LOS ANGELES, January 6, 2017 — The 2016 NFL regular season is in the history books. 32 teams came in, and 20 have gone home. The road to Super Bowl LI (51) begins with four Wildcard games.
Football does not require hyperbole, grace, or waxing poetic. It is a game where grown men beat the daylights out of each other in brutally cold weather for the right to hold the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
With that, here is the NFL 2016-2017 Wildcard Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
AFC: 4:30 p.m. ABC: 5.) Oakland Raiders (12-4) at 4.) Houston Texans (9-7)
Line: Texans -3.5
This game is the Attrition Bowl. The Raiders saw Derek Carr go down with a broken leg in Week 16 and backup Matt McGloin suffer an injured shoulder in Week 17. The Raiders are down to third-string quarterback Connor Cook, who has never started an NFL game. Until last week, he had never thrown an NFL pass outside of preseason. The Texans are also a mess, with Tom Savage in concussion protocol and Brock Osweiler playing badly.
Although the Raiders beat the Texans in Mexico City a few weeks ago, the Texans actually outplayed the Raiders. A pair of very controversial calls helped the Raiders, and that was with Carr. The Texans have a great defense led by Jadavean Clowney while the Raiders have a terrible secondary. The Raiders have an excellent offensive line and can run the football. They will have to run the ball to take the pressure off Cook.
Prediction: The Texans have the home field, but analysts everywhere are counting the Raiders out. While the “nobody respects us or gives us a chance” mantra is a tired cliche, in this case it is accurate. Jack Del Rio will have his team ready. Upset special, Raiders win outright.
NFC: 8:15 p.m. NBC: 6.) Detroit Lions (9-7) at 3.) Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
Line: Seahawks by 8
This game is the Inconsistency Bowl. The Lions come in reeling on a three-game losing streak, including a finale where they blew a gift-wrapped chance at home to win their division. The Seahawks barely survived a wretched San Francisco team, and the normally unified Seahawks have been fighting amongst themselves on the sideline and in the locker room.
The Lions have the offense and the Seahawks have the defense. Jim Caldwell is a calm, stoic man who never lets his players get too high or too low. Pete Carroll is as excitable and energetic as men 20 years younger than him. They both believe in positive reinforcement, which keeps their teams in games even when they fall behind early.
Prediction: The spread is too high. Seattle does not blow teams out, and Detroit fights to the end. Matthew Stafford knows how to mount a comeback. The Lions showed in December that they were not able to compete on the road against better teams. Seattle is a better team than they are. The 12th man will make it tough on Stafford, and the Legion of Boom will not lose at home when it counts. Seahawks win but fail to cover.
Sunday, January 8
AFC: 1:00 p.m. CBS: 6.) Miami Dolphins (10-6) at 3.) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Line: Steelers by 10
Ryan Tannehill is still injured, but Matt Moore is better than your average backup. After a 1-4 start, Miami went 9-1 until a loss against a New England team that seems to beat everybody. Ben Roethlisberger was given Week 17 off, and the rest will do him good.
Roethlisberger showed he is as good as ever in a thrilling Week 16 comeback win against arch rival Baltimore. Miami has a good defense, but LeVeon Bell is going to be used as a battering ram early and often. Neither of these teams is as great as those from the glory days of the 1970s, but they are very good. Antonio Brown is playing as well as any receiver in the league.
Prediction: In a game of smash-mouth, the Steelers have the tougher quarterback, the experience, and the bell cow running back. Miami went into Buffalo two weeks ago and won, so they can win cold weather games. However, Pittsburgh is not Buffalo. The spread is high, but expect the Steelers to pound away at the Miami defense in a game Jerome Bettis wishes he could play in. Steelers win but fail to cover.
NFC: 4:30 p.m. FOX: 5.) New York Giants (11-5) at 4.) Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Line: Packers by 5
The 20-16 Packers began 4-6 and even some Green Bay columnists were suggesting that maybe Mike McCarthy needed to move on. Aaron Rodgers said the Packers had a chance to run the table. Then the Packers did it to capture their fifth NFC North crown in six years. The Giants are winning with stifling defense and even swept Dallas. The 2007 Giants were only 10-6, but they went into Green Bay and beat the 13-3 Packers in overtime in the NFC Title Game to end the Brett Favre era in Green Bay. The 2011 Giants were only 9-7, but in the divisional round they went into Green Bay and hit the 15-1 Packers in the mouth.
The Packers offense is clicking on all cylinders. Rodgers is in a groove. On paper, this looks like a win for the Packers. That was also the case in 2007 and 2011. However, those Giants teams also had a battering ram running back. Eli Manning is running Ben McAdoo’s version of the West Coast offense rather than traditional Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin smash mouth. The Packers are rolling, and at home, Aaron Rodgers with the ball last will get the job done. Packers win but fail to cover.
AFC: 2.) Kansas City Chiefs and 1.) New England Patriots
NFC: 2.) Atlanta Falcons and 1.) Dallas Cowboys