Wild card weekend… what a wonderful time of year. If the 2016-2017 season has proved one thing in the AFC it’s that you don’t need QB stability to make the playoffs. None of the four teams competing for the AFC this weekend has had the same starting QB all year, yet here we are. This week will see the return of Brock Osweiler the starting QB, the career debut for rookie and former 3rd string QB Connor Cook, and the veteran backup Matt Moore. There are many questions about how these players will fair but one thing remains certain: all that matters in the playoffs is making plays where it counts. To put it another way, you never know what could happen and who may shine when the lights are the brightest.
Raiders vs. Texans
Connor Cook versus Brock Osweiler… not quite the makings of a playoff thriller. Without a doubt, this is a playoff game in name only with the winner headed to their likely demise in Foxborough the following week. However, there are still reasons to watch and players to be excited for. The Raiders have had a potent offense all year ranking 7th in points per game (26.0) and 6th in yards per game (373.3). However, without quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr after a season-ending leg injury, they will certainly be hampered. After finishing 12-4 and second in their division, they just missed out on a bye week after their week 17 loss to the Denver Broncos. Despite losing Derek Carr, their offense is still loaded with Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray, and Michael Crabtree. With so many weapons, a little creativity from Coach Jack Del Rio should be enough to beat the Texans. The Houston Texans have had a tough year in every way except their division standing. In arguably the worst division in football, the Texans were able to win with a 9-7 record by holding the tie breaker against the Titans. Nevertheless, this is still a team that benched their expensive starting quarterback in week 16 in favor of Tom Savage. Thanks to Savage’s week 17 concussion, Osweilers will regain his job and lead the Texans in the playoffs, but expectations should remain low. Their defense, lead by Jadeveon Clowney has been one of the main culprits of their success this season. On offense, however, DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller have delivered far below expectations and thus will limit their effectiveness in the playoffs. Expect a less-than-interesting game will many turnovers between the two inexperienced teams.
Score Prediction: 17-6 Texans
Steelers vs. Dolphins
This one should be a little more interesting. For the first time ever the Steelers will enter the playoffs with all three of the best offensive players, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown healthy and will take on a Dolphins team lead by career backup quarterback Matt Moore. Back in week 6, the Steelers went down to Miami with a banged up Big Ben and were beaten by Miami 30-15. In that game 2016 breakout star running back Jay Ajayi ran wild for 204 yards and 2 TD on just 25 carries. If the Steelers want to go on to beat this Miami team this time around, they are going to have to stop Ajayi and the Dolphins running game. That defensive strategy is one that could work given Moore’s limited playing time this season and mediocre ability when on the field. Moore is best described as a field general with rather limited play-making ability. However, Moore did play well after taking over for the final 3 games of the regular season going 2-1 while passing for 647 yards with 8 TD and 3 INTs. The real strength of the Dolphins, however, is their defensive line. Headlined by the inside presence of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake combining for 16.5 sacks on the season. Big Ben should feel protected, however, by an offensive line ranked 10th in the league by PFF. In the end, this game should be well played by both teams but the offensive firepower of the Steelers should give them the edge. Le’Veon Bell managed 1268 yards and 7 TD while Antonio Brown racked up 106 catches for 1284 yards and 12 TD. Those two players alone give them an explosive offense under the control of likely future hall of fame QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Score Prediction: 27-21 Steelers