January 04, 2017

Wild-card games can be so unpredictable because, at times, the visitors come in with a better record than the host.

That's the case in two of this weekend's matchups, and Pro Picks sees it as a mixed bag.

The Raiders (12-4), one of the AFC's powers until, well, the past three weeks, travel to Houston (9-7) for Saturday's late-afternoon contest. Then the Giants (11-5) head to Green Bay (10-6) in the capper to the four-game round on Sunday.

Pittsburgh and Seattle both have an edge on their opponents in record, and the betting lines show that. The Steelers (11-5), despite having lost to Miami (10-6) this season, are 10-point favorites. The Seahawks (10-5-1) are 8-point favorites over Detroit (9-7).

Regardless, all eight of these teams would prefer to be doing what New England, Dallas, Atlanta and Kansas City are doing: not playing. But they weren't good enough for a bye.

''We want to be better than 9-7,'' Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. ''I think it's a league, based on the rules and the way that the draft is set up and free agency - it's like what I always say, it's an 8-and-8 league.

''We've been a little bit better than that, but we're not aiming for 9-7, but we're AFC South champions. We've got a home playoff game. Great opportunity for our fans and for our players, especially, to go out and play well and try to win a playoff game. It's going to be very difficult to do that, but I'm glad for the opportunity.''

No. 11 Detroit (plus 8) at No. 8 Seattle

Neither side has been inspiring down the stretch, with Detroit throwing away the NFC North crown with three straight closing defeats, and Seattle kicking away a bye by splitting its final six.

These are two of the worst running teams in football, but Seattle has gotten back Thomas Rawls, which could make for a distinct edge.

The Seahawks also have the better defense, even though it's been spotty, at best, without injured star safety Earl Thomas.

One of the more intriguing angles here is Detroit's clutch wideout, Golden Tate, who used to fill that same role in Seattle. Doug Baldwin has done much more than replacing Tate, though.

Seahawks win, Lions cover.

BEST BET: SEAHAWKS, 20-17

No. 9 Oakland (plus 3+) at No. 12 Houston

When the Raiders selected quarterback Connor Cook in the fourth round last April, the Cowboys were eyeing him. Dallas then went with Dak Prescott.

We all know Prescott's 2016 story. It now looks as if third-stringer Cook will become the first QB to make his initial NFL start in a playoff game. If he can be anything close to Prescott ... .

The Texans are headed back to the so-far-underwhelming Brock Osweiler after Tom Savage was concussed last week.

Pro Picks just can't believe the Raiders' turnaround season will end so ignominiously. We also can't believe too much in Houston.

UPSET SPECIAL: RAIDERS, 17-16

No. 10 Miami (plus 10) at No. 5 Pittsburgh

The Dolphins turned around their season with a Week 6 victory over the Steelers. But Miami is yet another team using a backup QB, Matt Moore, although starter Ryan Tannehill has progressed nicely in his recovery from a knee injury. If Jay Ajayi can run wild again, Miami has a solid chance.

However, the Steelers are a tested bunch and got to rest several key players in the season finale - including Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell.

The line is kind of hefty, though.

STEELERS, 23-17

No. 6 (tie) New York Giants (plus 4) at No. 6 (tie) Green Bay

The showcase of the wild-card weekend; we could see either of these teams, despite their shortcomings, progressing to the conference title game and possibly the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers probably has been the league's top quarterback since Thanksgiving. He's re-established that dynamic connection with Jordy Nelson, and Ty Montgomery's emergence as a receiver-turned-running back has been a revelation. Green Bay's defense also has come on, though the secondary is banged-up.

New York is showing elements of the torrid pass rush and opportunistic defense that lifted it to NFL championships for the 2007 and `11 seasons. But the running game is so-so and Eli Manning only seems comfortable throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. Not that it's a bad idea.

PACKERS, 26-21

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Last Week: Against spread (5-11). Straight up: (10-6)

Season Totals: Against spread (124-121-8). Straight up: (156-98-2)

Best Bet: 11-6 against spread, 12-5 straight up

Upset special: 6-10-1 against spread, 6-11 straight up

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