Oakland Raiders vs Houston Texans
Sunday January 8, 8:35am AEDT on ESPN and 7mate
NRG Stadium – Houston, TX
The 12-4 Raiders are making their first playoff appearance since 2002 behind the MVP-level play of quarterback Derek Carr, who was also key to Oakland making an extended playoff run. Now with Carr injured, the Raiders are going into their first playoff game in 15 years with a rookie quarterback who’s 14-21 on the season for just 150 yards.
Meanwhile, the 9-7 AFC South Champion Texans have QB problems of their own. After replacing Brock Osweiler with Tom Savage for the final three games of the season, the Texans have been forced to go back to Osweiler after Savage was concussed in the final game of the season. Osweiler has been at the centre of Houston’s offensive woes this season, completing at just 59% and throwing more picks than TDs.
This will be a game between an elite defence and what was an elite offence with Carr at the helm. Houston are just 29th in the league in total yards while Oakland are sixth, but the Texans’ defence leads the league in yards per game and Oakland are one of seven teams to give up more than 6000 yards.
Both Houston and Oakland are in the top ten for rushing yards so expect this one to be won on the ground. The loss of Carr hurts Oakland so much that Houston’s already stifling defence should be the key to this game.
Houston by 3.
Detroit Lions vs Seattle Seahawks
Sunday January 8, 12:15pm AEDT on ESPN and 7mate
CenturyLink Field – Seattle, WA
The 10-5-1 NFC West Champion Seahawks have never lost a playoff game at home, while the 9-7 Lions have never won in Seattle and this one doesn’t look like being any different.
Both teams come into the playoffs with injury issues. Lions QB Matthew Stafford has been struggling with an injured finger on his throwing hand that is one of the reasons Detroit has stumbled into the playoffs on the back of the three-game losing streak. During that streak, the Lions have allowed the most TDs in the NFL (10) and haven’t recorded a single interception.
The Seahawks lost a defensive leader in safety Earl Thomas to a broken leg and have gone 2-2 since. They haven’t been able to find stability at the running back position with their top three players in rushing yards being Christine Michael (now with Green Bay), Thomas Rawls (injured) and Russell Wilson, while backup RB CJ Prosise is also out injured.
Despite a slow start to the season due to injury, Seattle QB Russell Wilson is back in midseason form and Seattle’s defence is once again elite. The Seahawks defence is fifth in yards per game (5,099) and third in points per game (18.3) while linebacker Bobby Wagner leads the league in tackles at 167.
On paper, both teams are evenly matched offensively, so expect Seattle’s defence to win this one for the Seahawks.
Seattle by 7.
Miami Dolphins vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Monday January 9, 5:05am AEDT on ESPN and 7mate
Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, PA
The 10-6 Dolphins come into Pittsburgh without starting QB Ryan Tannehill, replaced by Matt Moore who is making his first career postseason start. Miami already holds a regular season win over the Steelers, which came on the back of a 200-yard performance from RB Jay Ajayi.
The AFC North Champion Steelers come into the playoffs on the back of seven consecutive wins with veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger making his 18th career playoff start. Pittsburgh are on fire at the moment and pretty healthy for this point of the season.
The running back battle will be very interesting as Ajayi goes up against Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, who ranks fourth and fifth in the league in rushing yards respectively, with only four yards separating them.
The game will likely be won in the air. Pittsburgh rank fifth in passing yards and have an elite wide receiver in Antonio Brown, who’s fifth in the league in receiving yards with 1284 and second in touchdowns with 12, while Miami are just 26th and that was with Tannehill under center.
Miami will need another 200-yard game from Ajayi if they want to advance.
Steelers by 10.
New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers
Monday January 9, 8:40am AEDT on ESPN and 7mate
Lambeau Field – Green Bay, WI
The 10-6 NFC North Champion Packers host the 11-5 New York Giants in what will be a game of a great Green Bay offence, led by Aaron Rodgers against a brilliant New York defence.
Green Bay have been one of the most potent offences in the league, ranking fourth in points per game at 27 while ranking seventh in passing yards (4199) and eighth in total yards (5900). That’s been on the back of Aaron Rodgers having another trademark Aaron Rodgers season of 4428 yards, good for fourth in the NFL and leading the league with 40 touchdowns.
His preferred target, wide receiver Jordy Nelson has gone for 1257 yards and a league-leading 14 TDs himself. Rodgers had a strong finish to the season after he accurately claimed that the Packers would “run the table” and go 6-0. He hasn’t thrown 15 TDs and zero interceptions in those six games and zero interceptions in his last 245 attempts.
The Giants have had one of the stingiest defences in the league, allowing just 17.8 points per game, second in the league behind only the New England Patriots. They also allow only 88.6 rushing yards per game, good for third in the league.
The Giants secondary is a scary prospect for Rodgers – they’ve defended the second-most passes in the league (97) and are tied for second with the most interceptions in the league with 17. A big portion of the secondary’s success has been Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a man who is second in the league in both categories with 21 passes defended and six interceptions.
Packers by 3.