The field is set with 12 teams vying to hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February. The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs will be watching this weekend to see who advances to play them in the AFC Divisional Round. The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Miami Dolphins while the Houston Texans will entertain the Oakland Raiders. Two teams will be sent packing while the other two will take one step closer to Super Bowl glory.
Raiders @ Texans
This game will feature a pair of teams who are in quarterback peril at the moment. Oakland’s Derek Carr suffered a broken fibula on Christmas Eve against the Indianapolis Colts, so he will act as cheerleader this weekend. Carr’s backup, Matt McGloin will not start due to a shoulder injury suffered in the regular season finale against the Denver Broncos. That leaves rookie Connor Cook to start under center for the Raiders. Cook will become the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first start of his career in the postseason.
Houston, who will start the 72-million-dollar man, Brock Osweiler, are also in a troublesome predicament. Osweiler was benched late in the regular season due to poor play and Tom Savage took over. Unfortunately for Houston, Savage is in concussion protocol and will be inactive for this game, leaving Osweiler to start and Brandon Weeden to serve as backup. Yikes.
This matchup will come down to the defenses. In the Nov. 22 matchup in Mexico City, Oakland linebacker Khalil Mack gave Osweiler problems all game long and will need to do so again to give his team a chance in this game. For Houston, Jadeveon Clowney will look to add onto his Pro Bowl season and clog up the running lanes while also getting after Cook.
This game will not be for the faint of heart and will likely not see much scoring. Whichever team, mainly the quarterbacks, who can make the fewest mistakes will advance. Naturally, this game will kick off Wild Card weekend.
Dolphins @ Steelers
These two team squared off back in Week 6 where the Dolphins handled the Steelers. Jay Ajayi ran all over the Pittsburgh defense for 204 yards and two scores. Miami controlled the time of possession, outgained Pittsburgh by over 200 yards and won the turnover battle by +2.
The Steelers are fully rested after Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell all got Week 17 against the Browns off. In the Week 6 encounter, Roethlisberger was banged up with a knee injury and was limited to 189 yards and two picks. This high-octane offense should have the advantage against a depleted Miami defense. The Dolphins will be without both the starting corner backs who picked off Big Ben earlier this season.
In the past two weeks, Miami has given up nearly 1,000 yards, something that is not good news facing this Pittsburgh offense. When these two teams first met, Bell got only 16 touches, something that surely will change this go around. Even if Miami loads the box up against Bell, Roethlisberger has too many weapons to throw to.
Matt Moore will make his first career postseason start, filling in for the injured Ryan Tannehill. If Moore can somehow match points with Roethlisberger, the game should be a lot closer than the 10-points Vegas is giving the Steelers.
This will be the first playoff game for Miami since 2008. While Pittsburgh has played in 10 postseason games in that time frame, including a Super Bowl victory in 2009. Arguably the biggest factor of this game will be the cold weather in Pittsburgh, something Miami isn’t used to playing in. The Steelers are also riding a seven-game winning streak into the game.