After competition of the National Football League intensified over the last several weeks, the playoffs are finally upon us.
The match-ups begin today with the Houston Texans taking on the Oakland Raiders at 4:35 p.m., and the day caps off with the Seattle Seahawks hosting the Detroit Lions at 8:15 p.m. On Sunday the Miami Dolphins will play the Pittsburgh Steelers at 1:05 p.m., and, as NFL diehards scramble around grocery stores to prepare for NFL playoff parties, the day will culminate with the New York football Giants facing the Green Bay Packers at 4:40 p.m.
Quarterback Derek Carr was having an outstanding season—MVP worthy. But in week 16, a freak injury happened in which he broke his right fibula, and now rookie quarterback Connor Cook will have to put it all on the line to have a shot in the Raiders first playoff appearance since 2003.
To make matters worse, according to the East Bay Times, Raider left tackle Donald Penn is ruled out for today’s playoff game. Penn, who is a nine-year veteran playing in 156 starts, would have been Cook’s blind side protector, but in a loss to the Denver Broncos, he suffered a knee injury.
Though Oakland is ranked no. 26 in total defense, Khalil Mack will be head hunting—as usual. Mack, a perennial beast, has amassed 11 sacks, 54 tacks and 19 assisted tackles in the 2016 campaign.
In week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Texans coach Bill O’Brien benched $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler. A few weeks later—week 17—Tom Savage suffered a concussion against the Tennessee Titans, and Osweiler retained his position.
Still, with Houston, it’s all about defense, as they are ranked no.1 in total defense in 2016.
Seattle isn’t the same team that won the Super Bowl in 2013, especially since they lost all-world safety Earl Thomas, who broke his leg against the Carolina Panthers in December.
Thomas’s injury places a huge burden on safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Michael Bennett. With the defense not what it used to be, more onus is on the offense and Russell Wilson, who at times looks like an MVP candidate, especially with Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin catching everything.
Still, even with the Seahawks depleted defense, they are ranked no. 5 in total defense. This means the Lions, a team that has been comeback kids the entire season, will have to sure up their mistakes in crucial situations.
The Lions have had one playoff win in 59 years, so for the Lions to earn a second win in six decades, quarterback Matt Stafford will have to limit his errant passes as he has thrown five interceptions in his last 15 quarters. Yes, the Seahawks still have Richard Sherman and a slew of speedy linebackers, but Stafford needs to take advantage of this weakness.
The Steelers started out the season with a losing record, and Steeler nation panicked, but Big Ben, Antonio Brown and La’Veon Bell didn’t.
Many of their woes were solved when Bell finally returned in week four, after serving a three game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Though the Steelers have a flashy offense orchestrated by two-time Super Bowl winner Big Ben, defense win championships, and the Steelers will focus in on Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, who rushed for a whopping 204 yards on 25 carries in the Dolphins’ 30-15 victory against the Steelers just 11 weeks ago.
For the Dolphins, it will be trying to get a grip on Bell and Brown, and the assortment of offensive packages the Steelers’ coaches have prepared. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was ruled out on Thursday, so it will be backup quarterback Ryan Moore who will be at the helm.
It’s too bad for Tannehill, as he has never played in a playoff game to date. Dolphins will be in the tournament for the first time since 2008, though.
The Packers were outplayed by the Minnesota Vikings in the early stretch of the year, as well as the Detroit Lions for a large portion of the season. However, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, after a 4-6 start, said the pack would run the table.
And he has done just that. Six weeks later, the pack have not lost, and Rodgers tossed the rock for an otherworldly 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
With Jordy Nelson coming back healthy this year, A-Rod has rekindled the extraordinary connection between the two, which is seemingly unstoppable.
Still, the Pack are playing the Giants, who historically have gone into Lambeau Field and have won ball games before. In 2007—just before a historic matchup against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl—the Giants went into Lambeau Field and won. The same happened a few years, when the Giants were en route to winning a second Super Bowl in six years.
The Giants defense has come to play over the last several weeks, and add that in with a hell of a talent like Odell Beckham Jr., and you have a team that can win on Sunday. Plus, Eli Manning seems to play well as a wild card.