We’ve trudged through the first half of Wild Card Weekend on Saturday night. Maybe Wild Card Sunday offers a bit more drama than the drubbings the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks gave out as late duds. Now let’s preview what happens when the Miami Dolphins visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. Can the Dolphins pull off the tremendous upset on the road?
Then, when Eli Manning and the New York Giants go for their third playoff win at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. Are either of these two teams the true NFC dark horses?
That, and our overall Super Bowl picks ahead.
1. Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday afternoon: Is there any conceivable way the Dolphins can pull off the upset with Matt Moore? Are the Steelers too streaky to win the AFC?
Robert Zeglinski: Miami was a team this season that was buoyed by a relatively easy schedule. They only played three playoff teams (Seattle, New England twice, and Pittsburgh) and came out of those match-ups 1-3. Otherwise, first year head coach Adam Gase’s team beat up on bottom feeders in the AFC East in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, and every team in the NFC West not named the Seahawks. The statistics reflect it too. Miami was just 17th overall in DVOA – inherently not very impressive.
Do they have a shot against Pittsburgh? Yes, depending on which Steelers team shows up. If it’s the Steelers that won seven straight games to close the season, no one may knock them off. If it’s the Steelers with an erratic Ben Roethlisberger, and a defense that all of a sudden collapses as it did earlier in the season between the two, then maybe the Dolphins pull this out.
Not today though. This is by far the coldest game Miami will have played in all year, and they’ll go into a deep freeze while the Steelers get even more hot for a deep run.
Brian Hall: I don’t see how the Dolphins can pull this one off. Sure, their defense gave a (still recovering from injury) Roethlisberger fits the last time they played, but if you can’t do anything with the ball, you won’t get anywhere. The Steelers might be able to roll all the way to the AFC Championship just because they can outgun the Chiefs. But consistency is definitely an issue, especially when they’d likely be playing one of the most consistently excellent teams in the New England Patriots.
Big Ben might be the second best quarterback in this AFC playoff race, but even with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell helping him, I don’t see the Steelers going all the way.
They’ll still beat Miami, though.
Sam Pouncey: Keeping with the theme of bluntness, no there isn’t any conceivable way the Dolphins pull off the upset with Matt Moore.
Big Ben against Matt Moore in a playoff game and Roethlisberger gets to play at home with weapons like Brown and Bell. Put it this way, could the “jacked bro” at your gym who has every color “Tapout” tee ever made beat Connor McGregor in a fight at McGregor’s house with one arm? No.
Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t good enough to get them through the AFC, and Big Ben has been inconsistent all season, but this weekend they are the better team and get to stay at home.
Dan Soden: The best thing going for Moore in this game is Jay Ajayi. If Ajayi can pull off a repeat performance or even half of what he did last time against the Steelers it’s going to be a rough day for Pittsburgh. The combo of Ajayi and Jarvis Landry has the ability to punish a less than stellar Steelers defense.
On the other side of the ball the Steelers have two of the best players at their respective positions in Brown and Bell, while the Dolphins have a pretty questionable defense too. However they did seem to have the answer last game for Brown holding him to just 4 catches and 39 yards.
It’s going to be a shootout with the reality that whoever wins will most likely fall to the Patriots sooner or later regardless. Neither team is a true contender, but as far as Sunday goes I have the Dolphins knocking off the Steelers.
4. Packers-Giants, Sunday evening: New York-Green Bay at Lambeau for the third time in the past decade. How do the Packers attack the Giants’ elite secondary? Is Eli Manning too much of a question mark for New York?
Robert Zeglinski: Here’s the thing. There is no hotter quarterback in the NFL right now than Aaron Rodgers. In his last seven games, Rodgers threw for 2,018 yards, completed 69.7 percent of his passes, and had 18 touchdowns to zero interceptions. That’s just an absurd level of play for a passer and it’s why the Packers sit here with a home playoff game after starting the season 4-6. The best player in football offers you that opportunity.
However, he’s going to have to do that for four straight games on the backs of an objectively mediocre defense. The Green Bay defense was just 20th overall in DVOA this season, and was 31st against the pass. There have been comparisons of this team to the last Packers squad that won a championship in 2010, but that team was second overall in defensive DVOA. They could shut you down. Not this Packers team.
The Giants offense on the other hand, while inherently mediocre on their own, have enough weapons in Odell Beckham Jr. and company to burn a subpar defense like Green Bay’s. For whatever reason, Manning turns it on in Lambeau in January too, as he’s the only quarterback with two playoff road wins in Green Bay in NFL history. Two games, 581 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
The awkward Manning becomes a different player in January and with the league’s second best defense backing him up to slow Rodgers, this is only the beginning of another special run from the Giants.
Brian Hall: What’s really interesting about the way that the Packers kill a secondary is by the fact that it’s by waiting long enough for the coverage to eventually break down after five, six, or sometimes eight seconds. Rodgers outside of the pocket is arguably the most lethal weapon on any NFL offense, and if the Packers want to crack this secondary, they’ll need him to move like his hair is on fire. He’s looked good lately extending plays with the run or finding an open man when coverage is seemingly tight, so you can expect the Giants to be spying and blitzing to keep that to a minimum.
However I think the most intriguing matchup here is the Giants receivers against the Packers secondary, mostly because the Packers barely have a secondary left. As frustrating and boring as their offense can be at times, New York has a huge edge downfield. With Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shepard, that should be exploited all night long. Eli doesn’t have to play a perfect game, but if he can utilize the crazy talent he’s surrounded by, the Giants should overwhelm what’s left of that back-end.
It’s so hard to bet against Rodgers playing the way he is and getting the home game, but I’ll go with the Giants here.
New York wins.
Sam Pouncey: If commissioner Roger Goodell really cared about the fans, he would have decreed that Green Bay automatically lose last week’s game because the divisional round would have been much better with both of these teams in it. And yes, I would have picked the Packers over Seahawks in Seattle.
Rodgers has caught fire ever since going Joe Namath with guarantees in week 12. He will attack the New York secondary the same way he attacks everyone, by being a full-blown cyborg. No Eli isn’t too much of a question mark, and no Odell and the boys going to Miami isn’t why the Giants lose either. This Packers team has the same vibe of the last Packers team to win the Super Bowl in 2010. Ironically, it’s the same vibe that the 2007 and 2011 Giants had too.
Green Bay wins.
Dan Soden: Rodgers is going to be one busy guy. The Packers who enter this game with the 20th ranked run offense, led by wide receiver turned running back, Ty Montgomery, will be facing off with the third ranked rushing defense, led by Damon Harrison. While both teams are primarily pass first, the Giants have been improving with the help of rookie rusher, Paul Perkins, who could see an increased work load.
The Giants defense against the incredible Rodgers-led offense might be one of the best match-ups to watch during Wild Card weekend, but there is always two sides to the story.
The Giants offense has been almost more interesting off the field then on it this season. With Cruz upset about touches and the wide receiver core hanging out on yachts in Timberland and designer jeans, it’s hard to imagine what shows up this afternoon. The combo of Beckham Jr. and Manning has had its moments, but it’s also come up short. The Giants are going to need to attack the middle of the field if they really want to stand a chance. This one will be the Packers game to lose, which I think they will.
New York wins.
5. Pick your conference champions, Super Bowl winner, and Super Bowl MVP.
Robert Zeglinski: The Steelers at their best are the best team in the AFC. No one can match their explosiveness and versatility on offense. And an underrated defense that’s better than New England’s can lock you down when necessary. Pittsburgh will go to Houston in February.
Brian Hall: The Patriots. The rest of that conference field is kind of a dumpster fire with tons of quarterback injuries, and the Pats are too good.
Sam Pouncey: The Patriots in their continued mission against “DeflateGate”.
Dan Soden: While I think the Chiefs could ultimately take down the Patriots, I’ve learned a long time ago to never bet against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady unless they are playing the Giants in the Super Bowl. That said, I’m taking the Patriots to win the AFC.
Robert Zeglinski: The Falcons have the league’s best offense, both in traditional statistics and in DVOA. Their defense in the bottom third in both categories would normally sink any other contender. But, they have playmakers such as Vic Beasley Jr. (league leader in sacks) and Deion Jones (Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate) that will make timely plays any champion needs. Atlanta for the NFC.
Brian Hall: The Falcons? The Falcons! I think Dallas’s magical season will end sooner than they hope, because it just has to, right? Can a backfield of rookies really carry you to the Super Bowl? I don’t think so.
Sam Pouncey: Green Bay to win the NFC, even as the “technically” fourth best division champion.
Dan Soden: The Falcons and their historical offense is no match for my loyalty. I mean, defense’s win championships, right? I’m siding with the Giants for the NFC, commence the throwing of tomatoes.
Super Bowl champion and MVP:
Robert Zeglinski: Atlanta over Pittsburgh with Julio Jones shining as the MVP torching Pittsburgh’s secondary.
Brian Hall: It’s hard to bet against the Patriots with how good they’ve looked, which is exactly why you should, because that’s when they always seem to blow it. I’ll take Atlanta. And you could say Matt Ryan, but I’ll take Jones because he does everything for that offense.
Sam Pouncey: Give me the greatest quarterback of all-time (Tom Brady) for another Super Bowl and another Super Bowl MVP.
Dan Soden: History always repeats itself so the Giants will beat the Patriots and Odell Beckham Jr. will receive the Super Bowl MVP along with a million more ridiculous headlines.
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