One could argue that Wild Card Weekend can be more exciting than the majority of the rest of the playoffs.
There’s something about two teams that barely made it to the post-season going head to head, trying to make something of a less-than-perfect season often riddled with injuries.
The two teams to watch are the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins.
OAKLAND RAIDERS v HOUSTON TEXANS
The worst thing that could have happened to the Raiders’ playoff chances happened all the way at the end of the regular season when MVP candidate QB Derek Carr broke his fibula. The next batter up is third-string rookie Connor Cook.
This will be the first start of Cook’s NFL career, to make things more tense. Things aren’t looking too hot for Oakland. Last week, Cook fumbled twice and threw an interception in two quarters of game-time. Will Cook be able to claw his way out of the unknown and help Oakland claim the wildcard seed? Oakland’s offensive line allowed only 18 sacks, and the running game of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington looks promising. Latavius Murray is also on fire.
“I’m just embracing the opportunity. Going to go out there and have fun.”
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) January 5, 2017
The Texans, on the other hand, have Brock Osweiler, who has been extremely inconsistent in 2016. The Texans just don’t score touchdowns: their 2016 regular season saw only 25 touchdowns, which is the fewest by any team in the playoffs since 1978.
Tom Savage is recovering from a concussion, and it looks like the remainder of the Texans’ season falls on Osweiler. The Texans, without JJ Watt, still finished as a very strong defensive team. Jadeveon Clowney is still a monster, and so is Whitney Mercilus.
The only reason the Texans are in the playoffs is that the AFC South is garbage. It’s going to be a tough one for Oakland with a rookie, unproven QB, but they have my pick.
— Samantha Higgins (@prettybirdsam) January 5, 2017
MIAMI DOLPHINS v PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The last time the Dolphins made it past the wildcard round was in 2000. Miami fans are already in shock that the Fins made the playoffs this year, the first time in eight years. Ryan Tannehill, although not phenomenal, is not medically cleared and veteran Matt Moore will be the starter. It’s not the worst situation, but the Dolphins’ standard QB situation is far from good.
The Dolphins’ D line, led by Ndamukong Suh, is up there with some of the best in the NFL. Cameron Wake is a great pass rusher. Jay Ajayi is nipping at the heels of Ezekiel Elliott in terms of best running back of 2016. He also rushed for 204 yards against the Steelers in Week 6, a game the Dolphins decisively won.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity.”https://t.co/vcMpdU93t8
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) January 5, 2017
The Steelers, however, are a different animal come playoff time. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion and is in decent shape for Sunday’s game. The Steelers’ ability to convert on third downs and red zone situations is what makes them a lethal threat. Le’Veon Bell has the third most yards in NFL history for 2016. Antonio Brown is also a huge threat. Minor slip-ups may cost the Steelers a few yards here and there, but they are the favorite to win.
However wrong I may be, I think that my home team is capable of shocking the NFL world with a close victory. The Dolphins came this far after a disgusting start to the season – why shouldn’t they win one more game?
What is the story behind Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison’s pregame hug tradition?
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 5, 2017
The other encounters will be equally spectacular: Detroit v Seattle (similar to a Miami v Pittsburgh situation) and NY Giants v Green Bay Packers (where Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers will duel to take their team to the next round.)
My picks: Detroit and Green Bay.