Let’s dust off the old crystal ball for the NFL’s wildcard weekend…
What marks this first week of the playoffs is how much injuries to quarterbacks are playing a role.
The best game is the last one. Sunday, the Giants play the Packers in Green Bay. There are a lot of folks who believe the Giants can make a run from the number 5 seed as they have in the past to win a pair of Super Bowls. They would have fared better had the Lions beaten the Packers Sunday night, but that didn’t happen.
So now, its the Packers who were struggling at 4-6 only to run the table playing perhaps the best football in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers has been on fire, and when he personally took over leadership of a team that looked lethargic and mediocre, everything changed.
Keep in mind that when the Giants won it all, they beat the Packers twice in cheese-land and Eli Manning performed brilliantly.
You might wonder how anyone would pick a team to beat a club with a premier quarterback that has won six straight games and have scored 30 or more points in the last four. But the Giants have been on a roll themselves winning 9 of their last 11. They’ve beaten the Cowboys twice and for them it’s been a defense that has rounded into form impressively and a two-time Super Bowl-winning QB who can take advantage of a shaky Green Bay secondary. I like the Giants in a surprise.
The other NFC battle would be more intriguing if Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s right hand injury wasn’t so apparent. He’s not the same guy. Stafford has had an MVP-kind of year, but the problems with his fingers is obviously limiting his effectiveness.
The Seahawks have been a puzzling group all year. We all know about their defensive prowess, and how dangerous Russell Wilson can be. But Seattle has lacked that little extra this season, and they appear vulnerable. Neither team runs the ball effectively, so the team that manages to get it going on the ground may win it.
If Stafford improves enough physically, the Lions could spring an upset.
Am I picking two road teams to capture the NFC wildcards? Not quite. The Giants yes. The Lions, not quite.
The AFC wildcard games feature a pair of teams few expected to see. The Raiders and the Dolphins.
The Oakland story was a great one. They were on the verge of capturing the AFC West over the likes of the Broncos and Chiefs but lost out to Kansas City by virtue of losing
both games to their long-time rivals. The loss of their quarterback Derek Carr, who had an MVP season as Stafford did in Detroit takes the air out of their balloon.
But not all the air. They face a Houston team that is shaky going into the playoffs after a loss to the Titans and questions concerning THEIR quarterback. Brock Osweiler, who was benched during a victory over Jacksonville two weeks ago, had to return to the lineup Sunday when starter Tom Savage was sidelined with a concussion.
So with that kind of doubt at the most important position, and a 9-7 finish, I believe the Raiders will not see their season go up in flames. At 12-4 and a victory over the
Texans during the season with Carr running the show, I have a feeling the Raiders will advance. Perhaps it’ll be their only success, but my hunch is Oakland.
Finally, another re-match from a regular season battle: Miami vs Pittsburgh. The Dolphins were suffering at 1-4 and headed for another discouraging campaign when they turned it around starting with an unlikely triumph against the Steelers.
They dominated them 30-15 and people were wondering where THAT came from. The win over Pittsburgh started an incredible run of 9 out of 10 victories before the season finale loss to the Patriots. The Dolphins banded together, truly became a team and wrapped up their first playoff berth since 2008. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill might even return from injury to start in the wildcard game.
In that October meeting, the loss by the Steelers began a string of four consecutive defeats. Then it turned, as it often does for this franchise, rich in playoff success.
The Steelers finished with 7 wins in a row, and with Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback leading the way with his toughness, and a healthy supporting cast for a change, It’ll be hard for the upstart Dolphins to keep it going.
Le’Veon Bell who has never played in post-season finished in a blaze of glory, and when you add Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and the rest of Pittsburgh’s depth, it’s hard to imagine the Black and Gold getting upset at Heinz Field.
So there you have it. One man’s opinion.
The Raiders and Steelers advancing to the divisional round in the AFC. The Seahawks and Giants doing the same in the NFC.
Keep in mind, there are tough teams out there waiting and getting a much-needed breather this week.
Also remember, wildcard teams who have had the longest road, have known the ultimate success of capturing the Super Bowl.
“Keep an eye out for my podcast, “Stockton!” We’ll take a different perspective on the world of sports and share stories I’ve collected from my unique front-row seat. To learn more and sign up to be notified when it launches, visit www.StocktonPodcast.com.”