Yes, your fantasy season is over, but the NFL playoffs have begun! Whether your team is still alive or failed to make the exclusive 12-team field, the action this weekend should be very entertaining as there as some marquee matchups (Giants traveling to Green Bay) and some head scratchers that should still be entertaining (Oakland at 12-4 traveling to Houston with their 3rd string rookie QB). The RSO Writers have made their predictions for and given a little of each game, which can be found below. Enjoy the games!
A quick summary of the picks in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:
Stephen Wendell: Well, ready for the pillow fight of all pillow fights? Not sure how to dissect the a mentally damaged Brock Osweiler vs. Connor Cook matchup we are about to witness, but Cook will look to feed off his incredible Bowl Game performances (2014 Rose Bowl and 2015 Cotton Bowl) and use the Raider’s great offensive weapons while Osweiler will look to bounce back from being benched at the end of the season when it mattered most and pull out a playoff win and make a run to justify all the money he is making. I have loved the Raiders all year, and something tells me Connor Cook will do enough for the Raiders to win in what looks to be a very similar game to the first round game in 2012 where a rookie QB T.J Yates led the Texans to a playoff win over another rookie QB, Andy Dalton, who is still searching for that first elusive playoff victory. Projected Score: Raiders 21 – Texans 14.
Matt Papson: I’m probably one of the few people outside of Houston or Oakland looking forward to this matchup. I wish it were Tom Savage squaring off against Connor Cook instead of Brock Osweiler, but I’m excited to see Cook get a chance to play. He’s the first guy in the Super Bowl era to start his first NFL game during the playoffs. I’m rooting for him to succeed, but the Texans have been strong at home. I picked the Raiders to win the AFC before the year started, so it’ll be disappointing to see them get bounced in the wildcard round after such a stellar year for the struggling franchise. Projected Score: Texans 24 – Raiders 20.
Kyle English: This game is going to be dreadful to watch. As a Hopkins owner in multiple leagues this year, I know Osweiler has been just horrendous in his short time with the Texans. Meanwhile on the other side, we have Connor Cook making his first career start…in the playoffs…on the road…yikes. However, Cook has played in big games in his time with MSU so I believe he’ll handle this situation fine. Should be a low scoring game with struggling offenses and plenty of work for the kickers. I like Oakland to pull it out and give Cook a 1-0 start to his career. Projected Score: Raiders 16 – Texans 13.
Robert Cowper: A lot of the conversation surrounding this game will be about the quarterback woes. Specifically, many are talking about how the Raiders are in trouble after losing star QB Derek Carr and possibly losing backup Matt McGloin. One thing that I believe has gone under the radar is how well the Raiders have managed their backfield trio of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. All three had at least 100+ touches during the regular season and essentially alternated throughout the season depending who had the hot hand minus a few missed games (for comparison the only other playoff team to have that depth are the Lions who were forced to due to multiple multi-week injuries). When Murray isn’t working between the tackles, Washington and Richard can provide a change of pace (averaging 5.4 and 5.9 yards per carry respectively); both Murray and Richard are more than capable receivers, combining for 62 receptions. Washington had 10+ touches four times while Richard did three times and only one time did one of them do it in consecutive weeks (Washington in Weeks 5-6 while Murray was hurt), illustrating the hot-hand approach. What I’m trying to say is, as long as Connor Cook can hand the ball off and complete some screen passes, the Raiders will be just fine. The Texans defense is fine, about middle of the pack in most rushing stats, but it won’t be enough to steal a win. Projected Score: Raiders 22 – Texans 13.
Matt Goodwin: After watching Brian Hoyer in a home playoff defeat to the Chiefs in the wild card round last year for the Texans, I vowed never to pick the Texans again in a playoff game until they got a serviceable quarterback. Well, Houston spent big in the free agent market on Brock Osweiler, thinking he’d be serviceable and unfortunately, early returns are that they swung and missed and the only reason their big-dollar quarterback is playing right now is because Tom Savage (who frankly wasn’t much better) has a concussion. That said, I don’t like the Raiders situation any more than I like Houston’s. While Connor Cook showed accuracy and the ability to win at Michigan State, he shriveled up like a frightened turtle in some big games. If Derek Carr was healthy, I’d be picking the Raiders and it wouldn’t be close. In the end, even with it being his first game back from an ankle injury, give me Lamar Miller’s rushing, the Texans tough defense against a rookie quarterback, and their 7-1 home record this season in a boring game to watch. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 13.
Nick Andrews: Before week 16 I would have said that the Raiders were the only question mark still left in the AFC in terms of “Who could upset the Patriots”. Fast forward two weeks and they will be starting a third-string rookie quarterback, on the road, in his first career start. While this by no means is a nod of excellence to the Texans and their lackluster options at quarterback it simply comes down to who I think will play less bad (that is a proper term to use for this matchup). Give me Osweiler and a strong Texans defense. Projected Score: Texans 18 – Raiders 12.
Dave Sanders: Nothing says the start of the postseason quite like Connor Cook vs. Brock Osweiler. As the 3rd string QB for much of the year, Cook hasn’t seen the reps of a usual backup quarterback. He even admitted this week that plays were called last week that he never even practiced. Expect Oakland to call a very conservative game and lean heavily on their running game, even if Houston loads the box. On the Houston side, I expect Brock Osweiler’s season-long struggles to continue. He’ll likely find C.J. Fiedorowicz over the middle of the field about a half-a-dozen times, but will make too many mistakes and kill too many drives. In what feels like a preseason game, I will take the Raiders. And just think – the winner likely gets to travel to New England next week…Projected Score: Raiders 23 – Texans 10.
Bernard Faller: This matchup features arguably the worst starting quarterback of 2016 in Houston’s Brock Osweiler and Oakland rookie Connor Cook making his first professional start. Both teams will rely heavily on the run game and limit quarterback touches offensively. Houston holds the one big advantage in this game with one of the better defensive units in the NFL, particularly against the pass where the Texans allow only 6.6 YPA (tied for 2nd in the NFL). Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus make trouble for Cook all day long and the Houston defense forces two big turnovers. Osweiller finds redemption from a miserable season on the way to a Texan playoff victory. Projected Score: Texans 21 – Raiders 13.
Luke O’Connell: The Brock Osweiler redemption begins (and ends) here. He should be able to do just enough against one of the measurably worst quarterback prospects in a while. Brock has done nothing to assure us he can lead an NFL franchise, but Cook couldn’t even get voted team captain for his Spartans. Pro Football Reference presents this tail of per game averages for two quarterbacks:
The helmsmen of these two playoff teams are remarkably similar. If you guessed that player 1 is Cook, albeit over a markedly smaller sample size, good on you. The difference is that Houston has a slightly stronger weighted defense according to the smart folks at Football Outsiders. Injuries can be too much for a team to overcome, and are all witnesses to losing a great young QB like Carr too soon. Look for the Houston Defense to rally as they have done all year. RSO angle: Watch the RB rotation for Oakland (Jalen Richard is available in most leagues for a long term contract) and WR/TE targets for Houston. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 14.
Stephen Wendell: It is just too hard to bet against the Seahawks at home ever and especially in January. This team is too experienced and used to the pressure, and while I think Matt Stafford will give everything he has (perhaps even a broken limb), he is going to fall just short in this one. The Seattle defense will be its normal self, but Detroit’s lackluster secondary, especially against tight ends, will be the difference…look for Jimmy Graham to have a big game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 20.
Matt Papson: This will be an interesting game, though I like the Seahawks to win the NFC at this point. I’m not sure I see a path to victory for the Lions, even though I expect Matt Stafford to play his heart out. Projected Score: Seahawks 38 – Lions 24.
Kyle English: I think this one is going to be closer than most people think. The Seahawks have a banged up secondary and the Lions are going to toss the ball all over the field. Having said that, the Seahawks have the 12th man behind them and the Lions have lost 3 straight coming into the playoffs and have 8 straight playoffs losses dating back to 1991. I don’t think the Lions reverse those trends. Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 23.
Robert Cowper: Unlike for the Raiders, the Lions regular season backfield depth won’t mean much against the Seahawks, especially since Theo Riddick is now on IR. It’s no surprise that the Seahawks defense is stout: #3 in points against and #1 in yards per rushing attempt. However, they are more vulnerable in the passing game where Earl Thomas is out and they are #15 in yards per passing attempt. Luckily, for Detroit they have Matt Stafford who doesn’t mind slinging the ball. Stafford has only thrown for 300+ twice since their Week 10 bye but has still managed to average more than 39 attempts per game in that span. Wilson hasn’t been as prolific over the same span but has, on average, attempted more passes over the last seven games than the first nine and far more this season than years past. The Lions defense, per Yahoo Fantasy, allowed on average 1.3 TD from WRs during 2016 which is tied for the second worst in the league; not surprisingly then, they also gave up the second most fantasy points to opposing QBs. The Las Vegas wisdom has this pegged as a pretty low scoring affair with an over/under set at about 42.5 depending on where you look; my gut tells me this is going to be a shootout, defenses be damned. Projected Score: Seahawks 33 – Lions 29.
Matt Goodwin: The Lions find themselves limping into the playoffs with three straight losses (albeit to three NFC playoff teams). Going into a place like Seattle and getting a win in those circumstances is tough sledding. Seattle is showing plenty of cracks as well, but should be fired up in a home playoff game with a healthier than any point since the season opener Russell Wilson. While the Seahawks would like to establish their running identity against a suspect Lions defense, they ranked 25th in the league in rushing yards this season, which is a far cry from their Marshawn Lynch led teams. Perhaps the Seahawks were playing possum a bit with a division that was wrapped up fairly early and plan to use Wilson and Thomas Rawls on the read option more, which they were unable to do at all during the season due to injuries to both. If this ends up to be a battle of kickers, Seattle’s Stephen Hauschka has been very shaky on extra points and getting kicks blocked this season. Projected Score: Seahawks 23 – Lions 13.
Nick Andrews: Stick a fork in the NFC North; the Lions have this one in the bag. That’s what many people were saying while sticking their fork in some turkey on Thanksgiving. Well after three straight losses to end the season Fold Field will be empty this January and the Lions will have to go the dreary Pacific Northwest instead. The Seahawks have been up and down this season with questionable performances as of late but with no running game behind Matthew Stafford and Seattle’s defense being rich with playoff experience Russell Wilson just needs to avoid turnovers and they should be able to control this game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 13.
Dave Sanders: Detroit’s surprising season likely comes to an end Saturday. Losers of three straight, the Lions hopes may hinge on the injured finger of Matthew Stafford as they’ll need him at his best to pull off the upset in Seattle. From the Seahawks’ perspective, they’ll likely go as far as Russell Wilson can take them. Their running game has been a disaster all year, with much of the blame falling on their horrid run blocking. Expect Baldwin and Graham to do just enough to hold off the reeling Lions…Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 17.
Bernard Faller: Detroit limps into this contest the loser of three straight to finish the year. Contrary to the Oakland-Houston game, this duel sets up as a pass heavy contest with Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford. The Seattle offensive line has struggled all season and the Lions have not enjoyed any consistent usage in the run game. The Seahawks defense will be the difference in this game. While not the same unit without play making safety Earl Thomas, the defense still contains difference-makers at all levels including Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, and Cam Chancellor. Detroit went to the playoffs by winning close games but not this one as Seattle wins at home. Projected Score: Seahawks 23 – Lions 20.
Luke O’Connell: That coach, that stadium, that defense. It is hard to conceive of a scenario in which a Zach Zenner/Eric Ebron led offense can marshal a victory against the ‘Hawks. Stafford’s saving grace is that no one expected him to rally for the victories the Lions did have this year. This one should be light on drama. RSO angle: frustrated Lockett owners may be willing to sell for pennies and if Tate lays a Golden egg he could be had at a reasonable price. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 10.
Stephen Wendell: Nobody is quite sure how Miami ended up 10-6, but here they are with a chance to win and advance to a game against their divisional foe New England, a game in which they would probably be close to 14 point underdogs. Matt Moore is certainly one of the better backup QBs in the league, and I think he won’t completely embarrass himself, but the Steelers simply have too much offensive firepower with the killer Bs. Look for the game to perhaps be close in the first half but for the Steelers to pull away in the second half behind big performances by Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell. Projected Score: Steelers 35 – Dolphins 20.
Matt Papson: I think this is going to be a lot closer than people think. And I think the Dolphins are better off with Matt Moore. The Dolphins aren’t particularly good, but I’m not certain on the Steelers either. Ultimately Ben, Antonio, and Leveon will find a way to advance. Projected Score Steelers 24 – Dolphins 21.
Kyle English: Since coming back from a suspension, Bell has racked up 1268 yards on the ground (good for 5th best for the season) and another 616 receiving yards in all of 12 games. He’s been an absolute monster and, when combining him with Big Ben and Brown, they are almost impossible to stop. Add in the fact that if the Dolphins get behind at all, they’ll probably be relying on Matt Moore to throw them back into the game and this one could easily turn into a blowout. Projected Score: Steelers 38 – Dolphins 17.
Robert Cowper: Despite beating them already in 2016, the Dolphins are a heavy underdog against the Steelers. Everybody knows Le’veon Bell’s great, along with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, so we won’t spend any time on them but instead let’s look at Jay Ajayi vs the Steelers rush defense. Ajayi was a surprise this season after being left at home for the Dolphins season opener. Ultimately he earned 1,272 yards and 8 TDs, despite not getting more than 7 carries until Week 5. In their early season game against the Steelers, Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and 2 TDs. Most casual fans would assume the Steelers have a great defense but that is based solely on past reputation. Aside from points against (#10), you’ll find the Steelers ranked between #12-18 in most defensive statistical categories. I believe the Dolphins will be able to move the ball again this time and their prospects will rest heavily on how far Ajayi can carry them which should be far enough to keep it close. I can’t believe I have convinced myself of this but my bold prediction is that this game will come down to a special teams touchdown from the Dolphins (it’s also how they beat the Jets in Week 9). They are ranked #5 in kick off return average and have two return TDs (one kickoff, one punt). Meanwhile, the Steelers have struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking #29 in kick off return average and #25 on punts. Projected Score: Dolphins 18 – Steelers 11.
Matt Goodwin: In spite of Ben Roethlisberger’s success as a two-time Super Bowl winner, he’s never thrown for three touchdowns in a playoff game, and has only eclipsed 300 yards passing in three playoff games, which coincidentally are all losses. With the 18 degree weather in Pittsburgh and the Miami Dolphins 30th ranked run defense according to Pro Football Focus, look for Pittsburgh to run the ball early and often with Le’Veon Bell. Given his success a few weeks ago in the snow in Buffalo and his patience as both a runner and his skills as an elite pass catcher, Bell figures to be the bellcow that propels the Steelers to victory with a little bit of Antonio Brown sprinkled in. Matt Moore has been more than adequate as Ryan Tannehill’s fill-in and Jay Ajayi torched the Steelers for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a week 6 victory (30-15) in a game that the Dolphins dominated time of possession. I see the opposite happening in this game, with Bell running rampant and the Steelers controlling clock. Projected Score: Steelers 20 – Dolphins 10.
Nick Andrews: Unless Pittsburgh uses the same starters as they did against Browns last week it will be hard for the Dolphins defense to keep up with a lethal Steelers offense. The Dolphins defense looked to have come together against the Jets only to be brought back to earth when put up against the ageless Tom Brady. Faced with another elite quarterback, Big Ben should be able to pick his spots with this defense. While they have a solid running game with Jay Ajayi that can open up a big Kenny Stills touchdown at any point but unless they connect on two or three of those big plays Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will be the only guys on Monday morning’s highlight reel. Projected Score: Steelers 31 – Dolphins 16.
Dave Sanders: Although the Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 in Week 6, I don’t give Miami much of a chance of advancing past Sunday’s game. Without Ryan Tannehill, I’d expect the Dolphins to lean heavily on Jay Ajayi in an effort to control the clock and keep Ben and company on the sidelines. It’s impossible to ignore Big Ben’s home/road splits at this point. It’s truly jarring and has reached a point where I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as the only QB on my fantasy roster next season. In likely Pittsburgh’s lone home game of the post-season season, I’d expect the Steelers’ offense to put this game out of reach by the 3rd quarter. In DFS, LeVeon Bell’s price can’t be set high enough for me to fade him this week. Projected Score: Steelers 34 – Dolphins 20.
Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh storms into the playoffs the winners of seven straight to end the regular season. The Steelers offense focuses on the trinity of Ben Roethlisburger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell. Miami also finished the season strong going 8-2 in the final 10 games. This game also spotlights another backup quarterback in the playoffs, Miami’s Matt Moore. Miami will attempt to run the ball all game long with sophomore sensation Jay Ajayi against an underrated Pittsburgh defense. It will not work as Miami won’t keep pace with the Steelers offense. Pittsburgh is just too talented across the board and triumphs handily. Projected Score: Steelers 27 – Dolphins 17.
Luke O’Connell: If this game was in Miami…OBJ and Cruz would be watching. Also, the very real Ben Roethlisberger splits would make it a fun call to wager on Adam Gase’s sea mammals. However, all the indicators look great for Pittsburgh here. Antonio Brown and Bell are transcendent players, and the home crowd in a great sports city might be enough to rattle even Matt Moore. RSO angle: Chances are the big names are not moving. Brown, Bell, Ajayi are set pieces. Devante Parker and Jarvis Landry should be watched. For GM’s willing to commit, this game might help open up some trade wallets. Projected Score: Steelers Big.
Stephen Wendell: Certainly the most intriguing playoff game of the weekend. Everyone knows that both of Eli’s Super Bowl titles included trips to Lambeau Field where the Giants took down the Packers as underdogs in both occasions (2007 NFC Title Game and 2011 Divisional Playoff Game). That experience and those good memories in Lambeau will be important, but I don’t think the Giants will do it a third time. Perhaps it is because I was in the stands in Philly and witnessed the start of Rodgers and the Packers six game-winning streak, but I just think that Rodgers is too focused and playing too well to be denied. This is the year Green Bay makes it back to the Super Bowl. Projected Score: Packers 28 – Giants 17.
Matt Papson: Choosing the Giants visiting Lambeau seems crazy as I type it. The packers are hot at the right time. The Giants are a better football team. Projected Score: Giants 27 – Packers 21.
Kyle English: Far and away the toughest game for me to call. Rodgers completed his “run the table” prophecy and has played remarkable down the stretch. They’ve even found something that looks at times like a run game to go with it while averaging over 30 PPG in their last 6. Meanwhile, the Giants have relied quite a bit on their defense and allowed the second lowest PPG this season. Eli has won a few in Lambeau before, but I think the aerial attack of the Packers gets it done in a close one. Packers squeak out the W. Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 20.
Robert Cowper: The Packers are a buzz saw. As a Cowboys fan, I recently had somebody ask me which playoff team I would least like to see in Dallas’s Divisional Round matchup and I did not hesitate: Green Bay. I’m not sold on Ty Montgomery as an every day RB but he’s good enough that it doesn’t matter. Not surprisingly it all comes down to A-A-Ron. Rodgers’ numbers are crazy. The last INT he threw was on November 13th. Over the last two weeks against Minnesota and Detroit, he has 647 yards and 8 TDs. He’s also contributing on the ground to help pick up the slack from the lackluster running backs, rushing for 369 yards (a career high) and 4 TDs this season. I don’t believe there is any way for the Giants to stop, or even slow, Rodgers even with their Top 10 passing defense. If the Giants are missing CB Janoris Jenkins and/or DE Jason Pierre-Paul their chances are diminished even further. Luckily for Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. et al, the Packers have a Bottom 3 defense in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, etc. That will allow them to keep the final score closer than the play on the field will feel. Projected Score: Packers 29 – Giants 20.
Matt Goodwin: I’m giving the Giants the best chance of the road teams to win this weekend, but with a huge contingency. Eli Manning has to be virtually flawless against a banged-up Green Bay secondary and the Giants questionable run game has to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands. If Eli can establish chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and hit some big plays, the Giants could come out victorious. That said, Rodgers is playing in another stratosphere right now and his chemistry with Jordy Nelson (especially in the red zone) is untouchable. Until he blinks, give me Rodgers at home.Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 21.
Nick Andrews: Appropriately the best wildcard game is saved till last. No team has been hotter than the Packers over the last six weeks and they benefit from the Lions late season collapse to earn an extra home game. Eli hasn’t had much to worry about in his playoff experiences at Lambeau, he’s won twice there in their last two Super Bowl runs, but he has been a serious hamper to his offense’s effectiveness this season. The team has a tremendous defense but they will need to score more than 20 points to defeat Aaron Rodgers. I still see them getting it done but only if Manning plays better than he did in December. Projected Score: Giants 26 – Packers 24.
Dave Sanders: There’s not much better than watching one of the best quarterbacks ever perform at the top of his game. Understated throughout his epic run is the way Aaron Rodgers has protected the football, with zero interceptions since November 13th. Converted running back Ty Montgomery has provided an added dimension that the Packers have lacked since Eddie Lacy’s remarkable 2014 season. Count me out on the Giants’ bandwagon as I do not believe Eli will be able to put together a 3rd improbable playoff run, especially this late in his career. Quietly having a very poor year, Eli ranked as ProFootballFocus’ 24th ranked QB as of 12/21. Though he’s only had 16 interceptions this season, he’s had far more “turnover worthy” plays than most quarterbacks. In what may be the first of many January wins for this Packers team, I’ll take Green Bay. Projected Score: Packers 31 – Giants 24.
Bernard Faller: This game also showcases two teams playing well going into the postseason. Green Bay won the last six games on the strength of an offense which scored 30 or more points in each of the last four contests. New York, on the other, finished 9-2 on the strength of a top-notch defense which has not given up 20 points in any game for seven weeks. Something must give in this one. The difference between MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers and a perpetually mediocre Eli Manning will determine the outcome. The Giants defense will keep things close but New York has no run game to lean on. The erratic Manning will make at least one huge mistake which dooms New York. Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 20.
Luke O’Connell: Despite my aforementioned fandom for the Vikings, this is the game that we must see. Aaron Rodgers continues his superlative run, Eli carries a playoff legacy into Lambeau with the game’s most exciting player as his wingman. Winter may weigh heavily on these teams, as the projected temps are in the teens. Eli suffers in the conditions he will face on several levels. His game splits in grass/turf, cold/warm, and Lambeau specifically show a quarterback that plays at levels double-digit percentage points below his best, both in his career and this season. Rodgers is more ambiguous statistically in the cold, but the general trend of games this cold has driven scores a few points down and closer together. Look for the game to go under its projected Vegas line. The narratives this week should encompass all the lines above, but the heart of the story here is how much Eli Manning can still play. If his past playoff performance resides in that arm, then the Beckham, Cruz, Shepard trinity should be too much for the Packers to contain. RSO angle: Every single receiver should be on the table for the right price. Break the bank for Beckham? gamble on an aging Jordy? Devante Adams? Ty Montgomery (WRish)? Projected Score: Giants 24 – Packers 21.
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