With the NFL regular season now over, 12 teams are getting ready for the playoffs starting this weekend with the four Wildcard matchups. American Football correspondent , Will Colahan, previews who are favourites to earn a spot alongside The New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional round next weekend.
American Football Conference:
Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ Houston Texans (9-7)
It’s difficult to get excited about this matchup that will be the quarterbacks Conor Cook and Brock Osweiler battling it out. Cook will be making his first ever start in the NFL but didn’t set world alight in his second half vs Broncos on Sunday. Brock Osweiler has been one the worst quarterbacks in the league this season and was benched for rookie Tom Savage a few weeks, however, now that he’s picked up a concussion injury, Osweiler has been thrust back in the limelight.
The battle for dominance in this game will come in the trenches, as both teams will look to run the ball over passing. The Texans will need stars like Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney to fill the void left my JJ Watt and need to stop Latavius Murray. This same blueprint will apply to the Raiders who will look to Khali Mack for inspiration.
Prediction: The Raiders have shown that they can win games relying on their offensive line and rushing attack so the Raiders to win by less than a field goal.
Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5):
The Dolphins have done very well to reach the playoffs this season, rookie coach Adam Gase deserves a huge amount of credit after pulling off the shock of the season. However, a win in Pittsburgh could be a step too far for this Miami team. The Steelers are 6-2 at home and their offensive trio of Ben Rothlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell have had the week off and will raring for another post-season push. The Dolphins are without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and are 4-4 on the road this year, breakout star at running back Jay Ajayi has struggled to perform on the road as well.
The Dolphins can be proud of their season and have a young team that they can build around. The Steelers are ranked in the top 6 for offence and defence, who look like a team ready for a Super Bowl push.
Prediction: Steelers to win by more than a touchdown.
National Football Conference:
Detroit Lions (9-7) @ Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1):
The Lions scraped into the playoffs this year after the Washington Redskins blew their chance in week 17. They are currently on a three game losing streak, all against playoff calibre teams, this has mostly been down to their defence losing form and Matt Stafford’s injury. Since week 14 his pass completion has dropped from 67% to 60% and has only thrown 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. The task of heading to Seattle to beat the Seahawks in post season is rather daunting, however this isn’t the Seahawks team that reached 2 of last 3 Super Bowls. The Seahawks have been very inconsistent this year and have struggled to protect Russell Wilson, they have given up an average of 3 sacks per game. They limped to victory against the 49ers on Sunday and only managed to 87 yards from 25 carries against a team that has given up an average of 165.9 yards per game.
The key for the Seahawks winning this game will be utilising the home field advantage to put off Matt Stafford. CenturyLink Field is one the loudest stadiums in the NFL and can derail the best quarterbacks. They also need some kind of protection for Russell Wilson, the Lions have a poor secondary so he will not need long to find an open receiver. For the Lions the only key is to decimate the Seahawks offensive line, the last 3 loses the Seahawks had against the Bucs, Packers and Cardinals all came after their offensive line collapsed.
Prediction: Logic would say a Seahawks win as they have won all home playoff games under Pete Carroll but stranger things have happened in the post-season. I say the Lions win by less than a touchdown after getting 5 sacks on Wilson and Stafford has another 4th quarter comeback.
New York Giants (11-5) @ Green Bay Packers (10-6):
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have two things in common; one there both pretty much guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame and they both lose to Eli Manning and the Giant in the post-season. This matchup is by far the game of the weekend as it features two of the hottest teams in the NFL, the Giants have won 9 of the past 11 and the Packers have won six straight games to win the NFC North. It’s also very evenly matched with strength vs strength – the Packers offence vs the Giants defence and weakness vs weakness with the Giants offence vs the Packers defence.
Looking at strength vs strength Aaron Rodgers has been in stunning form to end the regular season. Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and the Packers have scored at least 21 points every game. Meanwhile the Giants defence has allowed 24 points once this season and have given up six points in the last 3 games. On the weakness vs weakness the Packers have allowed more points than any playoff team other than Atlanta, and the Giants have scored fewer points than any playoff team other Houston.
Both teams are extremely well matched and the difference will come at quarterback if Eli Manning can find the extra edge he usually does in the post-season. The Giants could upset, however you feel like Aaron Rodgers is just getting started with his season after a phenomenal last six weeks.
Prediction: Packers to win by a touchdown.
Wildcard Weekend Schedule:
Saturday 7th January
9.35pm – Oakland Raiders (5) at Houston Texans (4)
1.15am – Detroit Lions (6) at Seattle Seahawks (3)
Sunday 8th January
6.05pm – Miami Dolphins (6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3)
9.40pm – New York Giants (5) at Green Bay Packers (4)
(All times GMT)