After 17 weeks and 256 games, the NFL regular season has come to an end. While this can be a disappointing time of year for the diehard fans of specific franchises, it is a time for fans of the game to celebrate.
On Saturday, the 2016-17 NFL playoffs will commence. This is the time of year when every game is an elimination game—losing means there is no moving on to next week.
We're going to take a look at the 12 teams that have made it to the NFL's second season. We'll be examining the full opening-round schedule, along with the latest odds, per OddsShark. We'll also be looking at some of the latest storylines entering the postseason and making our predictions for every team leading up to the conference championships.
Wild Card Weekend
|Day||Time (ET)||Game||Line||National TV|
|Saturday||4:35 p.m.||Oakland at Houston||HOU (-3.5)||ESPN|
|Saturday||8:15 p.m.||Detroit at Seattle||SEA (-8)||NBC|
|Sunday||1:05 p.m.||Miami at Pittsburgh||PIT (-10)||CBS|
|Sunday||4:40 p.m.||NY Giants at Green Bay||GB (-4.5)||Fox|
|Day||Time (ET)||Game||National TV|
|Jan. 14||4:35 p.m.||NFC high seed at Atlanta||Fox|
|Jan. 14||8:15 p.m.||AFC low seed at New England||Fox|
|Jan. 15||1:05 p.m.||AFC high seed at Kansas City||NBC|
|Jan. 15||4:40 p.m.||NFC low seed at Dallas||Fox|
Connor Cook to Start
Plenty of folks found it surprising when the Oakland Raiders decided to take Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook in the fourth round of this year's draft. They already had a rising star in Derek Carr and a veteran backup in Matt McGloin.
Spencer Hall of CBSSports.com, for example, called it "a bit of a puzzling pick" at the time.
As things have turned out, though, the Raiders are going to need Cook if they're going to make any sort of playoff run. Carr suffered a season-ending injury in Week 16, and McGloin was injured last week. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Raiders are expecting to start Cook in the opening round against the Houston Texans:
On one hand, the Raiders may be catching a bit of a break with Cook. While neither quarterback was especially effective against the Denver Broncos in Week 17, Cook did outperform McGloin.
The rookie completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 150 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He averaged 7.1 yards per pass attempt. McGloin completed just 54.5 percent of his passes for 21 yards, averaging 1.9 yards per attempt.
On the other hand, though, Oakland would rather have Carr for this contest. The Raiders had a tough time with the Texans the last time the two teams faced off. The Raiders ended up taking a 27-20 victory, but it took two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Carr to get it.
It is worth noting that Brock Osweiler will start for the Texans on Saturday, though he was the starting quarterback in Week 11 as well.
The big difference in the rematch is that it will be Cook going up against Houston's top-rated defense (just 301.3 yards per game allowed).
Lions Getting Boost from Zach Zenner
The Detroit Lions have experienced their fair share of running back woes this season. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick have both been placed on injured reserve, and the ground attack as a whole has been lackluster. In fact, only two teams averaged fewer than the 81.9 rushing yards per game the Lions averaged in the regular season.
Losing Riddick right before the postseason also hurts the Detroit offense because he was one of the better pass-catching backs in the NFL (53 receptions this season).
Fortunately, the Lions have been able to get a bit of a boost from running back Zach Zenner in recent weeks. Against the Packers in Week 17, he carried the ball 20 times for 67 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for another 41 yards.
Zenner is no stranger to success. During his time at South Dakota State, he rushed for more than 2,000 yards in three separate seasons. But he only saw the field for six games in 2015 and has just five NFL starts under his belt.
While he might not be a household name, the Seattle Seahawks seem to respect Zenner's talents.
"He's doing such a great job of cutbacks and hitting the hole. He's a really good back," Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said of Zenner, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "I know all the stuff he did in college, three straight seasons of 2,000 yards. I don’t care where you're at, if you can do that you have got amazing talent. And I think he's just an amazing running back."
For Detroit, Zenner's emergence appears to be coming at exactly the right time.
Michael Floyd Can Be a Difference-Maker
We won't be seeing the New England Patriots this weekend because they earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. When we do finally see them, though, we may be witnessing an even more potent offense than the one we saw for much of the regular season.
Considering the Patriots field an offense that is rated second overall by Pro Football Focus, this is a frightening thought.
While the Patriots won't have star tight end Rob Gronkowski—who made six starts in the regular season—they will have newly acquired wideout Michael Floyd.
The 6'2", 220-pound Notre Dame product was claimed by New England a few weeks ago after he was released by the Arizona Cardinals following a DUI arrest. Floyd made his Patriots debut in Week 16 but showed he can make a difference the following week against the Miami Dolphins.
In Week 17, Floyd caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. Floyd fought through a flock of Miami defenders to find the end zone, and he also helped Julian Edelman score with one of the most physical blocks you're likely to see from a wideout.
The addition of Floyd gives New England depth, physicality and additional playmaking ability at the receiver position.
"It's been great to have him," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Floyd in a WEEI interview (h/t Everett Cook of the Boston Globe). "We needed him. We all know how hard it is to find a role as a receiver in our offense, and we've talked about so many players over the years that haven't been able to accomplish that."
Another pass-catcher who Brady feels he can rely on is something that opposing defenses rarely want to see. Floyd joins a group that already includes Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and tight end Martellus Bennett. According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, New England may soon see the return of wideout Danny Amendola, too:
Postseason Predictions Through Round 2
Wild Card Weekend
Houston Texans def. Oakland Raiders 22-19
Seattle Seahawks def. Detroit Lions 27-24
Pittsburgh Steelers def. Miami Dolphins 31-21
Green Bay Packers def. New York Giants 25-22
Kansas City Chiefs def. Pittsburgh Steelers 30-28
Atlanta Falcons def. Seattle Seahawks 34-24
New England Patriots def. Houston Texans 34-20
Green Bay Packers def. Dallas Cowboys 31-30