2017 NFL Wild Card Reactions

{Originally published January 9, 2017}

There was a lot to see this past weekend as the NFL Playoffs kicked off around the country. Most notably, this was the most lopsided Wild Card weekend since 1981. Yes, the 76-point differential, on average 19 points per game, is the most of any round of its kind in just over 35 years. With such a wide scoring margin, there had to come some performances that excelled above the rest, and some disappointments. Let’s take a look.

Texans beat Raiders 27-14

Texans Quarterback, Brock Osweiler, runs for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the AFC Wild Card game on January 7, 2017

To open the playoffs, the Houston Texans showed the NFL why they have the #1 overall defense in the league. While the Oakland Raiders had a sputtering offense given their quarterback situation, Houston continued to make play after play, allowing just 203 yards along with 3 turnovers. They started off strong. After scoring a field goal, Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney jumped on a screen pass intended for Latavius Murray and hauled in an interception inside the red zone. Texans running back Lamar Miller took advantage by adding a touchdown on the next play putting Houston up 10-0. The Raiders would answer two drives later with Latavius Murray rushing in for the score to pull within 3. However, that would be as close as they would get. The Texans controlled field position with long drives downfield and pinned Oakland deep if they couldn’t quite get to field goal range. Along with the smothering defense, the Texans entered halftime up 20-7.

In the second half, both offenses couldn’t make a play longer than 6 yards until the 4th quarter. Then, finally, the Texans embattled quarterback Brock Osweiler put together a methodical drive culminating in a touchdown rush of his own. However, Raiders QB Connor Cook would answer on the next drive, throwing 9 passes including a touchdown throw to his favorite target, Andre Holmes. The scoring would stop there, as the Texans punted after two quick drives, and their defense picked off two more INTs from Cook.

Though it wasn’t the most offensively entertaining game, the Texans defense definitely impressed by dominating when the Raiders had the ball. It’s worth mentioning again, the Raiders were on their third string quarterback, but nonetheless, the Texans showed again that they are the #1 overall defense in the league. Both teams faced pressure coming in for their own reasons. Ultimately, in part due to the defense, Osweiler was able to take control while Cook struggled to find his footing. Clowney’s early interception demoralized Cook and the Raiders, and it lead to a quick Texan touchdown and a comfortable lead to build off of as the game went on. This confidence boost proved to be pivotal to the teams’ emotions. With the reenergized Houston defense, the Patriots would be wise to take notice of the skill of their opponent for the Divisional Round next weekend. It remains to be seen if the Texans will be able to stop arguably the best offense in the NFL right now.

Seahawks beat Lions 26-6

Seahawks running back, Thomas Rawls, runs for a touchdown in the 4th quarter of the NFC Wild Card game on January 7, 2017

Many anticipated a blowout in the nightcap of Saturday’s slate of games. They would ultimately be correct, thanks to a phenomenal performance by Seattle Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls. However, the result didn’t come without tension for most of the game. In fact, neither the Seahawks nor the Detroit Lions were able to get on the scoreboard until midway through the second quarter. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll took a gamble by going for a touchdown on 4th and goal from the 2-yard line. It paid off when quarterback Russell Wilson looked to his right and found his receiver Paul Richardson in the back of the end zone. Richardson would make potentially one of the best catches of the playoffs, but perhaps illegal. As Richardson looked back to catch, he was blanketed by Stanley Wilson, a Lions defensive back. That didn’t stop Richardson from reaching around him to snag the ball with one hand. However, his other hand can be seen gripping the face mask of the defender, a 15-yard penalty. The referee did throw a flag, but called defensive pass interference, which was declined by the Seahawks and the touchdown stood. Lions head coach Jim Caldwell would later call out the officiating on numerous missed calls. Nevertheless, action continued. Before halftime, the sides would trade long field goals to go into the locker room with the score 10-3 Seahawks.

In the third quarter, it was more of the same. Neither offense could muster much a drive, but Detroit did get another 50+ yard field goal to get within 4. Meanwhile, Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls was piling up yardage. He eclipsed 100 yards before halftime and would finish with 161 yards on 27 carries, averaging almost 6 yards per carry. Midway through the 4th quarter, he put an exclamation on his great night by adding a burst up the middle for a touchdown to put the Seahawks up 19-6, all but putting the Lions away. If that wasn’t enough, on the next drive Wilson found two open receivers in the end zone. Baldwin hauled in the catch, and the rout was on. Seattle went on to win by a final score of 26-6.

Though for 75% of the game, it wasn’t the dominating performance we expected, the Seahawks ultimately proved to be too much for the Lions. Give Detroit credit though…playing in perhaps the toughest environment in the NFL with so much on the line, they held their own. Nobody expected an injured Matthew Stafford to come close with the scarcity of playmakers, but they hung in there and kept the game from getting out of hand. Unfortunately for the Lions, coupled with some controversial officiating, the Seahawks had too much talent and pulled away in the end. Jim Caldwell may have let some questionable calls get the best of him. It would behoove him to let the referees do their job and move forward, he can’t change their decisions, so don’t dwell on it. It was an uphill battle to begin with and piling on excuses never helps matters. In any case, the Lions’ 25 year playoff victory drought will go at least one more year.

Steelers beat Dolphins 30-12

Steelers running back, Le’veon Bell, breaks a tackle in the AFC Wild Card game on January 8, 2017

In a rematch from Week 6, the Steelers and Dolphins game had some similar statistics. The winner scored 30, a running back put a record in jeopardy, and there was more lack of discipline. The Steelers took hardly any time to adjust to the flow of the game. On the first drive, Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with his star receiver Antonio Brown for a 50-yard touchdown. On their next drive, they would connect for a 62-yard score. Before the Dolphins knew it, they were down 14-0 early. They would answer with a 12-play drive, but it culminated in just a field goal. However, the Steelers remained hot, and their third drive ended with their third touchdown. This time it was a run by Le’veon Bell. The Dolphins answered with another field goal, but could feel their season slipping away from them, now down 20-6. On the Steelers’ final drive of the half, after completing his first 11 passes, Roethlisberger was ready to break the record for most passes without an incompletion in the first half of a playoff game. Unfortunately, on his 12th pass, he threw a completion to the wrong team.

The next Dolphin drive got interesting. The Steelers, up big and with all of the momentum, started getting scrappy. Its unclear if they were provoked by Miami players shouting, but after almost every play there would be some extracurricular activity. Luckily for Pittsburgh, the penalties thrown got offset, but this has been a continuous problem that head coach Mike Tomlin needs to get control of before it costs them another game. On one play in particular, linebacker Bud Dupree smoked Miami quarterback Matt Moore just after he let go of a pass. He would be flagged for roughing the passer, but due to the ensuing chaos of Dolphins protecting their quarterback, it would be offset by an unnecessary roughness call on the offense. Moore was forced to leave the field to undergo concussion protocol, but was cleared after a couple minutes. Just before the half, the Dolphins drove inside the 10, seemingly about to squash all of the Steelers’ momentum. But linebacker James Harrison wasn’t about to let the Dolphins back in the game. He came up with a strip sack with seconds remaining to shut the door and go into the half well in control.

To start the second half, Pittsburgh forced a fumble and an interception by linebacker Ryan Shazier. They converted this into 10 more points behind some more hard running by Le’veon Bell. After that, there isn’t much to comment on. With the game well in hand, the Steelers played conservatively. For Miami, Jay Ajayi, a key playmaker who broke 200 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 6, went down with a shoulder injury. He ended his day with only 33 yards on 16 carries. On the flip side, Le’veon Bell broke a Steeler franchise record for must rushing yards in a playoff game with 167 and two touchdowns. Behind remarkable performances by the Killer Bs, the Steelers are looking ahead to the Chiefs in the divisional round.

The Steelers were able to flip the script on Miami, avenging their 30-15 loss in October. They came in with a game plan to stop the run and it worked. When the Dolphins were forced out of their comfort zone, as they were no longer able to rely on Ajayi. As Miami backpedalled looking for ways to get the passing game going, the Steelers were putting up touchdown after touchdown. The only way Miami was going to win was if the Steelers beat themselves, and they nearly did. If the Steelers continue to commit unnecessary penalties, it will come back to bite them. Furthermore, while Roethlisberger has a knack for escaping pressure, if he gets too careless with his passes and throws more interceptions rather than taking sacks, Pittsburgh will be the ones reeling. Despite these mistakes, they got the win this time. However, the Steelers won’t leave for Kansas City unscathed. Late in the fourth quarter, Ben Roethlisberger was hit as he threw and landed awkwardly on his ankle. Postgame he was seen in a walking boot and traveling around in a cart. He insists its merely precautionary, and that he’ll be a full-go next weekend. Still, keep a close eye on his status moving forward, as it goes without saying he is a vital part of the Steelers’ attack. It will also be interesting to see how Mike Tomlin invokes discipline on his team for so many potentially costly penalties. Don’t think they’ll get away with such mistakes in a noisy Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Packers beat Giants 38-13

Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, celebrates after his team won 38-13 over the Giants in an NFC Wild Card game on January 8, 2017
This game started how many expected, an evenly matched slug fest. Both teams fought for every yard, and it seemed like New York had the early edge. Veteran Giants quarterback Eli Manning orchestrated drives downfield, but due to late drops by his receivers, they were forced to settle for field goals. As the half wound down, the Packers were getting nowhere. It appeared that the Giants defense was ready to stop the potent Green Bay attack. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected with Devante Adams for a 31-yard catch and run, scoring two plays later with the same connection from 5 yards away. It seemed like that would be it for the scoring before the half, and that the teams would have to look for more answers with Green Bay up 7-6 at the break. Then, with seconds to go, Rodgers did what he does best. As time expired, Rodgers launched a pass from the 50-yard line. It would land in the arms of Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone for yet another Hail Mary. The Packers entered the locker room up 14-6, probably even shocked themselves that they just pulled off the astounding play once again. That bomb would turn the tide in this game.

In the second half, the floodgates opened. After the Giants hooked up for a deep 41-yard touchdown to make the score 14-13, they would fail to put up another point. The Packers answered with 4 straight scoring drives to end the game, winning 38-13. Rodgers finished with an incredible 362 yards and 4 touchdowns. Randall Cobb was on the receiving end of 3 of those touchdowns and combined with Adams for 241 yards. The Packers defense was even able to force two turnovers in their shutdown of the Giants. Eli Manning falls to 8-1 on the road in the playoffs, which is still a phenomenal accomplishment. After the game, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. allegedly was so frustrated he repeatedly ran his fist through a wall outside the grounds crew locker room, and banged his head on a door inside the Giants facilities. During press conferences, he denied any relation to the receiving core partying in Miami Beach last week, when they were celebrating their playoff birth. Now, the Giants can have as many distractions as they want; their season is over.

The Packers can now look forward to facing the NFC #1 seed Dallas Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. This will be a spectacle. Though their Wild Card game wasn’t as close as everyone thought, don’t expect the Packers to complain. Now, once again they’ll have the spotlight as the country debates if they have the firepower to knock off America’s team. If you liked watching Wild Card weekend, you’ll LOVE these divisional matchups.

Look forward to my predictions on Friday for the Divisional Round games:

Seahawks at Falcons        Saturday 4:35 PM ET    FOX

Texans at Patriots        Saturday 8:15 PM ET    CBS

Steelers at Chiefs        Sunday 1:05 PM ET    NBC

Packers at Cowboys        Sunday 4:40 PM ET    FOX


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