The Wild Card round features some legitimate Super Bowl contenders, as well as teams whose season clocks are about to strike midnight due to quarterback concerns
Here's a look at the current playoff picture in each conference, as well as Wild Card round predictions and Super Bowl LI odds.
|1||New England Patriots||14-2||AFC East; Home-Field Advantage|
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||12-4||AFC West; First-Round Bye|
|3||Pittsburgh Steelers||11-5||AFC North|
|4||Houston Texans||9-7||AFC South|
|5||Oakland Raiders||12-4||Wild-Card Berth|
|6||Miami Dolphins||10-6||Wild-Card Berth|
|1||Dallas Cowboys||13-3||NFC East; Home-Field Advantage|
|2||Atlanta Falcons||11-5||NFC South; First-Round Bye|
|3||Seattle Seahawks||10-5-1||NFC West|
|4||Green Bay Packers||10-6||Playoff Berth|
|5||New York Giants||11-5||Wild-Card Berth|
|6||Detroit Lions||9-7||Playoff Berth|
No. 6 Miami Dolphins at No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers
Although the Dolphins beat Pittsburgh during the regular season, a 30-15 victory in which running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns, it's difficult to see Miami making it two-for-two.
First, the Steelers are at home this time around, where they have a 6-2 record on the year. Miami is a so-so 4-4 on the road.
Second, the Steelers running game is lights-out behind Le'Veon Bell, who will face one of the weakest run defenses in pro football. Miami has given up 4.9 yards per carry this season, tied for worst with San Francisco. They also give up 141.8 yards per game on the ground, which is third-worst in the league.
Expect Pittsburgh to go to the ground early and often, controlling the time of possession for all four quarters. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they don't have the aerial firepower to come back from a deficit.
It's been a great first year for head coach Adam Gase, but the Dolphins' road will end in Heinz Field.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Dolphins 13
No. 5 Oakland Raiders at No. 4 Houston Texans
Both teams come into this game with significant issues at quarterback.
The Raiders lost superstar Derek Carr for the season in Week 16, and backups Matt McGloin and Connor Cook proved incapable to carry the offensive load in a 24-6 loss to Denver on Sunday.
For Houston, Brock Osweiler failed to deliver on his $72 million contract and was benched. Backup Tom Savage hasn't done particularly well in his stead, and after today's lifeless 21-10 loss to Tennessee, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien didn't name a postseason starter, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Both pass games are in serious trouble, and both run games have been hit-and-miss all season, so expect a low-scoring affair decided by field goals, much like the Texans' recent 12-10 win over Cincinnati on Christmas Eve night.
Ultimately, this game is a toss-up. Give the slight edge to the home team.
Prediction: Texans 16, Raiders 13
No. 5 New York Giants at No. 4 Green Bay Packers
This game has the feel of a Divisional (or even Conference Championship) game between two stout foes. We've seen the Manning-Rodgers playoff duel at Lambeau before, as Eli and the Giants took out the 15-1 Packers 37-20 in 2011.
On the Green Bay side, Rodgers can make any defense look foolish, especially on his home turf. While the Packers passing defense has been porous all season, it doesn't matter too much if Rodgers can find old friend Jordy Nelson time and again for 100-plus yards and a score or two every game. Davante Adams has also proven to be a capable second wide receiver, posting some massive stat lines this season.
The circumstances are a little different for the Giants this time around. Manning doesn't have a three-headed receiving monster like he did with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham and two stout running backs in Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Still, the one big weapon he does have (Odell Beckham Jr.) can change a game by himself, as he has proven to do time and again this year.
It should be a great game between two very good teams. On a neutral field, it's a coin flip, but give the edge to the Pack in Lambeau.
Prediction: Packers 20, Giants 17 (overtime)
No. 6 Detroit Lions at No. 3 Seattle Seahawks
Seattle needs to find a running game and fast. Against the worst run defense in football (San Francisco) on Sunday, the Seahawks only managed 87 yards on 25 carries. Unfortunately, the offensive line has been poor all year, so Russell Wilson is going to have to work some serious postseason magic if the Hawks are to return to their third Super Bowl in four seasons.
It's hard to see the Lions, who went 3-5 on the road this year, traveling to the Pacific Northwest and defeating the Seahawks at home, though. Seattle's home-field advantage, already best in the league, turns it up to 11 (or 12) in the postseason. The Hawks have won nine straight postseason games at CenturyLink Field dating back to 2005 and are a perfect 5-0 in the Pete Carroll era. Their last home playoff loss came in 2004, when Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander were leading the offense.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Lions 10
|New England Patriots||19-10|
|Green Bay Packers||11-1|
|Kansas City Chiefs||11-1|
|New York Giants||20-1|
Checking the Super Bowl odds for a minute, it's interesting to note that the Pittsburgh Steelers have better odds to win it all than the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons. KC and Atlanta are No. 2 seeds who have byes through the Wild Card rounds, while Pittsburgh has to play a game next weekend and go on the road in two weekends should they beat the Dolphins. It shows how much respect Las Vegas is giving Pittsburgh right now.
Ultimately, it wouldn't be a surprise to see one (or even two) Wild Card teams representing their conferences in the Super Bowl.