Saturday, January 7th at 4:35 PM: #5 Oakland Raiders @ #4 Houston Texans (-3.5)
The Oakland Raiders return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 to take on a Texans team that won their division for the second straight year. The Raiders have been one of the best teams in the NFL all season long but late injury to MVP candidate and breakout star Derek Carr took the team from having the #2 seed in the AFC to being underdogs on the road in the first weekend. Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree have been weapons on a high scoring offense but it will most likely be third string rookie QB Connor Cook that will be tasked with getting them the ball. Defensive end Kahlil Mack has been a monster on defense as well this year with 11 sacks 5 forced fumbles and an INT. Houston is dealing with QB injuries as well but has gotten to the playoffs on the strength of its defense and a weak division after a disappointing year for Brock Osweiler. I think Oakland still has enough talent on both sides of the ball to advance to the next round. Raiders win 16-13.
Saturday, January 7th at 8:15 PM: #6 Detroit Lions @ #3 Seattle Seahawks (-8)
The Lions are back in the playoffs for the second time in 3 years while Seattle returned to the top of the NFC West this year to earn the right to a home playoff game. Although the Seahawks have been a historically great home team, they enter this year’s playoffs banged up with injuries and not playing their best football. Earl Thomas, Tyler Lockett, Michael Bennett, and C.J. Prosise are all dealing with injuries while Russell Wilson and Thomas Rawls also dealt with injuries throughout the season. The Lions have been the ultimate comeback kings this year with 8 come from behind wins led by the clutch play of Matthew Stafford. I think Detroit’s high powered offense will be able to find just enough holes in the Seahawks D and it’s defense led by Darius Slay will be able to contain Russell Wilson and a short handed offense. Detroit pulls the upset 24-22.
Sunday, January 8th at 1:05 PM: #6 Miami Dolphins @ #3 Pittsburgh (-10)
You wouldn’t know it by the point spread, but the Dolphins actually beat the Steelers in their head to head matchup this season. However, that was in Miami in a game in which Roethlisberger was coming back from injury and not sharp at all. The rematch will be in Pittsburgh where backup quarterback Matt Moore will have to find a way to outscore a high powered Pittsburgh offense led by Le’veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The defense for Pittsburgh hasn’t been overly impressive this season but has been playing better of late. The Dolphins will have to get production on the ground from Jay Ajayi if they want to keep this game close and Matt Moore will need to get the ball to Jarvis Landry and count on him to make some big plays. At the end of the day, I don’t see any way the banged up Dolphins (who’s only win against a team with a winning record was that Pittsburgh game) come into Pittsburgh and beat a veteran Steelers team. Pittsburgh wins 31-10.
Sunday, January 8th at 4:40 PM: #5 New York Giants @ #4 Green Bay Packers (-4)
A New York Giants team who’s defense is playing lights out toward the end of the season has historically meant a Super Bowl run. However, the only team hotter than the Giants right now might be Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense, who won 6 straight to close the season and capture the NFC North. The Packers beat NY 23-16 back in October, and I think the rematch will be even closer. I think Rodgers will have extra motivation to avenge a loss in the team’s previous playoff matchup back in the 2011 season when Green Bay went 15-1 but lost to the Giants at home in the divisional round. Jordy Nelson has been the best wide receiver in the second half of the season and running game has made big strides as of late. On the other end, rookie star Landon Collins and the Giants pass rush will have to harass and pressure Rodgers the entire game to have a chance. Eli Manning will have opportunities to make big plays with Odell Beckham against a Packers secondary that has been weak at times. I think Green Bay wins a close game 30-27 in OT.
Let me know what your predictions are in the comments down below!