The NFC’s two hottest teams go toe-to-toe in Lambeau in what promises to be an epic battle. The rest of Wildcard Weekend? Eh. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
[Sorry I disappeared for a few weeks there. We had a 4th child a few weeks back and then the holidays attacked. I’m back for the playoff run and I can feel your excitement.]
Week 14: 10 – 6 – 0
Week 15: 14 – 2 – 0
Week 16: 10 – 6 – 0
Last Week: 13 – 3 – 0
Season: 164 – 90 – 2
Saturday, January 7 (4:35PM ET)
(5) Raiders at (4) Texans
ESPN always manages to draw the playoff short straw. How do you market this game with a straight face? DeAndre Hopkins is a star but there’s no guarantee he’ll even factor into the game. If that sounds drastic, remember that Hopkins caught 33 fewer passes this season, accumulated 567 less yards, and reached the end zone only 4 times compared to 11 a year ago. It gets worse. Hopkins had 11 games in 2015 where he surpassed 80 receiving yards. In 2016, he reached that mark only three times. No team in the league – not even the Browns, Rams or Jets – suffered from more QB incompetence than the Texans.
While the Texans capitalized on a lousy division to win back-to-back AFC South titles, the Raiders earned their playoff spot in the league’s toughest division. And here they are facing the field’s worst team as underdogs because their star quarterback broke his leg. Typically, a 12 win team would still be favored against a 9-7 poop squad with a worthless quarterback. Unfortunately, the Raiders aren’t a typical 12-4, well-rounded team. In fact, they’re heavily one-sided. While the offense ranked among the top 7 in almost every statistical category, the defense resided in the bottom 10 with one exception; turnovers. Somehow, Oakland finished 2nd in the NFL with 30 takeaways despite finishing dead last in sacks (and 27th in QB pressures). That’s a perplexing combination. QB pressure generally leads to turnovers. My best explanation would be teams desperately throwing late to climb back into a blowout. I don’t know.
Half a decade ago we wrote off a lousy quarterback and great defense against a superior opponent, and then Denver shocked the Steelers in overtime. This feels like a similar situation but neither team has a quarterback this time. May the best defense win. TEXANS If I were Charles Barkley; Texans -4
Saturday, January 7 (8:15PM ET)
(6) Lions at (3) Seahawks
Guess how many playoff teams the Detroit Lions beat this season? The answer is zero. Detroit went 0-5 in such games. I’m most confident about this game, which pretty much guarantees a Lions victory. Oh well.
I’ve written off the Seahawks as a legitimate contender this season. The offense is in disarray without a consistent ground game. Despite another stellar statistical season, I don’t even trust the defense that much. I’m too lazy to check, but I’d bet those impressive defensive stats were bolstered by four games against the Rams and 49ers. On the other hand, the Seahawks have proven themselves against playoff teams this season, finishing 3-1. Though I could argue the lone loss was a decisive blowout and their win against Atlanta was shrouded in controversy. Regardless, Seattle is good enough to dispatch of the Lions, so let’s just move on before I contradict myself one more time. SEAHAWKS If I were Charles Barkley; Seahawks -8
Sunday, January 8 (1:05PM ET)
(6) Dolphins at (3) Steelers
The Dallas Cowboys went into Pittsburgh in Week 10 and ran through Pittsburgh’s overrated defense. I’m not comparing the Dolphins to the Cowboys. However, Miami could control the game and pound the Steelers in a similar fashion. Everyone likes to pin Pittsburgh’s loss to the Dolphins in Week 6 on the Ben Roethlisberger injury. The Steelers lost that game because they couldn’t contain Jay Ajayi, who racked up over 200 yards on the ground at over 8 yards a pop. Miami won time of possession by 13 minutes as a result and limited the Steelers to only 53 plays, their 2nd lowest output of the season. In four of Pittsburgh’s five losses the opponent gashed the Steeler defense in the ground game at close to five yards per rush. If Miami pulls the upset it will be on the shoulders of Ajayi and the ground game. STEELERS If I were Charles Barkley; Dolphins +10
Sunday, January 8 (4:40PM ET)
(5) Giants at (4) Packers
Just a thought – and not that any team would ever do this – but maybe the Packers should’ve thrown the game in Detroit last week after the Redskins lost earlier in the day. Washington’s loss clinched a playoff berth for both the Lions and Packers. Now, would you rather host the red-hot Giants or travel to the up-and-down, Earl Thomas-less Seahawks in Seattle? I get that Seattle is a tough place to win, but the Packers absolutely smoked the Seahawks a month ago.
Also, if you’re the Dallas Cowboys, you can’t be happy with how the playoff field settled over the final days of the regular season. While the Patriots will host Connor Cook, Brock Osweiler or Matt Moore in the Divisional round, Dallas will almost certainly be hosting the league’s best quarterback or the New York Giants. Neither is ideal. Aaron Rodgers in a dome when he’s this hot is a real problem. The Cowboys only two legitimate losses of the season came at the hands of the Giants. Of course, all this can be avoided if the Lions win in Seattle but we all know that’s not happening.
As for the game, I think the conditions favor the Giants’ rugged defense and Eli Manning and the offense’s ability to hang around and then hit you for a 70 yard Odell Beckham Jr. slant. Look at Aaron Rodgers’ Week 15 numbers against the Bears. Temperatures were in the single digits that day with a negative wind chill. Subtract Jordy Nelson’s game-clinching 60 yard bomb and Rodgers’ day looked like this; 18/30, 60%, 192 yards. Those numbers account for his lowest output of the season and his lowest completion percentage since Week 4 (against… the New York Giants). Let’s not forget that Eli Manning is 8-1 in the postseason dating back to 2007, including a perfect 7-0 road record. That’s the weird thing about Manning. He can’t be considered among the greats because his teams missed the playoffs more than they made it, but when his team reached the postseason… watch out. Conversely, Rodgers’ playoff record, especially at home, isn’t so impressive. Since winning the title in 2010, Rodgers and the Packers are 3-5 in the playoffs, including a 2-2 record at home. (And really that should be 1-3 because Dez Bryant caught that ball, but whatever.)
To be honest, I’m not totally convinced either of these teams qualify as “great.” Look at New York’s victories over their 9-2 run to end the season. They went 2-1 against playoff teams, scoring a total of 27 points in victories over Dallas and Detroit. Green Bay looks better with a 3-0 record against playoff teams over their final six weeks. However, beating the Texans buys you nothing, Detroit was exposed over the final month of the season and Seattle has been a hot mess all year. So while this should be a thrilling playoff game, it’s not like the Patriots and Colts from the early 2000’s are taking the field Sunday. GIANTS If I were Charles Barkley; Giants +4.5
Week 14: 9 – 6 – 1
Week 15: 9 – 6 – 1
Week 16: 11 – 5 – 0
Last Week: 12 – 4 – 0
Season: 130 – 119 – 7
[As you may notice, my picks over the final four weeks improved drastically. I attribute this success to making the picks with little thought. I think I need to adopt this concept for future seasons. Also, I have documented emails to my brother to prove these picks were actually made.]