The 2016 NFL season has culminated and it’s finally playoff time. The 2016 NFL season saw quite a bit of interesting games and stories unfold. It all started with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady serving a four game suspension in the “deflate gate” scandal to start the season, which allowed us to see his backup Jimmy Garoppolo lead the Pats to a 3-1 record in Brady’s absence. The Cleveland Browns started the season 0-14 and were poised to become just the second team in NFL history to have a winless season at 0-16 (2008 Detroit Lions) before they beat the San Diego Chargers 20-17 in week 16 and eventually finished the season 1-15 and in position with the #1 overall pick in the 2017 draft.Three out of the four teams that were in last years conference title games didn’t even qualify for the playoffs this year (Broncos, Panthers, Cardinals) with the Patriots, the loser of last years AFC Title game, being the lone exception. And speaking of those Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady did come come back in their fifth game and what he did in the 12 games he played was nothing short of phenomenal (3,554 yards passing, 28 TD’s, 2 INT’s, 67.4% completion %, 296.2 average yards passing per game, and set the single season record for TD:INT ratio (with a minimum of 300 attempts) with a 14:1 ratio). The Patriots are also the #1 seed in the AFC and enjoying a first round bye this week as they await to see who they will be playing in the divisional weekend at home. The NFL saw quite a few surprise teams make their returns to the playoffs this year, with the Oakland Raiders returning to the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl run in 2002. The Miami Dolphins are making their return to the postseason for the first time since 2008. The Giants, in their first year under new head coach Ben McAdoo, ended their five year playoff drought and handed the #1 seed Cowboys two of their three losses this year.
That’s just some of the highlights of the 2016 NFL season and I’m sure there will be plenty of more highlights in these upcoming playoff games this weekend and beyond. For any reader that has read my work before, I’m going to spare you the long introduction and get right to what you clicked on the link to see and that is my wildcard weekend picks. And for the record, I don’t see any of these games being very exciting or juicy this weekend outside of Giants-Packers on Sunday afternoon at frozen Lambeau Field. Here are my picks…
#5 Oakland Raiders defeat #4 Houston Texans: This game will be fought and won by stout defenses. The Texans and Raiders both possess two of the same things, strong defenses and starting quarterbacks who are bringing the quite a bit of uncertainty to the field. The Texans have always brought a strong defense to their playoff matchups the last several years and that’s what’s carried them and won them a few playoff games, with the dangerous JJ Watt terrorizing the opposing quarterback every game, although Watt will be missing this postseason after undergoing season-ending back surgery after week 3 this season. The Raiders have quietly built one of the more fearsome defenses over the last few years, led by another dangerous pass rushing threat and another top 3 defensive player in the league in Khalil Mack. Houston will be starting quarterback Brock Osweiler in the game, who in week 15 was benched at halftime for throwing two first half interceptions on top of having a terrible first year in Houston. Osweiler was the backup in week 16 to Tom Savage and came in for the second half in week 17 only because Savage was injured. Savage is still injured and that excuse is probably the only reason Osweiler is being given the chance to start this playoff game, as Savage was as serviceable as can be and the fact that Osweiler has just been that bad in Houston this year. The Raiders will be starting rookie Connor Cook as usual starter Derek Carr, who was playing like an MVP candidate, broke his leg in the week 16 win against the Indianapolis Colts, and usual backup Matt McGloin injured his shoulder in their week 17 loss to the Denver Broncos. Cook did take over in week 17 late in the second quarter when McGloin was injured, as he was 14 of 21 with 150 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception. Cook did show some positive signs in the brief showing and was named the starter for this playoff game this week. I’m going with the Raiders because I like their defense a bit more, believe that their defense is going to eat up Osweiler as they’re familiar with him and the fact that he is just straight up awful. The final reason why I’m picking Oakland is because I actually believe in Connor Cook as I’m familiar with his collegiate work at Michigan State and the fact that Houston has no idea what to expect and have nothing to prepare them for him. Cook was a projected high first round pick before the 2015 season at MSU before having a down year his final season there and seeing himself slip to the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft before the Raiders took him at pick #100. This will be a low scoring affair and I believe in the Raiders to take this game and head to divisional weekend. (Oakland 17 Houston 13, OAK +4)
#3 Seattle Seahawks defeat #6 Detroit Lions: The Seahawks will take this contest thanks to being at home, having a stout defense, and having been to the playoffs for what is now five years in a row which has allowed them to have an experienced playoff team while also bringing a championship pedigree. The Lions did a lot by shocking many of us in making the playoffs and nearly winning the NFC North championship before Aaron Rodgers showed them he’s still boss in a week 17 division title game beat down. The Lions came out of nowhere to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs. Unfortunately I believe this will finish as a season in which a team shocks us by making the playoffs when we didn’t expect them to but falls flat in their first playoff matchup. The Lions have a capable offense as their led by MVP candidate Matthew Stafford at QB, who has thrown for the fewest interceptions in his career in a full single season (10). I believe the Seattle defense is just that much better than Detroits offense and will show their experienced ability trumps all. And not for nothing but it’s hard to go against Russell Wilson in the postseason when he’s never missed the postseason in his career, has been to two Super Bowls, and has won a ring, while being the oil that keeps this machine going. Give me the experience. (Seattle 26 Detroit 14, SEA -8)
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers defeat #6 Miami Dolphins: Just like the Lions, but even more surprising in my opinion, the Miami Dolphins snuck into the playoffs as the #6 and final seed in the AFC. The Dolphins started off the 2016 season 1-4 before winning their next six games and feverishly making a playoff push and ultimately finishing the season at 10-6. What’s even more impressive about the Dolphins season is that they lost starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill in week 14 vs Arizona after suffering a sprained ACL and MCL in his left knee on a hit. The Dolphins didn’t play Tannehill the rest of the season but still have some hopes that he can return at some point this postseason. Awhile that’s been going on and continues to go on, the Dolphins are starting Matt Moore in Tannehill’s place and although they only have one loss with him, look noticably different. Moore is a serviceable backup but when having to start in stretches of consecutive games he really proves that he’s just another mediocre quarterback. The Steelers have one of the most high flying offenses in football and one of the best offensive trios in the game in QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown. This game will also be taking place from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. Although I’m impressed with the way the Dolphins played after starting the season 1-4, I can’t see them marching into Pittsburgh and beating the Steelers with Matt Moore at starter. If Tannehill was starting than I’d give this game more thought because of the defensive inconsistencies of the Steelers and Tannehill’s solid play this year. Alas, it’s Matt Moore starting in Steel City and I think that is just recipe for disaster for the Dolphins, who are finally back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. The Dolphins defense has been very solid all year but I don’t think it’s enough to hold Ben-Bell-Brown in check and allow Moore to lead the Dolphins to more points. The Dolphins did beat the Steelers 30-15 in week 6 but that game was in Miami, in hot conditions that Pittsburgh had a hard time handling, and Roethlisberger was injured in the second quarter of that game and wasn’t 100% the rest of the way. That’s a nice win, but now Roethlisberger is out for revenge and the game will be in blustery cold Pittsburgh, where I think Dolphins players will have a harder time handling those conditions than the Steelers were in those hot Miami conditions back in week 6. The Steelers are a playoff steady in the NFL, Ben has two rings (three trips to the Super Bowl), is a Hall of Fame bound quarterback, and this Miami team is young and inexperienced, which why I like Pitt’ to take this game. (Pittsburgh 27 Miami 20, MIA +10.5)
#5 New York Giants defeat #4 Green Bay Packers: The most exciting game of wildcard weekend happens to be the final game that will go on. The Giants haven’t been to the playoffs since their Super Bowl XLVI win over the Pats in the 2011 season. The Giants also made the playoffs in the 2007 season where they also won the Super Bowl over a than undefeated Patriots team. Quarterback Eli Manning is as clutch as it gets come playoff time and gives opponents nightmares when he cashes his ticket to the postseason not because of how often they make it (because they really don’t) but because of how dangerous Eli becomes and how clutch he is. In the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl years, the Giants beat the Packers in both those years, first beating Green Bay 23-20 in overtime in the NFC Title game in ’07, and winning again 37-20 in the divisional round in ’11. The Packers have arguably the best quarterback on the planet and without question the hottest as Aaron Rodgers is playing insane lately in leading the Packers from 4-6 to 10-6 and the division title. This is going to come down to which QB can make fewer mistakes and although I’m a huge fan of Rodgers, I like the way Eli performs in the playoffs and how incredible the Giants defense has been. Take nothing away from Rodgers and the Pack’ but their defense is nowhere near the same level as the Giants’ and I believe that will lead to the Giants putting up points tomorrow while the Giants defense keeps Aaron Rodgers a little more in check. This was also the hardest game for me to pick as both teams are just so good and have such great playoff experienced quarterbacks but I gotta roll with the G-Men because of that top flight defense, Eli Manning’s playoff resume, and the fact that the Giants haven’t been to the playoffs at all in five years, which leads me to believe that the Giants are due to make some noise and perhaps even make a bit of a run towards a third Super Bowl title in 10 seasons. Hopefully this game brings the fireworks that I’m not totally expecting from the other three games. With my thinking of Seattle beating Detroit, the winner of this game would move on to #1 seeded Dallas on divisional weekend. And no matter who wins this game between New York and Green Bay, either matchup with the Cowboys would be extremely enticing and salivating for FOX to have on its network. Again, I expect this game to be back and forth, loaded with excitement, and a great duel between two future (arguable) Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The Giants will punch their ticket for a third meeting with the Cowboys and a trip to the NFC Title game on the line in Dallas. (New York 31 Green Bay 23, NYG +5)
So there we have it, the divisional round playoff matchups according to me are set: #5 Oakland @ #1 New England and #3 Pittsburgh @ #2 Kansas City on the AFC side with #3 Seattle @ #2 Atlanta and #5 New York @ #1 Dallas on the NFC side. Enjoy this weekends games and tune back in next week for my divisional round picks.