The 2017 NFL Regular Season has come and gone, and now it’s playoff time. There’s four games this weekend, four games next weekend, then the conference championship games, before we get to the Super Bowl.
As always, there’s two Saturday games on Wild Card Weekend, followed by two on Sunday. This Saturday’s games aren’t great on paper, but I have hope that they will be intriguing. Here are my picks for both of today’s games.
Oakland Raiders (12-4) vs. Houston Texans (9-7) (4/3c, ESPN)
The first game feels like a hot mess. The Raiders were one of the best teams in the league all year, but lost their MVP-candidate quarterback, David Carr, early in the fourth quarter of their Week 16 win over the Colts. They were up by 20 when he got hurt, and since then, they’ve barely managed to score any points at all. They only scored six points last week at Denver, and while the rest of their offense and defense minus offensive tackle Donald Penn are active and ready to go, they’re down to third-string rookie quarterback Connor Cook at starter. This is a good team, but at this point, judging by how they were playing even in the weeks prior to Carr’s injury, it’s hard to trust them at all.
Meanwhile, the Texans are, once again, hard to accept at first. For the second straight season, they are 9-7, won a subpar division, and have quarterback issues. Free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and depending on him is very hard to do right now. That said, the team did win seven of their eight home games, running back Lamar Miller is back, and the defense is #1 in terms of yards. Also, while Osweiler hasn’t been good, he’s vastly more experienced than Connor Cook. It’s hard to pick either team, I know, but the more I think about it, more signs point to the Texans. I don’t want to do it, but I’ll have to pick them here. They’ll run the ball, make sure Osweiler doesn’t get put in precarious positions, and their defense will vastly outdo the Raiders’ unit en route to a win.
Prediction: Raiders 13, Texans 23
Detroit Lions (9-7) vs. Seattle Seahawks
Wait a second-Seattle in the Wild Card round, again? That’s right, the Super Bowl 48 champion and Super Bowl 49 runner-ups are a Wild Card team again. They won a subpar NFC West this year, but due to offensive troubles all year, they find themselves at 10-5-1, with the tie being a 6-6 final score at Arizona, and hosting a playoff game on Wild Card Weekend instead of having a bye like the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons.
Then again, the whole year for the Seahawks has been a wild card. They barely beat the Dolphins in Week 1, winning by a final score of 12-1o due to choking moments by the Phins. Then they lost 9-3 at the Rams, before scoring well over 20 points in their next three games and getting to 4-1. Then they had their 6-6 tie at Arizona, lost 25-20 at New Orleans, and barely beat Buffalo on a Monday night, in what was an incredibly poorly officiated game. Then they won an impressive and great game at New England in which the offense was fantastic, and beat the Eagles after that, before the team had its most bipolar three-week stretch.
First, the Hawks lost by a 14-5 score at Tampa Bay, with the offense looking hapless. Then they destroyed the Carolina Panthers by a 40-7 score, and all seemed right. But then, the roof caved in as the team lost 38-10 in Green Bay in a game where Russell Wilson threw five interceptions. They won two their final three games, but allowed 54 points in their final two games, including a near-loss at 2-14 San Francisco, and the defense has really struggled since losing safety Earl Thomas. The offense still has most of its weapons aside from Tyler Lockett, but the whole team is a wild card as of now.
Meanwhile, the Lions enter with a three-game losing streak, and an injured Matthew Stafford at quarterback-a guy who’s led them to a bevy of comeback wins this season. If not for him, they’re not in the playoffs this year. That said, the team is still pretty good. The defense has been good again, and receiver Golden Tate has had quite a rebound in the second half of the season. Marvin Jones has resuscitated himself of late as well, tight end Eric Ebron has had a career year, and dual threat running back Zack Zenner has done a great job resurrecting a once non-existent running game since Theo Riddick went down.
This game is as “wild card” as it gets. Both teams have offensive weapons and quarterbacks with elite qualities, but are hard to trust. Both teams have pretty good defenses, but neither defense has been near great of late, with the Seahawks being amongst the worst in that category since Earl Thomas went down. If this game is a shootout, nobody should be surprised, just like nobody would be if this was a low-scoring affair. At the end of the day, the game is in Seattle, and while the team hasn’t been great at all of late, I have to pick them. The Lions will stick around though, and I’m expecting this one to be a much better game than people are expecting it to be.
Prediction: Lions 20, Seahawks 27