AFC Wildcard Preview
The AFC playoffs this year aren't as interesting as they have been in previous ones. We see some of the same teams that we always see, and have some cool stories and new faces, but injuries have made what would’ve been a competitive AFC into a guaranteed AFC championship for the Patriots. Both the Chiefs and Patriots come into the playoffs as heavy favorites to make the AFC championship. Both of these teams are complete teams, they both have weaknesses of course, but between them and the other four there seems to be a big gap. The Steelers with Bell, Big Ben and Brown are always a threat, but with a defense that has been suspect, they aren’t quite on the level of the Patriots and Chiefs. The Raiders and Dolphins headline a rough situation due to injuries. With both Tannehill and Carr down, these teams pose little threat to the Steelers, and much less the top two seeds. The Texans got into the playoffs thanks to a weak division; their record versus the division accounted for five of their nine wins.
#3 Steelers versus #6 Dolphins
The Dolphins take their rushing offense and Matt Moore into Pittsburgh. Had Tannehill been healthy, this would be a toss up type of game. Seeing as there won’t be any Tannehill, this game will be placed squarely on the shoulders of Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins are 4th in the AFC averaging 4.5 yards per rush, while the Steelers defense is allowing 100 yards a game rushing. The key in this game will be if the Dolphins defense can stop one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Steelers offense ranks third in the AFC in total yards and is tied for 5th in total points this season. The defense of the Dolphins has been up and down this season, and stopping the Steelers high powered offense will be a tall order. Not only is stopping the offense going to be an issue, but scoring points with Matt Moore will be tough. He is the backup for a reason and though he has played admirably it won’t be enough. In the end, the firepower of the Steelers offense will prove too much.
Verdict: The Steelers will advance to the Divisional round.
#4 Texans versus #5 Raiders
Santa came early this year (or late?) and brought us a barn burner of a game for playoff weekend. Connor Cook versus Brock Osweiler could prove to be the matchup we have all been waiting to see, but didn’t know it. “Best of the best” and “instant classic” come to my mind as phrases used to describe this epic battle…Ok, I’ll stop being facetious. Raiders fans are in mourning still, after watching Carr go down, and with him, their slim superbowl hopes. Superbowl or not though, it was a good season with progress for the Raiders. As for the Texans, they have quite a few questions to answer heading into the off-season. For now, a playoff game between the two looms. It is important to note that even without Carr, the Raiders still boast one of the best offensive lines in football. With Latavius Murray as the work horse, and Richard and Washington as change of pace backs, the offense can rely a little more on its line and backs than the rookie quarterback. The Texans however, are no slouch against the run. With Clowney on the line they have been strong against the run most of the year. That being said, the Raiders defense (though not very strong) should be able to take advantage of the inevitable Osweiler mistakes. If Osweiler doesn’t turn the ball over, the Texans have a chance to win, but he will.
Verdict: The Raiders will advance to the divisional round.