out. The short passing game should really get going with Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Jalen Richard being great at yards after the catch, and the pass protection will ensure a quarterback friendly offense for the rookie in his debut.
But really, it’s up to the quarterback to execute. Carr’s arm talent definitely helped enhance the Raiders offense, and backup Matt McGloin clearly was not up to the task against the Broncos in week 17. Cook will likely struggle in this regard in his debut.
The Texans just need to do their best to prevent Osweiler from making mistakes. He’s been a $72M disaster, constantly throwing ill-advised passes and playing like a rookie. The only reason he’s even starting is because Tom Savage is hurt.
With Lamar Miller returning and making his postseason debut, the Texans need to heavily rely on the running back to make plays. DeAndre Hopkins has been to half death by Osweiler, but the heartbeat is still intact, and the Texans need to make sure to give him as many opportunities as possible as well.
Against a weak Raiders defense, the Texans would have an easier time winning, but this is Osweiler we’re talking about here. This should be a close game for the wrong reasons, but I have Oakland barely winning.
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks
Despite starting the season at 1-3 and ending it on a three-game losing streak, the Lions have survived and have made the postseason at 9-7. Injuries at running back destroyed their hopes of winning the NFC North though, and the defense is arguably the worst in the league. The receiving group, however, is great, and has helped keep a questionable team (until the fourth quarter) intact.
The Seahawks have had a season filled with injuries, yet here they are hosting a playoff game once again. We know how dangerous Russell Wilson is when he’s hot, but Thomas Rawls, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson, and Jermaine Kearse give the team an explosive unit even without C.J. Prosise and Tyler Lockett.
The two injuries to the aforementioned players are devastating, but for this game, they should survive. Wilson needs to find his consistency in a season without it, but his mobility will be enough to extend plays and target his talented receivers. All I can say for Detroit is that they must play hard for four quarters instead of just one. Matthew Stafford has to limit the boneheaded mistakes from the last three games, and Zach Zenner must get going early on.
All in all, Seattle should win this one without any problems, depending on if Wilson is on point.
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
Yeah, no one really knows how the Dolphins are in the playoffs, but head coach Adam Gase‘s arrival has turned them around. Ryan Tannehill‘s injury is a big blow to the team’s hopes, but with the breakout season of Jay Ajayi and the reliability of guys like Kenny Stills and the offensive line, they have a shot against one of the most explosive units in the league.
Normally this would be a blowout game on paper, but Roethlisberger has been two sided, being either terrific or atrocious. We have to wonder if he’s fully recovered from his knee injury, but at the same time we shouldn’t doubt what he can do when fully healthy.
And this time, Bell will make his postseason debut. From the moment he returned from suspension, Bell has been outstanding, showing a degree of patience and vision never seen before in the league. Green has emerged as another receiving option.
Adam Gase will have the Dolphins prepared, but whether they’ll execute is another story. This is a team without a whole lot of talent, but can make a move if they continue the hot streak they’ve been on since the 1-4 start to the season.
The game depends on Roethlisberger’s quality of play for both sides. If he makes mistakes, the Dolphins will be close. If he doesn’t, Pittsburgh should have an easy time winning this game, even with a bad defense. The Dolphins need to get the run game going and hope for the best from Matt Moore, but otherwise the Steelers should have this one.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Easily the game of the week, these two teams will face off in the playoffs for the first time since…..the last time the Giants even made it (2011). And we know what happened there.
Thanks to an improved defense and the emergence of rookies Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins alongside Odell Beckham and a healthy Victor Cruz, the Giants have run out to an 11-5 season. Eli Manning isn’t even playing his best football, but this is still a dangerous team.
Aaron Rodgers has carried the Packers from a 4-6 start to a 10-6 finish. He is arguably the MVP in a season without one, and with the help of one of the best offensive lines in the league, has been able to connect with his receivers in ways no other quarterbacks can. Ty Montgomery has been able to provide *some* consistency at running back, and Davante Adams is dropping less passes this season.
At Green Bay, this will be a huge showdown. Landon Collins has been the Giants’ best player on defense thanks to his huge work in progress. He is a dangerous threat at safety and rushing the quarterback, and will be the key in containing the best quarterback in the league.
Beckham will make his postseason debut. His speed, catch radius, nimbleness, footwork, and route running are all fantastic, and he is arguably the most complete wide receiver in the league. Shepard is a great second receiver with some of the same skills as Beckham. Perkins has emerged as the Giants’ starting back, and his vision and elusiveness have proven to be huge in the last few weeks.
The game all depends on if Manning can find his consistency and if the Giants can contain Rodgers. The offensive line should be able to give him enough protection, something Eli’s group has failed to provide. Clay Matthews is healthy, and will prove to be an liability to the Giants offensive line, so it’s up to Eli to scout him out and avoid the pass rush.
With all this said, we should have a really good finish to Wild Card Weekend, but thanks to the home field advantage, I’d give the Packers the win. Don’t be surprised if the Giants pull this one out though.
Green Bay>New York