After the war of attrition that is a 16-game schedule, the NFL’s 32 teams have been whittled down to the final 12 contenders, signaling the start of Wild Card Weekend.
This year the four-pack of first-round playoff games features a mixed bag of sorts, with several teams dealing with quarterback issues brought on by injury or ineffectiveness. With the status of Ryan Tannehill’s sprained knee ligaments still in question, Derek Carr definitely sidelined with a broken leg, and Brock Osweiler recently surrendering the starting gig to an untested Tom Savage, the Dolphins, Raiders, and Texans are all question marks entering the weekend.
On the other hand, with Super Bowl champion play-callers like Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Russell Wilson in the mix, Wild Card Weekend could certainly be the start of a special run for several teams.
Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ Houston Texans (9-7) – Saturday 4:35pm ET
In the wake of Carr’s disastrous leg injury in Week 16, and the Raiders’ listless performance under backup QB Matt McGloin in a loss at Denver which cost them the AFC West crown, this game has lost a bit of luster.
Throw in an injury to McGloin, which could thrust rookie Connor Cook into the playoff spotlight, and Oakland – once a Super Bowl favorite – is actually a 3.5-point underdog at the Bovada sportsbook.
That’s despite Houston’s own issues in the pass game, with high-dollar starter Brock Osweiler benched in favor of an unsung backup in Week 16. Savage had his own struggles last week, including a concussion, so Osweiler is expected to take back the reins this Saturday.
The over/under is set at just 37 – a total the Raiders routinely threatened on their own with Carr under center – so football fans may be in for a snoozer as their postseason appetizer.
Detroit Lions (9-7) @ Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) – Saturday 8:15pm ET
The second Saturday game should liven things up, as the slumping Lions head into the Green Sea known as CenturyLink Field in Seattle to face the Seahawks.
All year Detroit has depended on QB Matthew Stafford to key comeback drives, to the tune of an NFL record-setting eight fourth-quarter comebacks, but the Lions lost their final three games after their star injured a finger on his throwing hand. That lull cost Detroit the NFC North title, stamping their ticket to the most hostile home field in the league.
Seattle has defended home turf like usual, racking up seven wins in eight tries, but the usually steady Seahawks have alternated wins and losses in their last six contests overall.
Even so, with the vaunted 12th Man on their side, not to mention a healthy Wilson leading the offense, Bovada tabs Seattle as big 8-point home favorites.
Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ Seattle Seahawks (11-5) – Sunday 1:05pm ET
The Dolphins are this season’s surprise team, rebounding from last year’s 6-10 campaign under the leadership of first-year head coach Adam Gase to compile a 10-win season.
That was enough to secure the Dolphins’ first playoff berth since 2008, and they’ll be looking for their first postseason victory since 2000. Miami has overcome injuries to key starters like safety Reshad Jones and center Mike Pouncey, both Pro Bowlers, not to mention starting QB Tannehill. Even so, the team has persevered to erase a 1-4 start by finishing the season 9-2.
That run was sparked by a Week 6 home romp over the Steelers, a team that dug out of its own 4-5 hole with a seven-game winning streak to end the year. The trio of Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and wideout Antonio Brown have powered the offense to at least 24 points in each game over that span.
Miami’s defensive struggles are well-documented, what with seven of their 11 original starters down with injury or ineffectiveness, so the Dolphins will hope for another breakout performance from RB Jay Ajayi. His 206-yard effort against the Steelers’ D sparked Miami’s resurgence, and if he can get it going once again, Pittsburgh’s offensive stars may not see the field enough to score in bunches.
The oddsmakers at Bovada don’t like Miami’s chances, however, installing Pittsburgh as big 10-point home favorites.
New York Giants (11-5) @ Green Bay Packers (10-6) – Sunday 4:40pm ET
The final game of Wild Card Weekend just may be the best of the bunch, with two Super Bowl champion quarterbacks meeting for yet another January battle.
Both times that Eli Manning has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy (2007 and 2011), his Giants have eliminated the Packers along the way. Back in 2007 Aaron Rodgers was still stuck behind Brett Favre on the depth chart, but he’s certainly familiar with Big Blue after 2011’s dream 15-1 season went down in flames thanks to Manning’s three-touchdown performance.
Rodgers is the talk of the town lately, after delivering on his now famous promise to “run the table” after the Packers plunged to a 4-6 start. Six wins later, and Green Bay is that streaking playoff team nobody wants to face.
The Giants defense is the star of the show in New York, surrendering just 17.8 points per game (second in the NFL). Manning and wideout Odell Beckham Jr. still have enough spark to connect on long completions, though, so Bovada has them as slight 4.5-point road underdogs.