As 2017 begins, the 2016 NFL season ends by beginning it’s playoff tournament. What makes this year’s playoffs so unique is neither the Denver Broncos nor the Carolina Panthers will be in the playoff, who were both in the Super Bowl last year. This is the first time since 2003 where both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the Super for the 2002 NFL season, and the Oakland Raiders who got crushed by Tampa missed the playoffs. Speaking of the Oakland Raiders, this is the first time they are in the playoffs since that Super Bowl. However, they are without their quarterback, Derek Carr. Their matchup with the Houston Texans, proves to be a fascinating
Houston Texans vs Oakland Raiders – A Battle of Two Incompetent Offenses
Before Derek Carr got injured, a lot of people had them pegged as AFC favorites. What was not to like? After week 15 (the last week which Carr played the entire game) they had a weighted DVOA (weighted DVOA serves as an all-telling statistic of how good a team is compared to the average of the NFL, higher the percentage the better the team) of 11.3%, good enough for 3rd in the AFC and were looking at a first week bye provided they win their remaining games. Then, Carr got injured, and their other back up got injured, making Connor Cook the starter against the Houston Texas.
The Texans by all means should have had a dumpster fire season. They lost JJ Watt, one of the NFL’s best players, earlier in the season and paid 72 million dollars for Brock Osweiler who has been awful. He threw for less than 200 yards a game, had a passer rating 72.2 (the NFL average is 87.6) and threw for more interceptions than he did touchdowns. Had it not been for Lamar Miller, who rushed for more than 1000 yards, or the defense which only allowed 20.5 points a game, or the fact they play in the AFC South, consistently one of the worst divisions in football, they would not be in the playoffs. They are very bad, so bad they have a weighted DVOA of -17.7%, which is almost as bad as the San Francisco 49ers, a team that went 2-14 (their DVOA was -18.4%). As stated earlier, the Texans defense is very impressive. They have a defensive DVOA of -6.9% (the higher the negative value in defensive DVOA the better) which is good for 7th in the NFL. Their defense stacks up much better compared to the Raiders defense.
It’s difficult to analyze the offense without Carr. The Houston defense is gonna key in on the running plays that Oakland will trot out, and while it was 6th in the league in terms of yards throughout the year, it’s difficult to imagine success with a rookie QB playing. It’s still an unknown though, because a one game sample where Cook didn’t play the whole game isn’t enough to analyze or assume how the performance will be. However, it is fair to assume how the defense will be. The Oakland Raiders feature one of the premier pass rushers in Khalil Mack, but apart from that have a very, very suspect defense. While they are great in generating turnovers (The percentage of opponent drives ending in turnovers is 14.2, which is 4th in the entire league), however they have also given up 4120 yards in the air (including a performance by Brock Osweiler where he threw for 243 yards a touchdown and had a passer rating of 81.5, significantly better than his season averages) and 1881 yards on the ground (including a 102 yard performance by Lamar Miller, again better than his averages throughout the year). When the Texans played Oakland the first time, they lost because Carr threw for 3 touchdowns and played very well. This time, they do not have Carr. Plus, unlike last time the Texans will be playing at home.
While I do not think the Texans Offense will perform as great as it did before, I do think they will be able to win the game due to a questionable Raiders defense, and a QB thrown to the wolves starting his first game. I predict a 7-0 game where the Texans come out victorious. This will, more likely than not, be a slugfest to watch unlike the game before it.
Miami Dolphins vs Pittsburgh Steelers – The Killer Bees are Actually Healthy
For the first time since 2008 the Dolphins are back in the playoffs thanks to the emergence of Jay Ajayi who has rushed for more than 1200 yards, and Matt Moore doing a very good job of subbing in for Ryan Tannehill, posting a 105.6 passer rating. In addition, they also have a quality defensive line featuring Cameron Wake who finished the season with 11.5 sacks and Ndamukong Suh. They finished the season with a 4.2% weighted DVOA, which is 16th in the league.
This year, the Steelers will have their killer bee lineup (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell) fully healthy, and that means trouble for the Miami defense, which has ranked in the bottom half of the league (giving up 23.8 points per game, 18th in the league and a defensive DVOA of 1.5% which is 19th in the league). Another concerning issue with the Miami Dolphins is that they rank 30th in rushing defense in terms of yardage. Pittsburgh has one of the most versatile, patient backs in the league with Le’Veon Bell and he is going to make that defense minced meat. There could be an entire article on the greatness of Le’Veon Bell. He has 1884 yards from scrimmage in just 12 games. That’s unbelievable. He averaged more than a 100 yards a game rushing. He has a patience to let the offensive lineman clear his path and the defenders miss. He’s thrilling to watch. In addition, Pittsburgh has one of the best passing attacks as well with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger. Antonio Brown has more than 1250 receiving yards to go with 12 touchdowns, and the best route running abilities in the league. He will give the middle of pack Dolphins secondary quite an issue. However, there are some match-up issues the Dolphins have with Miami.
The Steelers Offense is incredibly overpowering. They have an offensive DVOA of 11.1%, good enough for 8th best in the league. They score 24.9 points per game and allow 20.4 points per game, both are 10th in the league. However, there is one weakness with the Steelers Offense. Interceptions. They are 18th in the league in terms of interceptions, and Roethlisberger has thrown for 19 interceptions in 17 playoff games. An alarming number. In addition, the Pittsburgh defense will struggle to stop Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins have a top 10 rushing offense, while the Pittsburgh running defense is middle of the road.
This game will not be a quarterback duel. It will be a running back duel. Pittsburgh is going to utilize one of the best backs in the league and try to rush their way to victory, while the Dolphins will do the same because they both have great running backs and both have questionable run defenses. While Pittsburgh has the better quarterback and one of the best receivers in Antonio Brown, Big Ben has the gunslinging mentality that has gotten himself in trouble, and I think it will cost them the game, for Miami is ranked 9th in grabbing interceptions.
Miami wins 30-27 in a stunning upset.
Seattle Seahawks vs Detroit Lions – Magic, Comebacks and Slumps
This picture sums up the Lions season. Matt Stafford defied advanced statistics in terms of how much a team is supposed to win by having 8 4th Quarter Comebacks. Eight. Detroit was supposed to win 7.7 games according to the expected win-loss calculation on Pro Football Reference. They had a Weighted DVOA of -19.3%. That is worse than what the 49ers had. They allow more points than they score. But here they are, 9-7 with a winning record. Most of the success of the Lions can be relied to Stafford and the offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter. The way Mr. Cooter transformed Stafford to turn the ball over less is phenomenal. Stafford has made a case for himself as MVP and while certain statistics do not back it, the negative statistics of the Detroit Lions and the fact they won 9 games with 8 4th quarter comebacks sure does make a valid argument.
Since 2012, the Seahawks have been one of the best, consistent teams in the NFL. While they still have a quality defense, allowing a 3rd best 18.3 points per game they have suffered a down year. The Seattle offense is not very good. They have a horrible offensive line. Russell Wilson for the first time in his career has thrown for a TD:INT ratio that is less than 2:1. Seattle has scored 22.1 points per game, 18th in the league. Seattle also does not have free safety Earl Thomas, one of the best defensive backs in the entire league.
The effects of not having Earl Thomas have been shown in three of the last four games for the Seahawks where they gave up a lot of points. While they defeated San Francisco, the fact they let the 9ers score more than 20 points is bad, considering their average for the entire year is 19.3 points a game. In addition, Arizona put up 34 points on them and Green Bay shredded the secondary for 38 points. These are the games that Seattle ended the year without Earl. Not a good look.
However, Detroit skid to the end of the season, losing three of the last four. However, those losses were all to playoff teams (Giants, Cowboys and Packers) that have a significantly higher weighted DVOA than the Seahawks. Their skid while awful isn’t as concerning as the skid Seattle has faced. Due to the injuries to Earl Thomas, the poor offensive play from Seattle and Detroit magic, Detroit will win 20-17 featuring a game winning drive from Stafford after entering the 4th quarter down a touchdown.