NFL Picks and Predictions: Wild Card
Wild Card Weekend … and this time, it’s for real!
Sorry, going to the see “Rogue One” inspires a little extra
drama where none is needed. The Wild Card Round has carried plenty of
drama in recent times, coming a long way since the first wild-card
teams (one per conference) were adopted with the AFL-NFL Merger in
1970. The league went to two teams starting in 1978. By 1990, there
would be three, yet only once, from the concept’s inception in ’70
through 1996 would a wild-card team win it all: Tom Flores’ 1980
As parity became more prevalent, these second-tier playoff teams
started going farther. First, Terrell Davis and the 1997 Broncos ran
over the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. Three years later, the wild-card
Ravens took home the Lombardi Trophy. Then there were the Steelers in
2005, followed by a couple of franchises going at it this weekend: the
2007 Giants and 2010 Packers.
You will find the prediction for that game — and the other ones
kicking off the NFL’s 84th postseason — below. What is your take?
Brockin’ through the night? Do you fear the Zach attack? Is Mo’ money?
OK, those were really bad.
Now, let’s get to it!
Oakland (12-4) at Houston (9-7)
Saturday, 3:30 ESPN
Line: Texans -3.5 / 36.5
All the talk swirling around this game is focused on Connor Cook,
and whether he will be good enough in his first career start for the
Raiders to win. What about the Texans’ quarterback? Tell you what:
We’ll get to that. As for Oakland’s rookie, third-string quarterback,
how does anyone know he won’t play well? Last Sunday, Cook was thrust
into a matchup against one of the league’s premier defenses, while the
players on said defense were playing their hearts out for their
retiring head coach. Oh, and it was on the road. Against a division
opponent. Talk about a turd sandwich served up to Cook. Impossible to
judge the 23-year-old from that tossing into the fire. There were
those who thought Cook would go much higher than he did in the draft
(100th overall pick), and it’s not like he doesn’t have Amari Cooper
and Michael Crabtree (both 1,000-yard receivers) and Latavius Murray
playing with him.
For the Texans to capitalize on the inexperience of their
opponent’s QB, their goal(s) must be to pressure him, or at least
confuse him. Both are relevant. Bear in mind, Oakland’s offensive line
gave up only 18 sacks all year. The unit was as solid in pass
protection as any group in the league. If Texans pass rushers can’t
make it home (Houston only posted 31 sacks this season), then
disguising coverages is a must. One big point of concern for the
Texans: making sure they know their own assignments. The Raiders RBs
— Murray, Jalen Richard, and Jamize Olawale — posted 199 yards
receiving against the Texans in Mexico City. Lastly, Brock Osweiler
can’t go all Osweiler with dirt balls, throwing passes on the inside
shoulder when they are supposed to be on the outside shoulder and/or
turning it over. His passer rating (72.2) is 44.9 points lower than
NFL leader Matt Ryan. I think Oakland will score enough points to win
on the road, whether people believe in Cook or not.
Pick: Raiders 20 Texans 17
Detroit (9-7) at Seattle (10-5-1)
Saturday, 7:15 NBC
Line: Seahawks -8 / 43
Run the football. Even if it doesn’t work. If the Lions are
going to upset the Seahawks, they must utilize Zach Zenner while
maintaining some semblance of balance. Constantly airing it out would
be analogous to only doing biceps at the gym, which judging by Twitter
avatars, is still all the rage in 2016. The body of the offense must
be used, from power runs to bubble screens to Golden Tate. Getting the
former Seahawk involved early makes too much sense. He’s an emotional
player who can ignite the offense. That coupled with Zenner can keep
the Seattle pass rush at bay. Or at the very least, provide a moment’s
hesitation — Is this a draw play? — and so on.
The Seahawks can ill afford to dilly-dally, like in San
Francisco last week. Matthew Stafford won’t be providing many freebies
to the secondary — especially a secondary that’s sans the uber-rangy
Earl Thomas. Thus, getting off to a fast start offensively is key.
Come out aggressive, get Russell Wilson out of the pocket early and
take at least one vertical shot to Jimmy Graham down the seam or Paul
Richardson on a classic go route. The longer the Lions hang around in
a 10-7 ballgame, the more they will believe they can win.
Remember earlier this season when Stafford kept winning games in
the fourth quarter, including on the road in Indianapolis and
Minnesota? Better yet, remember when the winless Lions came within a
foot of upsetting the Seahawks in Seattle last season? All that said,
Detroit was 0-5 versus playoff teams this year, and the Seahawks
haven’t lost a home playoff game since the 2004 Wild Card Round
against the Rams. Trivia: Anyone remember who dropped the potential
game-tying touchdown pass in that game?
Pick: Seahawks 27 Lions 17
Miami (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5)
Sunday, Noon CBS
Line: Steelers -10 / 46
Much has been made of Jay Ajayi’s 200-yard running sprees, which
kicked off when he bolted for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the
Dolphins’ win over the Steelers down in Miami earlier this season. But
what does that mean? Can Ajayi, who has been visibly banged-up and —
save for one huge day in Buffalo — has slowed down in the second half
of the season, go off again?
He might need too. Because there are no indications that Adam
Gase’s defense will be able to hold the Pittsburgh offense down enough
to win without rushing for over 100 yards and eating clock. Dolphins
defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is garnering much attention in this
cycle of the coaching carousel, but his unit ranks 18th in points
allowed and 29th overall.
Obviously points are more important than yards — the Dolphins
often have held the fort without letting fall. That group faces its
toughest task this weekend, and could really use Reshad Jones.
An 11-year-old could tell you the Big Three for the Steelers are
the key to the game (… after he or she kicks your but in “Star Wars:
Battlefront 3”). Yet, without disrespecting the other two, lately
Pittsburgh’s fortunes have been tied to the Big One — and I’m not
talking about Big Ben. Not everyone can tell you that Le’Veon Bell —
not David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliott — led the league in scrimmage
yards per game this season. Bell averaged nearly 160 yards per game
this season. Joseph’s D performed admirably in the October faceoff
with Bell — well, sort of, limiting the game’s most dynamic back to
“only” 108 yards on 16 touches and a two-point conversion. Game
situation dictated that Bell only get 10 carries. Think his workload
will double Sunday morning, with Miami’s suspect run defense having no
Pick: Steelers 28 Dolphins 20
NY Giants (11-5) at Green Bay (10-6)
Sunday, 3:40 FOX
Line: Packers -4.5 / 44.5
Giants at Packers rounds out one of the most fun football
weekends of the year. This is also the third matchup of teams in the
Wild Card Round that already faced each other during the regular
season. Green Bay won the initial meeting, 23-16, in a game that
really wasn’t that close. New York’s offense struggled to move the
ball at all (shocker), totaling a paltry 221 yards on that Sunday
evening. The Packers outgained them by 185 yards. The time of
possession was even worse, with Green Bay holding the ball nearly 37
But much has changed since then. Which leads me to the two most
important developments that could lead to a Giants upset:
1) The Packers’ secondary is a M.A.S.H. unit right now. Sam Shields is
on IR. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, the team’s top two
corner this season, are both looking dicey for this game. Their
absence — or limited effectiveness — could kickstart the New York
2) Big Blue’s defense has been playing out of its mind for 10 games.
They’ve only allowed 400 yards in a game once since that loss in
Lambeau, and even that came two months ago.
So, can the Giants do it? Can they pull off the road playoff win
at Lambeau, as they did in the 2007 NFC Championship and 2011
Divisional Round? I don’t think so. Putting aside the fact that Aaron
Rodgers has produced the most stunning six-pack of games from a
quarterback in recent memory, there are other factors at play here.
Only Rollins was healthy for that first meeting in Week 5, thus Green
Bay wasn’t playing with a full deck then. And Eli Manning isn’t
playing at the same level as he was in 2011. Are the offensive
failures all his fault? Not even close. Yet, if his defense doesn’t
play a perfect game, Manning might be forced to put up 28 points to
win — something New York has only accomplished once this entire
Pick: Packers 26 Giants 21