Jan 07 2017

NFL 2016 Wild Card Gameplan

11 more games to go for the 2016 NFL season!

Happy New Year, and welcome to the postseason. We now have 12 playoff teams, and looking back at the 2016 Hypothesis Report, I correctly identified 8 of them: New England, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Oakland in the AFC, and Seattle, Green Bay, and New York in the NFC.

I missed on Miami in the AFC, and Dallas, Atlanta, and Detroit in the NFC. I originally had the defending Super Bowl 50 champions Denver in the 6th and last AFC Wild Card, while I originally had NFC Championship finalists Carolina and Arizona getting in the NFC playoffs this year along with Minnesota.

As for the 2016 regular season? I ended 2016 with a 14-2 mark in Week 17, my season-best. Let’s just say it was my best season this decade:

There were two games I missed in Week 17, and they were both close:

– On a day that saw the Buccaneers get eliminated from postseason contention, they at least finished with a 9-7 record, intercepting Carolina QB Cam Newton three times and batting away a potential go-ahead two-point conversion attempt to win 17-16.

– In a “meaningless” game that saw the Texans lose QB Tom Savage due to a concussion, the Titans also finished 9-7, with Tennessee Pro Bowl DE Jurrell Casey recording 2.0 of the Titans’ 4 sacks in a 24-17 win.

It's time. Who ya got? #NFLPlayoffs

A photo posted by NFL (@nfl) on

Following the Conference Championships (during Pro Bowl week), I’ll do a full review of the 2016 Hypothesis Report. But you came here for predictions now. Well, if you look at what I said would happen before the season started, then you’d see that the two teams that I had making it out of their respective conferences are still alive. That means Wild Card victories for both the Steelers and Seahawks. I also have the Packers winning at home, and the Raiders being the only road team to advance on Wild Card weekend.

That would set up the Seahawks to go to Atlanta for the Divisional round, where they lost 4 seasons ago. They avenge that defeat this year, while the Raiders finally get their revenge for the overblown Tuck Rule game from the 2001 Divisional round and win in New England. In a nice twist, the Packers and Chiefs would both play on the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl I, with the Chiefs hosting the Steelers and the Packers going to Dallas. I have the road teams winning every game on Divisional weekend – one and dones for all the 1st round byes!

From there, I would have the Steelers advancing to Super Bowl LI with a win over the Raiders, which is not something I want to see. But this isn’t about me. It’s about what will happen, unless determined otherwise. I would like to see the Seahawks eliminate the Packers in Seattle again in the NFC Championship. And I still have the Seahawks getting that second Super Bowl, exacting revenge on the Steelers from the horribly officiated Super Bowl XL.

An overview of the biggest strength and biggest weakness of each unit in the 2016 postseason for each team.

When necessary, I’ll reset the deck. But that’s what I’ve got going into the weekend. Now here’s more of what to look for going into the Wild Card round:

Oakland at Houston: I love how everyone is writing this game off, the Mexico City rematch, because it features a team with an injured starting QB (Oakland) and a team with one of the worst starting QBs this season (Houston). It’s almost like QBs are the only thing to watch in the playoffs! Never mind the fact that, for the second year in a row, 8 QBs who passed for at least 4,000 yards played for teams that failed to qualify for the postseason. The Raiders are terrible on defense and somehow managed to finish dead last in the NFL in sacks despite the presence of edge rushers Khalil Mack (11.0 sacks, 5 forced fumbles) and Bruce Irvin (7.0 sacks, 6 forced fumbles); the rest of Oakland’s defense had 7.0 sacks for the entire season. But Oakland should be able to stick with the run to protect rookie QB Connor Cook, even with Pro Bowl LT Donald Penn injured, while they wait for Houston QB Brock Osweiler to make the big mistake in the middle of the field.

Detroit at Seattle: The Lions made the playoffs, which is glorious, because their success makes no damn sense. Detroit trailed in the 4th quarter in all but one game this season, and they still haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since hiring Jim Caldwell as head coach in 2014. The last time the Lions won a playoff game was in the 1991 postseason, and the last time they won a playoff game on the road was in 1957! And they get to go to Seattle, where the Seahawks went 7-1 this season, have won 9 postseason games in a row at home dating back to the 2005 playoffs, and beat the Lions in 2015 on Monday Night Football on a controversial non-call. The Seahawks offensive line is notoriously bad, but it remains to be seen if the Lions and their bottom-five pass rush and worst pass defense in the league can take advantage of it.

Miami at Pittsburgh: This is a rematch of a Week 6 matchup that saw the Dolphins bludgeon the Steelers on both sides of the ball in Miami. Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi had the first of what turned out to be 3 200-yard rushing games, while Miami tore Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger’s meniscus in what turned out to be a 30-15 victory. Miami would lose QB Ryan Tannehill to a sprained knee in December, but QB Matt Moore has been solid in helping the Dolphins clinch their first postseason berth since 2008. Pittsburgh will have Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown at full health for the first time in the postseason, with Bell making his first postseason appearance ever. Bell will likely be the difference maker at Heinz Field, as the Dolphins allowed 145.1 scrimmage yards per game to RBs this season – the 5 teams that allowed more than that this season all missed the postseason.

New York Giants at Green Bay: This game here is the Game of the Week, and every time these teams matched up in the playoffs, the winner has gone on to win either the Super Bowl or NFL Championship. The last two times, the winner has been New York, with QB Eli Manning going to Lambeau Field in the 2011 and 2007 postseasons and winning both times. That said, Manning had a typically pedestrian season despite his overhyped WR corps, a unit that caught only 7 of Manning’s 22 passes for a measly 70 yards in a Week 5 loss at Green Bay. The Packers secondary was banged up in that game too, and QB Aaron Rodgers threw 2 INTs to Giants Pro Bowl CB Janoris Jenkins – if anything, the Packers secondary will have CB Damarious Randall available, while Rodgers has been the best passer in the league during Green Bay’s 6-game winning streak to close the season, throwing 15 TD passes without an INT. The Giants have the 2nd-best scoring defense in the NFL and the 2nd-best pass defense – but they get the least points in the league from their run game, so it will be challenging for their bottom-10 offense to keep up with Rodgers at home, especially if New York’s pass rush doesn’t force some turnovers.

New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks grabs a 37-yard touchdown pass while being covered by the Green Bay Packers safety Charlie Peprah in the second quarter of their divisional playoff game Sunday, January 15, 2012 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. (MARK HOFFMAN/Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel)

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