The NFL season has reached -
Yes Jim Mora, there is a playoffs.
We'll start with the Houston Texans, AFC South champs. Their quarterback situation has been iffy at best this season and lately has gotten downright ugly. Tom Savage struggled in the game against the Titans and was lost with a concussion, so Brock Osweiler came off the bench and finished the game, a 24-17 Titans win. For the Titans it's something to build on for 2017 once Marcus Mariota heals up having taken a major step forward as a quarterback.
For the Texans it's a quarterback issue when they least need one.
But the Texans host their wildcard round game against a team with even bigger quarterback issues in the Oakland Raiders. Matt McGloin had to start with Derek Carr out until next season, and McGloin struggled before getting knocked out at Denver. As a result rookie Connor Cook took over and it wasn't in the least bit pretty, though Cook acquitted himself reasonably well given his rawness. It salvaged a winning season for the Broncos as coach Gary Kubiak is reported on his way to retirement, leaving more questions for the lame duck champs.
My prediction for this wildcard game - Texans win.
The bad news in the AFC West is the San Diego Chargers ended the season - and perhaps their life in San Diego - in disgrace with two more interceptions by Philip Rivers and a 37-27 Kansas City Chiefs win. With just 48 wins and one playoff win this decade so far the Chargers have been perhaps the most aggravating un-achiever in the AFC given the talent on this squad, and the disgrace of their refusal to renovate Qualcomm Stadium - their true home - and presumptive move to the pit that is Los Angeles makes it all the worse.
For the Chiefs 2016 continues at 12-4 and the second seed in the AFC; they thus await the winners of the wildcard round. It's been a stunning surge from starting 2015 at 1-5 - and winning 23 of their next 28 games to date.
The Steelers rested starters and got a game out of the 1-15 Browns and Robert Griffin III, who shockingly looked like an actual quarterback. The Browns took the lead in overtime and the Steelers clawed down, even chancing a 4th and 2 conversion, before spearing the Browns for the win yet again. They are thus AFC North champs and the three seed.
The Dolphins made a game of it at the end of the first half but the Patriots then escalated the firepower and won 35-14, this after a lot of pregame verbiage about losing three straight at Miami. The Dolphins had secured the six seed in the AFC and had an outside shot at the five seed. An interesting point was made by ESPN - should the Dolphins win their wildcard game they would go to Foxboro for the divisional round no matter what else happened, so there's nothing to gain by showing everything in this Week 17 game. Whether one buys it or not depends on taste.
In any event the Dolphins head to Pittsburgh for the divisional round.
The last time the Steelers played the Dolphins the result was a turning point for the Dolphins season and a reality check for the Steelers.
My prediction - Dolphins win.
Yes Matt Moore is now the quarterback and one is iffy about him in a playoff game. But the Steelers have been overrated the last five seasons with just one playoff win in that span plus the Dolphins are well ahead of all expectations under first-year coach Adam Gase. Jay Ajayi is the primary weapon for the Dolphins and the Steelers didn't slow him down a whole lot earlier this year, plus their overall run defense has allowed 4.1 Yards Per Carry - not that encouraging.
The game meant nothing since the Cowboys were top seed in the NFC, but it was fun seeing Mark Sanchez prove anew his ineptitude as a quarterback.
With the Cowboys already the NFC's top seed the Falcons won the race with the Seahawks for the conference's #2 seed and continued the erosion of the Saints that has been ongoing for several years now, an erosion that makes Drew Brees' 5,208 yards this season irrelevant even as a trivia bit. The Falcons thus await the wildcard round results.
The Seahawks surprisingly struggled to put away the hapless 49ers, continuing a noticeable slide since the Superbowl loss, the slide becoming more noticeable this past season with a strikingly mediocre offense and reversion to the Holmgren-era bugaboo where the Seahawks would win all their home games (though not literally in 2016) and then blow it on the road every week (specifically they were 2-5-1 on the road in 2016).
The Giants had already secured the NFC's five seed so the Redskins had the chance to make it in as the six - the odds were long, though, and in the end the Skins proved they're not close to being primetime caliber.
The Sunday Night game meanwhile showed anew two things - the Packers can frontrun to victory and the Lions have NO ability to handle ANY kind of quality opponent. Quinton Collins' very serious neck injury put the damper on the game and thus brought the regular season to a strikingly forgettable halt. Thus the Packers will host the New York Giants in the wildcard round.
My prediction - Giants win.
Everyone is gaga about Aaron Rodgers' athleticism and arm strength and also that he fulfilled his run the table prediction. The Packers also beat the Giants 23-16 earlier this season. Since then though the Giants won nine of their next eleven games - and had more wins (four) over teams with .500 or better records than the Packers (three) in their six-game win streak - while the Packers slumped to 4-6 before their late-season rally after losing five straight games (this during a six-game stretch) to teams that finished at least .500. The Packers' secondary hasn't acquitted itself all that well and for all his erraticism Eli Manning is a lot more trustworthy than a Packers team he beat three straight times before 2016's toe-stub in October.
As for Lions at Seahawks, it's a slam-dunk win for the Seahawks. Matthew Stafford is useless against any good opponent and for all the Seahawks' struggles Russell Wilson long ago proved himself in the crucible great quarterbacks have to master - a crucible that is too much for Stafford, Jim Caldwell, and the Lions.
So we await playoff Week One.