Bill O'Brien, Brock Osweiler, Connor Cook, Derek Carr, Detroit Lions, Earl Thomas, Houston Texans, Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt, Khalil Mack, Matthew Stafford, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Tom Savage
Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ Houston Texans (9-7)
There are some that are being sniffy about this game, but there aren’t that many games left so we shouldn’t be too picky and we will be seeing history when Connor Cook becomes the first quarterback to start their first game in the playoffs.
The Houston Texans may have lost JJ Watt early in the season, but their defence still managed to rank seventh by DVOA and this was the year where Jadeveon Clowney started to put things together. There are rumours that Bill O’Brien’s job may not be safe unless the Texans get a win in this game. Certainly as an offensive minded coach who is meant to get the best out of quarterbacks, the struggles they have had in finding a consistent starter at that position in recent years will be a concern. With Tom Savage in the concussion protocol we see the return of Brock Osweiler who struggled a lot this year, and who was cheered when he was pulled out of the game several weeks ago, although I thought he looked a little better against the Raiders when these teams met in Mexico.
It feels like the Raiders had their fairy tale return to the playoffs stolen from them when Derek Carr broke his leg in their penultimate game and to lose their backup quarterback to injury seems particularly cruel. They still have an excellent offensive line, and play with a sixth linemen more than any other team in the league, but with the problems they have had on defensive despite some very good players, they have really felt the loss at quarterback. However, they should not be without hope as there is a chasm between these two teams in DVOA ranking with the Raiders at eleven and the Texans ranked twenty ninth.
This might not be a pretty game, but there is a lot on the line and as a writer would be happy to see Osweiler prove the doubters wrong, Connor Cook announce himself to the league, Khalil Mack demonstate his pass rush ability once more or watch Jedeveon Clowney really announce himself to the league. I think I lean towards the Texans winning at home, but it would not surprise me to see the Raiders win on the road, likely to be proclaimed as one for Derek.
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks
This is another intriguing if potentially ugly game.
The Seahawks won their division and went 7-1 at home, but whilst the offence has been up and down all year through injuries and problems with their offensive line, the defence has not looked the same since Earl Thomas was lost for the season in week thirteen with a broken leg. It was Thomas’ ability to patrol between the numbers behind the defence that allowed the secondary to play as aggressively as it does, and whilst playing them in Seattle will still be a problem they do look beatable.
The problem for the Lions is that they have had their own problems this year since Matthew Stafford dislocated the tip of his middle finger on his throwing hand. The ball has not been coming out the same, and the fourth quarter heroics that so defined their early season success has dried up in recent weeks. In fact, they come into this game on a three game losing streak and could have a very tough time in this game. The hope will be that Stafford has another week to heal, and the Seahawks are struggling, but they will need to stick to the run more and hope the defence can stand up to a patchy Seahawks offence.
This was the year that Stafford took a step for me and looked more capable of winning on the road, but it is hard to see the Lions getting their first playoff victory since 1957 in Seattle under the circumstance. I would love to be proved wrong, and I could see this being a close game, but I do have a feeling that the Seahawks recent run of playoff success will prove telling.