Aaron Rodgers, Adam Gase, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Wake, Eli Manning, Green Bay Packers, Jay Ajayi, Landon Collins, Le'Veon Bell, Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins, Ndamukong Suh, New York Giants, NFL, Odell Beckham, Paul Perkins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, Wildcard Weekend
With yesterday’s games turning out to be easy home wins, our attention shifts to tonight’s matchups in the hopes of more competitive fixtures
Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
In something of a theme for wildcard week, the Miami Dolphins face the Steelers with a backup quarterback. However, Matt Moore has looked pretty good and has at least won two of the three games that he has played. The Dolphins offence may not be consistently effective, but they have a number of play makers, and Jay Ajayi will be hoping to have the kind of success he had against the Steelers in week six when he ran for two hundred yards and the Dolphins won the game. That win sparked a six game win streak to take the Dolphins from 1-4 to 7-4 but this game is a tough ask. Their defence will face a difficult teat against the Steelers, particularly with their twenty-second ranked rush defence by DVOA goes against Le’Veon Bell, but if Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake can get going then maybe the Dolphins can contain them.
The strength of this Steelers team is the combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. However, Roethlisberger has not quite looked himself since his return from a knee injury and it is very possible that he is banged up. As a result Antonio Brown has not been quite as dominant as last season, but he is still a phenomenal player, and you only have to look at the play he made against the Ravens in week sixteen as he stretched for the winning touchdown to see the impact he can still have. The good news for the Steelers is that they finally come into the playoffs with Le’Veon Bell healthy and having run for over twelve hundred yards in just twelve games. The defence may present some concerns given their up and down performance but they will want to make up for the two hundred yards they gave up early in the year.
If the Dolphins defence can do enough to limit the Steelers, then with their big play options on offence the Dolphins can do enough to win this game, but it is hard to see them doing so. This is Adam Gase’s first year with the Dolphins and their first appearance in the playoffs since the 2008 season, whilst the Steelers are filled with playoff experience and an offence that if it gets going could put this game away quickly. I expect the Steelers to win this game, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Dolphins got beaten heavily or made a game of it.
New York Giants (11-5) @ Green Bay Packers (10-6)
This is the game of the wildcard weekend. The Packers won their division with a six game win streak after Aaron Rodgers stated they would win out and the team backed that up by doing just that. The Packers have had problems with injuries, patching up their secondary and making do at running back. The offence has now found a formula they can make work and have scored thirty or more in the last four games. However, although defence led the league in rush defence early on, injuries have seen this unit slip to be distinctly average. At home they will hope that the offence can take the pressure off, but a young secondary could be the Achilles heel of the Packers in this game.
The Giants come into this game with a defence ranked number two in defence by DVOA having been thirtieth the year before. This is the largest single year improvement of defence ever recorded by DVOA and is off the back of a bunch of free agent signings and a major step forward by second year safety Landon Collin. In fact Collins leads the team in tackles with one hundred, plus four sacks, and five interceptions, which is an incredible season by anyone’s standard. This defence turnaround is very timely as the offence has really struggled for a lot of this year. The Giants have been unable to run the ball effectively and Eli Manning has thrown sixteen interceptions as he’s struggled to find his receivers consistently. Both Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz have had their moments, but too often the Giants offence has been reliant on big plays to Odell Beckham. That said, Paul Perkins did manage to run for one hundred yards against Washington next week, and if the Giants can be a bit more balanced on offence or find Beckham a couple of times then they stand a real chance in this game.
I am really not sure who is going to win this one, but I am expecting a good game to close out the Wildcard weekend.