Defense overcomes penalties, forces late turnovers as Ravens top Texans 23-16

BALTIMORE — Hosting their first home Monday Night football game in over five years, and just the second home Monday Night contest of the John Harbaugh / Joe Flacco era, the Baltimore Ravens walked into M&T Bank Stadium with a purpose on Monday Night. Facing a light schedule the rest of the season, the Ravens needed a win on Monday to keep their #6 playoff spot intact. They took care of business on Monday against the Houston Texans, coming away with a 23-16 win.

The Ravens defense forced three turnovers in the game, two of them occurring in the final five minutes to seal the win. A Terrell Suggs strip-sack recovered by Willie Henry led to a field goal, and a Anthony Levine Sr. interception right before the two-minute warning left no time on the clock for Houston. In the first half, Tony Jefferson caught his first interception as a member of the Ravens and ran it back 13 yards. Jefferson, a recipient of jokes from teammates due to his lack of interceptions, can finally cross that chore off his “To-Do” list.

Although the turnover-savy Ravens defense carried the team again on Monday, the win did not come easy. The Ravens got penalized 10 times against Houston; eight of them against defense. Brandon Carr got penalized three times – twice for holding and once for pass interference. His PI call in the first quarter led to Houston’s first touchdown of the game – a four-yard run by Lamar Miller. That gave the Texans a 7-0 lead, presenting the Ravens with the challenge of winning a game after trailing, something that they had not done prior to Monday.

Along with Carr’s blunders, Jimmy Smith got flagged twice (defensive holding, pass interference), Maurice Canady was guilty of a late hit on Tom Savage, and Matt Judon committed an unnecessary roughness penality off a late tackle on Braxton Miller. On Houston’s nine-play touchdown drive, the Ravens committed three penalties and allowed gains of 23 and 29 yards. On the Texans’ three drives ending in field goals, four penalties were committed by Baltimore. The extra chances given to Houston via penalty, along the offense’s struggles, almost gave the game away. As a result, the Ravens won in their normal fashion: ugly.

Baltimore received the opening kickoff and went three-and-out. Houston got the ball back and responded with their first and only touchdown of the game. DeAndre Hopkins hauled in a 23-yard reception, and Savage would find Bruce Ellington for a 29-yard strike. Opponents have rarely found early success against the Ravens this season, making that opening defensive drive so uncharacteristic of this top-10 defense.

Following a few punts, the Ravens tied up the game on a quick seven-play drive that eclipsed just three minutes. Along the way, the Ravens converted their first of two good 4th-and-one attempts on the night when punter Sam Koch completed a perfect 22-yard pass down the left sideline to Chris Moore. Following a nine-yard completion from Flacco to Nick Boyle, Buck Allen found the end zone on a 10-yard run for his second rushing touchdown of the season.

Allen’s score became the start of a 17-play second quarter that featured another Ravens rushing touchdown. On Baltimore’s drive after Allen’s score, Alex Collins ran for 37 combined yards; a 29-yard dash – again on 4th-and-one – to the Baltimore 8-yard line, and then an eight-yard touchdown run. This five-play drive, like the prior one, occurred quickly (2:26), and gave Collins his second rushing touchdown as a Raven, and the third overall score of his career. His first touchdown as a Raven came during last week’s 23-0 win over the Packers.

On Houston’s drive following Collins’ touchdown, Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked his first of three field goals of the night (25 yards) to end the Ravens’ scoring run at 14 points. On the Ravens’ next drive, Justin Tucker booted his longest attempt of the day – 53 yards – to extend the Ravens’ lead to seven with as many seconds left on the clock. Going into the locker rooms, the Ravens held the 17-10 edge with 30 minutes of football left to play.

On the second Texans drive of the second half, three penalties in the Ravens’ secondary led to Fairbairn’s 36-yard field goal to put the Texans back just by four, 17-13. That wound up as the lone third-quarter score. Early in the fourth quarter, Tucker added three points in Baltimore’s favor on a 31-yarder. Fairbairn added three more points on Houston’s next possession, which turned out to be the last threat Savage and the Houston offense made. Suggs’ strip sack led to Tucker’s last field goal (49 yards), and Levine Sr.’s interception ended the comeback dreams of the Texans.

As a whole, the Texans outgained the Ravens in total yards, 303-294. Both teams faced 14 third down situations; the Texans converted six, and the Ravens successfully converted three. The Ravens went 2-for-4 in the red zone, and the Texans went 1-for-4. The Texans also held the edge in the possession battle, 30:16-29:44.

For the Ravens, Flacco went 20-for-32 for 141 yards. Savage went 22-for-37 for 252 yards and two interceptions. The Ravens failed to rush for 100 yards in their previous two games, but racked up 139 yards of rushing on Monday, led by Collins’ 60 yards with a touchdown on 16 carries. Flacco carried the ball six times for 42 combined yards. For Houston, Miller recorded 51 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Hopkins put on a show for the Texans, catching seven passes for 125 combined yards. Hopkins was targeted 10 times, and four penalties in the Ravens’ secondary occurred when the defender was assigned to Hopkins. The Ravens simply had no answer for him.

C.J. Mosley led Ravens defenders with 12 total tackles (five solo). Suggs notched two sacks, and now owns 124 career sacks, which is 18th all-time. Behind Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor continued his impressive sophomore season with eight tackles (five solo). For Houston, Kevin Johnson picked up seven solo tackles, and Jadeveon Clowney tallied his seventh sack of the season. Clowney disrupt the Ravens;’ offensive line early in the game, but finished with two tackles.

Updated Playoff Picture: 

AFC:

Division Leaders: Steelers (9-2), Patriots (9-2), Titans (7-4), Chiefs (6-5)

Wild Card: Jaguars (7-4), Ravens (6-5)

In the hunt: Bills (6-5), Chargers, Raiders, Bengals (5-6), Jets, Dolphins, Texans (4-7)

NFC:

Division Leaders: Eagles (10-1), Vikings (9-2), Rams (8-3), Saints (8-3)

Wild Card: Panthers (8-3), Falcons (7-4)

In the hunt: Lions (6-5), Cowboys, Redskins, Cardinals, Packers (5-6), Buccaneers (4-7)

Up Next: The Ravens remain at home on a short week with the Detroit Lions coming to town for a 1:00 pm tangle on Sunday, Dec. 3. The Lions will own a rest advantage, with 10 games separating Sunday from their last contest, a 30-23 loss to the Vikings on Thanksgiving. The loss to Minnesota snapped a three-game winning streak for the Lions. The Lions are 0-2 all-time in Baltimore.

Image Credit: Newsday

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Ravens set to host first Monday night game since 2012

BALTIMORE — We at Charm City Bird Watch hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving with friends and family but now that the holiday rush is over, it’s time to get back to Ravens football. After last week’s 23-0 win over the Green Bay Packers, the team and fan base has been given new life but there remains a lot of work to be do as the Ravens approach the last six games.

The victory in Green Bay marked the third shutout of the year for this Baltimore defense but the team still only has five wins. Their .500 record is good enough for the second wildcard spot in a weakened AFC but there’s barely any space separating the Ravens from other playoff hopefuls like the Buffalo Bills.

Going into this final stretch of the year, we know that the Ravens have a chance simply based on their schedule. Four of the final six games will be against a team with a losing record. The other two are the Lions (6-5) and Steelers (8-2). In addition to this, the Ravens defense will get the chance to face yet another backup quarterback on Monday night in Tom Savage. They are 3-1 so far this year in games against backup QB’s.

Savage did start the season. as the Texans’ starting quarterback, but he got replaced by DeShaun Watson after he struggled mightily in Houston’s season opener. A torn ACL suffered in practice by Watson  means Savage has been thrown right back into the fold, going 1-3 as the Texans’ starting signal-caller.

The visiting Houston Texans are struggling, winning just two of their last six. However, they find themselves just one game behind the Ravens in a crowded playoff race. Many pundits are already counting Houston out, largely due to the loss of Watson. When it comes to the playoffs, this game means just as much for the Texans as it does for the Ravens.

Last Meeting: These teams haven’t seen each other in a few years. The Texans hosted the Ravens during week 16 of the 2014 season and came away with a 25-13 win. This was just the second win against Baltimore in Texans history as the Ravens lead the all time series 7-2. After four previous tries, the Texans have yet to win at M&T Bank Stadium.

Injury Report: As of Saturday Nov. 25

Notes on Texans:

  • Since losing Watson to a season ending injury, the Texans’ offense has averaged 15 points a game. That’s not a very comfortable number to work with if you are the Texans defense, especially when you are giving up over 24 points a game in the same span.
  • If the Texans want to beat the Ravens the blueprint is simple. Get pressure on Joe Flacco. Houston defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney has managed to get after the QB despite commanding double coverage after injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney has posted five sacks in his last four games.

Notes on Ravens:

  • There has been a lot of talk about Flacco’s quality of play this season but lets look at the numbers. Last week Flacco had a decent game but he failed to throw for 200 yards for the sixth time this season. Through ten games, Flacco is also averaging a career low 5.44 yards-per-completion. His passer rating of 74.4 is also the second lowest of his career with 2013 (73.1) coming in just slightly worse.
  • This weeks matchup against Houston marks just the second home Monday night game for the Ravens in the last ten seasons. Even though Flacco’s stats listed above are abysmal, lets give him credit for his 11-1 career record in prime time games.

Details:

When: Monday, Nov. 27, 8:30 pm

Where: M&T Bank Stadium – Baltimore, MD

Radio: WBAL 109098 Rock

Commentators: Gerry SanduskyJustin Forsett, Stan White

TV: ESPNWBAL-TV

Commentators: Sean McDonough, John Gruden, Lisa Salters

Image Credit: Fanspeak

Podcast: The guys react to the NFL Divisional playoffs

The NFL Divisional Round is over, and you know what that means! It’s time for another episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast. Hear Jake, Nolan, and Tyler break down this past weekend’s games before glimpsing ahead to the Conference Championship round.

Thanks for listening, and be sure to check out our website and our social media accounts. You can also subscribe to our podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes.

NFL Divisional Weekend Breakdown

Editor’s Note: This article was also written by Jake McDonnell and Tyler Feeser.

The wild card round has passed but to many fans disappointment, the games did not live up to the hype.  This week should be more exciting though, as the contenders have been separated from the pretenders.

To break down this weeks games, all of our experts here at Charm City Bird Watch will provide an analysis of each game, followed by a prediction. Let’s see how much we agree, or disagree.

Saturday, January 14

NFC: Seattle (10-5-1) @ Atlanta (11-5) – 4:35 pm – Fox

JakeThese two teams squared off in week 6 in Seattle, where the Seahawks won in controversial fashion, 26-24.

With 1:39 to go in that game, the Falcons faced a 4th and 10 play and could not convert when Matt Ryan threw a deep pass to Julio Jones. On the play, Richard Sherman should have been flagged for pass interference, but there was nothing called and Seattle escaped with the win.

This time around, the two teams face off in what could be the last game at the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks will be without safety Earl Thomas, who made a crucial interception in that week six game. Seattle will also be without receiver Tyler Lockett, who broke his leg on Christmas Eve. The Falcons are healthier, and have a solid two-running back attack with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but we all know Ryan’s track record in the playoffs; 1-4 with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions dating back to 2008.

This will be a different game than we saw in October. On the road this season, Seattle is 3-4-1 and scoring an average of just 16 points-per-game. The Falcons have the best offense in football, scoring 540 points, which is tied for the seventh-most of all time. I believe that will be the difference in this game, and Atlanta will advance to the NFC Championship.

Prediction: Atlanta 27, Seattle 21

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Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman are just two pieces of the explosive Flacons offense that averages over 33 points per game.  Source: Matthew Emmons – USA Today

NolanThe Seahawks took care of business last week against the Lions, proving once again that they are legitimate contenders for the super bowl.  However, their opponent this week will be much tougher.  Defeating the Falcons is a tall order on its own but Seattle will have to do it on the road, where they have not played their best football.  Even though the Falcons had a fantastic season, the core of their team has yet to prove themselves in the playoff atmosphere.  Quarterback Matt Ryan is a MVP candidate but his playoff resume is lacking.  Like I said before in their matchup against Detroit, the Seahawks are a proven playoff team and that’s why I’m picking them over Atlanta.

Prediction: Seattle 28, Atlanta 20

TylerOn paper this looks like a very intriguing matchup. I fully expect it to be. But if I had to pick a surprise game of the week this would be it. I would not be surprised at all if this ended up like the game in Green Bay did last week. Seattle has not been as good on the road and has not played well recently compared to early in the season. Atlanta on the other hand has been playing very well all season long. Some are considering the 2016 Atlanta offense to be one of the best units ever. They have a great balance of run and pass with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. Seattle’s defense is going to have their hands full trying to contain everyone. Atlanta’s defense is exploitable but Vic Beasley led the league in sacks this season (15.5). Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense will need to play one of their better games of the season to win this one. This is another game where a coach will be facing a former team. Dan Quinn, Falcon’s head coach, was the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 2013-2014. Expect Atlanta to come out healthy and firing on all cylinders.

Prediction: Atlanta 38, Seattle 30

AFC: Houston (9-7) @ New England (14-2) – 8:15 pm – CBS

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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a record of 22-9 in the playoffs.  Source: Steven Senne – Associated Press

JakeLike the rest of the match-ups in divisional weekend, the teams involved in this contest squared off earlier this season. In a week 3 Thursday Night Football game, the Tom Brady-less Patriots shut-out the Texans 27-0 in New England.

I think that naming the Texans as 17-point underdogs may be a little generous.

That’s right folks; be sure to make plans on Saturday night, because there is no way that you want to sit down and watch this game. If the Patriots were able to defeat the Texans 27-0 with a third string quarterback, I can only imagine what Tom Brady is going to do to them.

Yes, Houston may have the #1 defense in the NFL in terms of yards given up per game. Yes, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was on New England’s coaching staff from 2007-2011 and knows Brady & Belichick well. But guess what, it does not matter.

The Patriots have Brady, the best quarterback in NFL History. Brock Osweiler stands no chance against the minds of Brady and Belichick. Let me make myself clear when I say that the Texans have no chance of winning this game. If you think they do, you’re lying to yourself.

Prediction: New England 31, Houston 13

Nolan: This one is being laughed off by everyone.  They say there is no way that Brady and Belichick lose to Houston at home. That’s fine, but why are we ignoring the fact that the Texans have the best defense in the league? I have confidence that Houston’s defense can force Brady into some mistakes.  The question is, can Osweiler and the offense capitalize on these mistakes? This is where my confidence runs out. Brock Osweiler is going to hold Houston back on Saturday. At the end of the day I’m picking the Pats for obvious reasons but don’t ignore the Texans strengths.

Prediction: New England 29, Houston 14

Tyler: This is definitely the easiest game to pick this week, as the other three should be great games. These two teams met earlier this season with New England winning without Tom Brady. Most people will expect a blowout but don’t be so certain. Bill O’Brien used to coach under Bill Belichick and worked directly with Tom Brady for years. I guarantee that the Houston players will want to win this one to not only shut everyone up, but to help themselves in their quest for the first championship in franchise history, and to get O’Brien a huge win over his former employer. That being said, trying to win in New England in the playoffs is one of the toughest things to do in sports. Especially when Belichick is given two weeks to heal his team up and prepare. Look for the Patriots to look as good as they have all season.

Prediction: New England 38, Houston 17

Sunday January 15

AFC: Pittsburgh (11-5) @ Kansas City (12-4) – 1:05 pm – NBC

UPDATE: Game moved to 8:20 pm due to weather. 

JakeIn week 4 the Steelers blew past the Chiefs 43-14 on Sunday Night Football in Pittsburgh. This time around the black & yellow will travel to perhaps the toughest place to play in the NFL – Arrowhead Stadium against a Chiefs team that has gone 22-4 since week 7 of the 2015 season.

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Source: Robert Deutsch – USA Today

Here is another interesting statistic for you – in his years coaching the Eagles and Chiefs, head coach Andy Reid has gone 16-2 after a bye week, and 3-0 in playoff games where Reid’s team had an extra week to get ready. However, before last year, the last time that the Chiefs won a playoff game was 1993. Reid’s first playoff appearance with Kansas City was a loss; an away game in Indianapolis.

The Steelers are red-hot after blowing out the Dolphins 30-12 in Wild Card weekend; their eighth straight win. Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns and Le’Veon Bell ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns. The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown is perhaps the best in football, and they are catching fire at the right time.

This game is very tough to predict. I think it will come down to who makes the most plays on the offensive side of the ball. With that being said, I trust the Steelers to be able to do that. But, I would not be shocked if the Chiefs won in their home stadium on bye week rest.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Kansas City 24

NolanThe Steelers are playing their best football of the year at the perfect time.  Their three B’s to success (Ben, Brown, and Bell) continue to be the difference makers week after week.  This Sunday they will be traveling into a hostile environment as they take on the Kansas City Chiefs. Earlier this year, the two teams played in Pittsburgh where the Steelers dominated for a 43-14 victory. If Alex smith can put together some long drives and keep the Steelers on the sideline they can win this one. The only problem is that the Steelers have shown they only need 50 – 60 seconds to put together a touchdown drive, thus making the time of possession somewhat irrelevant.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Kansas City 20

TylerIf you like defensive battles this is the game for you. I believe this will be the lowest scoring game of the weekend. Kansas City has a very strong defense and an intimidating home field advantage. Pittsburgh WILL NOT back down though. I promise you that. Pittsburgh’s defense looked very strong last week in their win against Miami while their offense picked up where they left off in the regular season. I think it is very possible we see another long touchdown from Antonio Brown this week as well as a strong day from Le’Veon Bell. The ultimate downfall for Pittsburgh will be Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road. Ben has not been very good this year away from Heinz Field and Kansas City’s defense is top notch. They WILL take advantage of any mistakes Ben may and will make. The slow and methodical nature of Kansas City’s offense will also keep Ben’s opportunities to a minimum.

Prediction: Kansas City 20, Pittsburgh 13

NFC: Green Bay (10-6) @ Dallas (13-3) – 4:40 pm – Fox

JakeBack in week 6 at Lambeau Field the Cowboys defeated the Packers 30-16 during their 11-game winning streak. This time around, Aaron Rodgers returns to Jerry World, the same place where he won Super Bowl 45. On the other sideline, two Dallas Rookies will be making their first playoff appearances – quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Rodgers is playing out of his mind. In the Wild Card game last weekend against the Giants Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns, including a ridiculous hail mary at the end of the first half. Most of this was done without star receiver Jordy Nelson, who left the game early with a rib injury and spent the night in a local hospital. Nelson is likely to miss this game, but it should be noted that Dallas’s secondary is nothing to write home about.

When the Packers were 4-6, the national & local media was blasting Rodgers. That appears to be a long-forgotten memory, as Rodgers is again showing why he is the best thrower of the football that the NFL has ever seen.

I am intrigued to see how the two big rookies on the Cowboys play in their first playoff game. Prescott and Elliott have put together MVP-caliber seasons, but we will see how good they play in crunch time against a Packers team that has Rodgers at the helm.

I picked against Rodgers last week, and I learned my lesson. The Cowboys are a much better team than the Giants, but I cannot pick against Rodgers again.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Dallas 28

NolanMuch like the Steelers, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers in particular are red hot right now. I’m viewing this game in the same light as the Seahawks and Falcons game. I praised Seattle for being a battle tested team and I can certainly say the same about Green Bay.  The Cowboys had an amazing season and are by no means an underdog but I have trouble putting a lot of confidence in rookies like Prescott and Elliot when it comes to the playoffs. My only issue with Green Bay was their lackluster defense but they handled the Giants very well and are looking more like a complete team capable of a Super bowl run.

Prediction: Green Bay 35, Dallas 24

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Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are being relied on to get Dallas to the NFC championship for the first time in 20 years.  Source: CBS Sports

TylerIn my opinion this is probably the toughest game to pick this weekend. Dallas has looked extremely good all season when playing their starters against any team not named the Giants. The Packers are on an extreme tear right now after completely dismantling the Giants last week in Green Bay. The Packers will most likely be playing without Jordy Nelson this week after he broke his ribs last week. The key for Dallas will definitely be establishing Zeke Elliott early. If they can control the clock and sustain long drives to keep Rodgers off the field they have a very good chance of winning. Green Bay has been very good against the run this year but I believe this stat to be misleading. I think they are at the top of league in this category because most teams don’t even try to run on them due to their subpar pass defense. Their pass defense has been much better as of late and I think it will be able to confuse the rookie Dak Prescott. They did a great job of this last week to Eli Manning. Rodgers will have another great game but I think the Packers defense will win them the game this week.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Dallas 30

Podcast: The guys review Wild Card weekend and look ahead to the divisional round

Our three experts – Jake McDonnell, Nolan McGraw, and Tyler Feeser have lots to talk about following a very underwhelming Wild Card weekend in the NFL. The guys open up the podcast by taking a look back at the Wild Card games and discuss the debacle that was the New York Giants receivers’ trip to Miami. The next part of the show is a game-by-game discussion on Divisional weekend. The divisional games next weekend are:

-Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

-Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

-Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs

-Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

This episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast was a trial run, but keep checking back for more podcasts not only about the NFL playoffs, but the Baltimore Birds as well.

As always, thanks for listening, and be sure to subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Soundcloud!

NFL Wild Card Weekend Breakdown

Editor’s Note: This article was also written by Nolan McGraw and Tyler Feeser.

The NFL playoffs begin this weekend, as the Wild Card round takes place. There are four games total, with two taking place on Saturday and two on Sunday.

To break down the weekend, all of our experts here at Charm City Bird Watch will provide an analysis of each game, followed by a prediction. Let’s see how much we agree, or disagree.

Saturday, Jan. 7

osweiler

Texans Quarterback Brock Osweiler has not lived up to his big contract. Credit: NFL Spin Zone.

AFC: #5 Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ #4 Houston Texans (9-7) – 4:35 pm – ESPN / ABC

Jake: I feel so bad for the Oakland Raiders. They finally made the playoffs after a 14-year drought and would have probably gotten the #2 seed if Derek Carr had not gotten hurt. Carr is a lead candidate for the NFL MVP this season and his loss is going to doom the Raiders.

Out of all the games this weekend, this one will definitely be the “who cares” bowl. Why? Because the Raiders are starting a third string quarterback in Connor Cook. How could this game get any worse? Well, that is because Brock Osweiler is the Texans’ starting quarterback. Osweiler was benched in week 16 and is only starting this game because Tom Savage suffered a concussion during Houston’s week 17 game against Tennessee.

This game is going to come down to which quarterback plays worse, and I think that will be Connor Cook. Osweiler sucks, but I think he will do enough against Oakland’s 24th ranked passing defense to lead the Texans to a victory. Houston: Have fun getting destroyed by New England next week.

Prediction: Texans 19, Raiders 10

Nolan: This has to be nerve-racking for Raiders fans. After having an amazing season they find themselves on the road in the wildcard round without their starting QB. The Texans are no strangers to quarterback problems either. The decision to bench Osweiler has not proven to be a success considering Tom Savage’s injury. Neither team is in great shape but I think the Texans will escape this one with a victory. Starting running back Lamar Miller will be returning at the perfect time for Houston’s unstable offense and their 7-1 home record should not be ignored either.

Prediction: Texans 17, Raiders 14

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Tyler: Oakland will travel to Houston to face the AFC South champs without their most valuable player, quarterback Derek Carr. Some believe Carr to be the league’s most valuable player. Instead they will start third string rookie Connor Cook at quarterback who will be making his first NFL start. Cook was thrown into the fire last week when Matt McGloin got hurt. Houston’s offense comes into the game having one of the league’s worst offenses even after giving quarterback Brock Osweiler a four year, $72 million contract this past offseason. However, Oakland has struggled on the defensive side of the ball almost as much as Houston has on offense, giving up 117 yards-per-game on the ground and 257 YPG through the air. Houston boasts one of the league’s best defenses (1st overall, 2nd against the pass, and 12th against the run) and will playing with the home crowd. I think Houston can take advantage of Oakland’s poor defense and possibly score on defense to pull out a win.

Note: These two teams met back in week 11 with the Raiders pulling out a 27-20 victory.

Prediction: Houston 24 Oakland 13

NFC: #6 Detroit Lions (9-7) @ #3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) – 8:15 pm – NBC

Jake: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was playing at an MVP-caliber level for the entire season, but an injury suffered to the middle finger on his throwing hand derailed his effort. He simply has not been the same since sustaining that injury, and that has to be a concern for the Lions as they face a Seahawks defense that can get after the quarterback.

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Lions receiver Golden Tate leads the team with 91 receptions for 1,077 yards. Credit: US Buzz Blog 7.

The Lions defense has been average at best, but the Seattle offensive line has simply been horrible for the past few seasons now. Russell Wilson has suffered several minor injuries to his legs this season, a result of poor protection in the pocket. Seattle is also missing some weapons at receiver, and is limited at running back.

Both teams have their issues, but I have to give the edge to the Seahawks, especially with “The 12th Man” rocking all night long. I think this will be a relatively low-scoring game with Seattle advancing to the divisional round.

Prediction: Seahawks 20, Lions 14

Nolan: The Lions backed their way into the playoffs after losing their final three games. Despite having a 9-7 record Detroit has not proven that they can beat legitimate opponents. The Lions are 0-5 against playoff teams this season and only one of their nine wins was against a team above .500 (Washington). Matt Stafford and the Detroit offense can put up points but overall their path to the playoffs was a cakewalk. Seattle is a more competitive team that has excelled in the playoffs in recent history.

Prediction: Seahawks 28, Lions 17

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Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor bump chests before the game against the Bears at CenturyLink Field Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. Credit: The Seattle Times. 

Tyler: Detroit will be making their third appearance in the postseason since 2011 when they travel to Seattle this weekend. The Lions come in losing their final three games all against playoff teams (Giants, Cowboys, Packers). The Lions have not played very well on the road this season either (3-5) including 0-3 in road games played outside. Seattle will come in with a few starters on injured reserve, including star safety Earl Thomas and electric return man / wide receiver Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks will be making their fifth playoff appearance in as many years and are always dangerous when it gets to January and February. Going just 2-2 in their last four games, some may consider the Seahawks a struggling team. However, they are extremely tough to beat in Seattle every year (7-1 this season). Detroit’s defense is nothing to write home about which will result in Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense being able to move the ball effectively. Ultimately I think that the Lions’ inability and reluctance to run the ball will play right into Seattle’s hand and will put Stafford in a very uncomfortable spot all evening.

Prediction: Seattle 31, Detroit 20

Sunday, January 8

AFC: #6 Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – 1:05 pm – CBS

Jake: It has been nice to see Adam Gase take over this Dolphins team, and the dividends seemed to pay off with Miami making it to the playoffs. The Dolphins will be without Ryan Tannehill, but luckily they have Matt Moore, one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL.

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Jay Ajayi ran for 204 against the Steelers in week 6. Credit: Sun Sentinel

The Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 in week 6, and running back Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards against the Steelers defense. If Miami has any chance in this game, they will have to rely heavily on Ajayi to put over 100 yards of rushing to wear out a Steelers defense that played better as the season went on.

The Steelers have won seven straight games, and I think they will win their eighth straight on Sunday. I think Le’Veon Bell will have a solid day on the ground, and Big Ben will find a way to distribute the football evenly through the air, most notably to Antonio Brown.

Prediction: Steelers 27, Dolphins 20

Nolan: With all of the QB injuries in the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best chance to compete with the Patriots for the AFC title. When these teams met in week six Miami was the winner. However, Ben Roethlisberger was injured during that game. The Dolphins could hang in there if they are able to start a healthy Tannehill but as of today he remains questionable. In the end, the Steelers are the more cohesive team, riding the wave of a seven game winning streak.

Prediction: Steelers 24, Dolphins 13

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The Antonio Brown “stretch catch” that won the AFC North for the Steelers. Credit: MMQB.  

Tyler: The Miami Dolphins will be making their first playoff appearance since 2008 and will most likely be playing without their starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, when they travel to Pittsburgh this weekend. The Dolphins have been playing relatively well lately, going 3-1 in their last four games with their only loss coming in week 17 to the AFC favorite Patriots. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has been scorching hot, winning their last seven games of the regular season after losing four straight in the weeks prior. These two teams met earlier this season in Miami where the Dolphins pulled out an upset win 30-15. However, Ben Roethisberger left that game early with a knee injury and it was simply too much to overcome. Pittsburgh’s strong home field advantage coupled with Miami’s postseason inexperience is a combination Dolphins fans should be concerned about. I think the key for both teams is establishing the run, controlling the clock, and keeping the opposing offense off the field. Neither defense is top notch and both are vulnerable on the ground. I am trusting that Roethlisberger, Brown, and especially Bell can be effective, keeping Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins offense off the field. T to a victory for Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 34, Miami 24

NFC: #5 New York Giants (11-5) @ #4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) – 4:40 pm – FOX

Jake: Every time the Giants make the playoffs, they go through Green Bay. In the Giants’ last two playoff pushes that both ended in Super Bowl victories, they defeated the Packers along the way. Now, they enter the postseason for the first time in five years, and will have to do that again if they want to go to Houston in February. You could not write a better script.

At one point, the Packers were 4-6 this season and people were calling for Mike McCarthy’s head. Since then, they have won six straight games to win the NFC North. Their offense is on fire, and Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind. A lot of people are leaning towards Green Bay this week, but I am going the opposite direction.

I am really looking forward to the battle between Rodgers and New York’s top-10 defense. I think the Packers will put up points, but I have learned not to pick against Eli Manning in the playoffs. Yes, he is Eli Manning and he is a very pedestrian quarterback in the regular season that makes dumb mistakes, but he turns it on in the playoffs. I do not see a reason of why he won’t do it again this season.

Prediction: Giants 34, Packers 31

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Will playoff Eli Manning show up Sunday? Credit: Bleacher Report

Nolan: This might be the most exciting match-up of the Wild Card round with both teams showing that they can get hot and go on some win streaks. The Packers are coming into the Wild Card round with a six-game win streak and a division title. The Giants had a six game win streak of their own in the middle of the season and finished with some nice wins over Dallas, Detroit and Washington. It should be noted that the Giants handed the Cowboys two of their three losses. Everyone is talking about the QB match-up of Rodgers vs. Manning, but I’m focused on the defensive play of these two teams. New York has the best defense in the NFC in points allowed while the Green Bay defense has been unreliable and has forced Rodgers into some unnecessary shootouts. The Giants will move on to the divisional round but this should be a great game.

Prediction: Giants 27, Packers 20

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Ty Montgomery has played both running back and wide receiver for Green Bay this season. Credit: Rotoprofessor. 

Tyler: The New York Giants will travel to Green Bay to face the Packers in the most anticipated match-up of Wild Card weekend. This will be the Giants’ first playoff appearance since 2011 when they won Super Bowl 46. New York has been surprisingly carried by their defense this season. The Giants used three of their first four draft picks on defensive players each of the last two seasons and spent over $200 million in free agency last offseason. The New York offense has been no slouch and they have proven that they can put up points in a hurry. The Packers come in winning six games in a row to end the season and will be making their eighth straight playoff appearance. Green Bay’s defense has been vulnerable through the air which bodes well for the Giants who have been much more successful this season passing the ball than running. The Packers offense has resurrected after some called it predictable and boring half way through the season. This can all be attributed to Aaron Rodgers being himself and the Packers finding a potential diamond in the rough by moving Ty Montgomery from receiver to running back. I’m giving the nod to Eli and the Giants because I think Eli can do enough in the passing game and the Giants defense will be able to keep the Packers offense in check.

Prediction: New York 31, Green Bay 27