Miami Dolphins (10-6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) (1:05/12:05 CT, CBS)
The first game of the day is one where a lot of people are overlooking the road team, but shouldn’t be doing so. Sure, the Steelers have their big three (Roethlesberger, Bell and Brown) healthy for a playoff game for the first time, and are playing at home against a warm weather team that’s playing with a backup quarterback.
However, not everything is that simple. For one, the Dolphins have won the past two times they’ve played the Steelers, including a win Pittsburgh last year, and a 30-15 win in Miami this year. In the latter game, running back Jay Ajayi broke out for over 200 yards, and he’s run for nearly 1,300 yards on the year, which could spell trouble for the Steelers in what should be a game in frigid temperatures. Plus the Dolphins backup quarterback, Matt Moore, has a lot of experience and has played pretty well in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill. Add in a solid defense, as well as offensive weapons such as Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake, and you’ve got the possibility of an upset here.
This will be a game that should be fairly close, or at least close enough for the most part. Unless the ‘Phins completely implode, it should be a good contest. However, Le’Veon Bell is undoubtedly one of the three best running backs in the league, Ben Roethlisberger is a surefire Hall-of-Fame quarterback, and Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in the league. Eli Rodgers as emerged as a solid #2 receiver, the defense is opportunistic, the starters are well-rested, and I see the Steelers pulling away late in what should be a fun game.
Prediction: Dolphins 17, Steelers 30.
New York Giants (11-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-6) (4:40/3:40c, FOX)
The final game of Wild Card Weekend is the one that everyone is looking forward to. Two storied franchises, with recent playoff history, Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and more.The winner will play in Dallas next week, and while that game will be must-watch, so is this one.
The Giants have been carried by their defense, yet still have the ability to go off on offense due to Eli Manning at quarterback, elite receiver Odell Beckham, and other good offensive players. Plus, the last two times that the Giants played a playoff game in Green Bay, they won close games each time, both by a final score of 23-20, and won the Super Bowl each year. If they pull off another upset, nobody should be shocked, especially since they actually have a better record than they did each of those two times.
As for Green Bay, top-level quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a resurgent defense, dual threat receiver Ty Montgomery and the Comeback Player of the Year frontrunner Jordy Nelson have helped a once 4-6 team win six straight, en route to another NFC North Division win, and a home playoff game.
On paper, the Packers should win. Their defense isn’t as good as the Giants, but it’s still pretty good. The offense is much better than the Giants offense though, and the special teams for both is solid. Add in the fact that the Packers have home field advantage here, and they should win. However, this is a Giants team that has continually defied logic, as evidenced by their last two playoff appearances. As stated earlier, the team has won the last two playoff matchups between the two sides, both in Green Bay, by the same score, en route to the Super Bowl. Recent history favors them. While that is eerie, I can’t go against my gut and logic. I see this being a fun, close game, but going in favor of the home team this time. I see it going as it did in their Week 5 matchup from this year, with each team scoring an additional touchdown to boot.
Prediction: Giants 23, Packers 30