Unproven quarterbacks take center stage this weekend, as three of the six starting quarterbacks will be making their first career playoff start. For the betting crowd, that unknown factor makes these games difficult to predict.
Below, each game for Wild Card weekend is predicted by members of our sports staff. If you don’t like the pick, be sure to click their name to let them know on Twitter how you feel about it.
With that in mind, here are Heavy’s predictions for Wild Card Weekend:
Raiders vs. Texans
Oswieler vs. Cook. Two playoff debuts. While the quarterbacks dominate the discussion, it’ll be the running backs that determine the outcome of Saturday’s playoff opener. Lamar Miller has missed the previous two games in order to prepare for his playoff debut, and the Texans will need to feed him early and often. The Raiders have a stable of young backs to support first-time starter Connor Cook, but they must do it against the league’s top-ranked defense. If the Raiders get forced into third-and-long situations, Jadeveon Clowney might give Cook a rude introduction to NFL football.
Lions vs. Seahawks
The Seahawks had an inconsistent end to the season, alternating wins and losses throughout December. It’s fortunate then that they draw the Lions in the first round, a team that lost three straight to end the regular season. Detroit needed a fourth quarter comeback in eight of nine wins this season, and Matthew Stafford’s finger injury has greatly reduced the ability of the offense. The offense has done a good job masking a mediocre defense this season, one that surrendered 73 points over the last two weeks. Seattle has their own flaws, but they should be able to get by Detroit on home-field advantage alone. The staff seems to agree.
Dolphins vs. Steelers
The biggest spread of the weekend is in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are double-digit favorites over the Dolphins. While that may surprise some, it may surprise others to know that the Dolphins defeated the Steelers 30-15 in Miami earlier this season. Ryan Tannehill won’t be playing Sunday but Jay Ajayi will, and the J-Train rolled through the Steelers defense for over 200 yards in the first meetings. Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out of the first meeting with a knee injury, and he’ll be the difference-maker on Sunday. Roethlisberger’s deep ball keeps the pressure of Le’Veon Bell, who has been the best player in the NFL over the final month of the season.
Giants vs. Packers
The Giants return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, closing out Wild Card weekend with Sunday Night in Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers has been running the league’s hottest offense, and hasn’t thrown an interception in seven weeks. That streak will be tested against the Giants outstanding secondary, provided the G-Men are able to apply pressure up front. The Packers defense has forced a turnover in six straight games, and Eli Manning has been shaky to end the regular season. The outcome Sunday will depend on whether the Giants can make enough plays to take the game from Rodgers before Eli has a chance to give it away.