Some of the greatest games and most iconic moments in NFL history have occurred during Wild Card Weekend.
Buffalo Bills fans undoubtedly remember their team making the biggest comeback in NFL history (32 points) in 1993 against the Houston Oilers, but they'd probably wish Will Smith used a neuralyzer on them and erased any memory they have of the Music City Miracle six years later.
Within the last five years, we've seen the last big win of the Tebowmania era (the 2011 Denver Broncos' 29-23 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers) and the Indianapolis Colts' 28-point comeback in a 45-44 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in January 2014.
Hopefully this year features an unforgettable game or moment that finds its place in NFL lore.
Here is the NFL Wild Card Round schedule, as well as some predictions and the latest news from around the league.
|Sat., Jan. 7||No. 5 Oakland Raiders at No. 4 Houston Texans||4:35 p.m.||ESPN/ABC|
|Sat., Jan. 7||No. 6 Detroit Lions at No. 3 Seattle Seahawks||8:15 p.m.||NBC|
|Sun., Jan. 8||No. 6 Miami Dolphins at No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers||1:05 p.m.||CBS|
|Sun., Jan. 8||No. 5 New York Giants at No. 4 Green Bay Packers||4:40 p.m.||Fox|
Schedule via NFL.com
No. 5 Oakland Raiders at No. 4 Houston Texans
The Oakland and Houston sports sections are carbon copies of each other this week. Just change the names and stats, and you have the same exact pieces.
Such is life covering quarterback carousels.
In Oakland, head coach Jack Del Rio isn't sure whether second-stringer Matt McGloin or third-stringer Connor Cook will start in place of injured superstar Derek Carr.
According to Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group, Del Rio had this to say at his weekly press conference Monday: "We'll see how the week goes. Between Connor and Matt, we'll see who we can get the most reps and who we feel most comfortable going into the game."
Neither quarterback did particularly well against Denver in the team's 24-6 loss on Sunday. Then again, few quarterbacks did this year against the No. 1 pass defense in football.
McGloin went 6-for-11 for 21 yards and missed Amari Cooper for a potential touchdown before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. In his place, Cook went a respectable 14-for-21 with 150 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw a pick and turned the ball over again with a fumble.
On the flip side, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien didn't give an answer when asked whether Brock Osweiler or Tom Savage would start Saturday. Osweiler was benched three weeks ago, but Savage—who replaced Osweiler in Week 15—is currently in the league's concussion protocol, leading to a murky situation.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, O'Brien had this to say: "I think there's a lot of different factors, obviously health is part of it. But there's a lot of different factors."
Osweiler threw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15) this season and failed to complete 60 percent of his passes. Tom Savage showed some promise, but he wasn't asked to stray too far from his comfort zone, sticking to short passes throughout parts of three games.
The unsettled quarterback situations lead to the distinct possibility of a low-scoring slugfest, and a slight edge goes to the home team in this one.
Prediction: Texans 16, Raiders 13
No. 6 Detroit Lions at No. 3 Seattle Seahawks
Continuing the trend of reeling teams heading into the playoffs with quarterback concerns, the Detroit Lions will head to CenturyLink Field on the heels of a three-game losing streak to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.
Lions quarterback Matt Stafford, who played great football while engineering an impressive eight fourth-quarter comebacks this season, told the Detroit media that his troublesome middle-finger injury will linger into the Lions' matchup with Seattle. Notably, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported Stafford will continue to wear a protective glove in the postseason.
Stafford injured his finger during a Week 14 win against the Chicago Bears. In the last full three games since then, the Lions have gone 0-3, with Stafford completing 60 percent of his passes (he averaged 67 percent through Week 14) and only throwing two touchdowns to three interceptions (his touchdown-to-interception ratio before Week 15 was 22-to-7). The effect is real.
Then again, the Lions played tough opponents in postseason participants New York, Dallas and Green Bay.
Of course, maybe that's the issue.
The Lions haven't beaten a postseason team this year, and they only defeated one team by more than a single-digit margin. Their magic may work against lesser opponents, but on the road against better teams, it's hard to see that happening.
The Seahawks have problems of their own heading into Wild Card Weekend. Gregg Bell and Dave Boling of the News Tribune were pretty blunt in their assessments in a postgame video following an unimpressive 25-23 win over the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers to close out the regular season. In particular, they cited the running game failing to get it together.
It doesn't take much to see that, as the Seahawks managed just 87 rushing yards on 25 carries against a 49ers rush defense that allowed a staggering 165.9 yards per game on the ground. To put that in perspective, the Cleveland Browns, who had the second-worst rush defense in the league, allowed 23.2 fewer yards per game.
Then again, this is the Seahawks we're talking about, and it's not smart to count out a team that's made the postseason in all five years of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson-Legion of Boom era, making the Super Bowl in two of them. The Seahawks have also won all five postseason games at CenturyLink Field since Carroll took over.
They should win this one fairly easily.
Prediction: Seahawks 23, Lions 10
No. 6 Miami Dolphins at No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers
The only number you need to know for this matchup is 10. That's the current spread in the game at most sportsbooks, per OddsShark.
That number seems pretty staggering at first, especially considering the Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 earlier this season with all the Steelers' Killer B's (Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown) on the field.
Looking deeper into the matchup, though, you can see why the spread is so big.
First, this game is in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers went 6-2 this season. (Miami went a so-so 4-4 on the road.) Historically, Roethlisberger in particular plays much better at home. This season, he had 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions at home compared to nine touchdowns and eight interceptions on the road. Big Ben has also posted a better QB rating at home every season this decade.
The Steelers offense also have the ability to beat the Dolphins through the air and on the ground. The Dolphins have the third-worst run defense in football, allowing 140.4 yards per game. The Steelers have one of the best running backs in football in Bell, who finished in the top five in rushing yards this season despite being suspended for three games.
If the Dolphins want to sell out to stop the run, Big Ben can go to Antonio Brown, who finished in the top five in receiving yards this year.
Pittsburgh will also get angry and motivated defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt back for this game, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. As Fittipaldo noted:
Tuitt not only is one of the Steelers' best defenders when healthy, but he's also taken on a big leadership role since team captain and fellow defensive end Cam Heyward was lost for the season with a pectoral injury. He said Monday he remains "salty" about the way the Steelers were dominated by the Dolphins in October and promised a more physical performance from the Steelers in the rematch.
"This is going to be a physical game because I'm still not happy about that," he said. "We went into that game not the best way we could have. This is different terms. This is our territory. And it's going to be a physical football game."
The Dolphins have a few concerns heading into this game, too.
For starters, they might be missing their best cornerback in Byron Maxwell, who still isn't running at full speed, per a Sunday report from Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post.
Secondly, the Dolphins will most likely be without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who sprained his left knee on Dec. 11 against Arizona. However, Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel reported that Tannehill has not yet been ruled out for the game.
And finally, the run game, which was utterly dominant midseason when Ajayi rushed for 529 yards and four touchdowns in a three-game span, has sputtered a bit down the stretch. Injuries on the line have not helped matters, but aside from another 200-plus yard performance against Buffalo on Christmas Eve, Ajayi has not rushed for over 79 yards since facing the Jets on Nov. 6.
The Dolphins have had a great year, one many may not have expected, but going to Pittsburgh in the postseason is a tough draw for anyone, let alone a team that has no postseason experience since 2008 and no playoff wins since 2000.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Dolphins 13
No. 5 New York Giants at No. 4 Green Bay Packers
This is the obvious crown jewel matchup of the weekend.
The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers are two of the hottest teams in football, with the G-Men taking nine of their last 11 games after losing to Green Bay in October, while the Packers have won six straight following two straight losses in which they gave up 40-plus points.
This game will match strength vs. strength (the Packers offense vs. the Giants defense) and weakness vs. weakness (the Giants offense vs. the Packers defense) in a rematch following the Packers' 23-16 win over the Giants at Lambeau Field.
Looking at strength vs. strength, Aaron Rodgers is simply on fire. Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com noted that Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last seven games. During that stretch, the Packers have scored at least 21 points every game, averaging 29.9 overall.
Meanwhile, the Giants have allowed more than 24 points just once all season, a Week 3, 29-27 loss to Washington. In three of their last four games, the Giants have given up six points (to playoff-bound Detroit), seven points (to playoff-bound Dallas) and 10 points (to Washington).
As far as weakness vs. weakness goes, the Packers have allowed more points than any playoff team other than Atlanta, while the Giants have scored fewer points than any playoff team other than Houston.
Each have had some ugly performances this season, with the Giants rushing offense sputtering most of the way (their 3.5 yards per carry ranks third-worst in the NFL) and the Packers giving up back-to-back 40-plus point performances midseason.
Ultimately, this game will be decided by Rodgers, who is the best player on the field. As Giants head coach Ben McAdoo noted, per Steve Serby of the New York Post:
[Rodgers is] playing out of his mind right now, he's on fire. He's taking care of the ball. He is moving very well in and out of the pocket, making all the throws.
I don't have any kryptonite.
This game is very hard to predict. The easiest call to make is that this matchup should go down to the wire and find itself on the list of NFL Wild Card classics.
Give the slightest edge to the home team and Rodgers, the hottest player in football, in a thriller.
Prediction: Packers 20, Giants 17 (overtime)