We're just about to kick off the NFL postseason, which means, from here on out, it's "win or go home." For those of you who love this brand of football, the next several weeks are going to be a treat.
In total, 12 teams now have chances at reaching and winning Super Bowl LI. Eight of them will be in action this weekend. Four teams—the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs—will be on bye.
Today, we're going to take a look at the full playoff schedule. We'll also examine some of the top storylines heading into Wild Card Weekend and make our predictions for the Super Bowl participants.
NFL Playoff Schedule
|Date, Time (ET)||Game||National TV|
|Wild Card Round|
|Saturday at 4:35 p.m.||Oakland at Houston||ESPN|
|Saturday at 8:15 p.m.||Detroit at Seattle||NBC|
|Sunday at 1:05 p.m.||Miami at Pittsburgh||CBS|
|Sunday at 4:40 p.m.||NY Giants at Green Bay||Fox|
|Jan. 14 at 4:35 p.m.||NFC high seed at Atlanta||Fox|
|Jan. 14 at 8:15 p.m.||AFC low seed at New England||CBS|
|Jan. 15 at 1:05 p.m.||AFC high seed at Kansas City||NBC|
|Jan. 15 at 4:40 p.m.||NFC low seed at Dallas||Fox|
|Jan. 22 at 3:05 p.m.||NFC vs. NFC||Fox|
|Jan. 22 at 6:40 p.m.||AFC vs. AFC||CBS|
|Super Bowl LI|
|Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m.||AFC vs. NFC||Fox|
Raiders Relying on Cook
Due to injuries suffered by starter Derek Carr and backup Matt McGloin, the Oakland Raiders have no choice but to roll into the opening round of the postseason with rookie quarterback Connor Cook under center.
Cook showed some promise in limited action in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos, going 14-of-21 for 150 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Unfortunately for Oakland, that relief effort represents all the regular-season experience the Michigan State product has.
Cook will be making his first NFL start in the postseason. Still, the Raiders seem to have confidence in the rookie.
"We trust him to go out there and lead us," Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said of Cook, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
The good news for Oakland is that Cook will have quite a group to lead. With weapons like Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Latavius Murray and an offensive line that is rated fifth in pass-blocking by Pro Football Focus, Cook will have plenty of support around him.
If Cook can manage the game and minimize risks, the Raiders should have a solid chance of seeing their resurgent season continue past the opening round.
Patriots Gaining Weapons
The Patriots might just be the most well-rounded team in the NFL. Their offense is rated second overall, averaging 27.6 points per game. Their defense is rated fourth overall, allowing an NFL-low 15.6 points per game.
New England also has a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady running at least half the show.
What's scary is that the Patriots have been adding weapons to their offense during the approach to the postseason. Change-of-pace back Dion Lewis returned from injury to play in the final seven games of the regular season. Recently acquired wide receiver Michael Floyd made his presence felt in the season finale with three receptions, 36 yards, a touchdown and some nifty downfield blocking.
In addition, the Patriots appear set to have wideout Danny Amendola back after a four-week absence due to an ankle injury. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Amendola returned to practice Wednesday:
When you add these pieces to regular standouts like Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett and LeGarrette Blount, it feels like New England is going to have a pick-your-poison offense in the postseason—and whichever poison opposing defenses choose isn't likely to do down easily.
Yes, the Patriots are without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, but they've operated without him for half the regular season. Would the offense be more difficult to stop with him on the field? Sure, but the Patriots are finding enough weapons elsewhere to compensate.
Falcons Defense Shouldn't Be Overlooked
If we're talking about pick-your-poison offenses, we have to mention the Atlanta Falcons. With guys like Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Devonta Freeman roaming the field, quarterback Matt Ryan can have his way with most defenses.
This is why the Falcons are rated first in overall offense and average an NFL-best 33.8 points per game.
Yet the real reason the Falcons could be dangerous in the postseason is the fact that the young defense is beginning to jell under head coach Dan Quinn. The unit isn't elite—it's rated 15th overall—but it's begun to find a knack for the big play.
Atlanta racked up 34 sacks and 12 interceptions during the regular season. The Falcons also limited opponents to just 18.7 points per game over the final month of the season.
Rookies such as safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones have played huge roles in the transformation.
"The speed, the physicality, we are certainly looking for that at all times," Quinn said, per Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I've been especially impressed by the guys who play down by the line of scrimmage—that's Neal, that's Jones—the physicality and the speed that they play with."
The Falcons defense isn't likely to smother anyone in the postseason, but it's playing well enough to complement an offense that can match points with anyone in the league.
Wild Card Round
- Houston Texans def. Oakland Raiders
- Seattle Seahawks def. Detroit Lions
- Pittsburgh Steelers def. Miami Dolphins
- Green Bay Packers def. New York Giants
- New England Patriots def. Houston Texans
- Green Bay Packers def. Dallas Cowboys
- Atlanta Falcons def. Seattle Seahawks
- Kansas City Chiefs def. Pittsburgh Steelers
- New England Patriots def. Kansas City Chiefs
- Green Bay Packers def. Atlanta Falcons
Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers
Ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus.