Why We Watch: Eli's coming ... to Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
N.Y. GIANTS @ GREEN BAY, Sunday 4:40 p.m. (EST)
The line: Packers by 4-1/2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 16
The story: This is a tale of two quarterbacks – one who makes a raft of mistakes and the other who makes none. Easy to choose a winner then, right? Not so fast. Eli Manning is a turnover waiting to happen, but he may have found a cure for his troubles with a running game that was absent nuch of this season. The Giants grinded out 161 yards vs. Washington last week, with rookie Paul Perkins responsible for 102, and there's where the Giants can win. Control the ball, keep Aaron Rodgers off the field and prevent Eli from having to throw early and often. Remember: Manning is at his best here. He's 8-3 in the playoffs, including 2-0 vs. Green Bay -- with both wins at Lambeau. And he outplayed Aaron Rodgers, who has not had an interception in his last seven games, or 245 attempts. But the playoffs often favor teams that can run the ball and play defense, and we know the Giants can play defense. What we don’t know is if those rushing results vs. Washington were little more than a tease. Yes, Green Bay should be favored. The Packers won their last six, they're home and Rodgers is on a tear. And, yes, this has the feel of 2010 all over again. But the Giants have the edge on defense. If Manning can avoid the pratfalls that handicapped him throughout the season, it might be 2011 all over again -- with Big Blue pulling the upset.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Over the last four weeks of the regular season, the Packers have an NFL-best 13 takeaways while not committing a turnover. Four straight games without a giveaway ties a franchise record, set in 2014.
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
(Eli Manning photo courtesy of the New York Giants)
THREE OTHERS THAT MIGHT BE SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
OAKLAND @ HOUSTON, Saturday, 4:35 p.m. (EST)
The line: Texans by 3-1/2
The story: Sunny, high of 53
The story: No matter what happens, the Raiders' Connor Cook is guaranteed to make history. He is the first rookie quarterback in the NFL to make his first career start in the playoffs. Not good. But the Raiders have no choice. They lost Derek Carr. They lost Matt McGloin. And now it's up to Cook, and you know something? He may be the best thing that happened to them. Look, they weren’t going to beat Houston with McGloin. That was apparent in Denver last weekend. But they might with Cook because … well, because nobody – especially Houston – knows what to expect from the guy. Nobody know what to expect from left tackle Donald Penn's replacement, either, but I do know this: You can bet the league's No. 1-ranked defense will blitz and blitz often. So it might be up to the Raiders' defense to win this game by forcing Brock Osweiler into another interception. There is no other quarterback in these playoffs under more pressure, with Osweiler getting the start only because Tom Savage is hurt. So, now, he must prove the Texans are better off with him than they were a year ago with Brian Hoyer. Granted, that bar is low. But this is Brock Osweiler.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: From Weeks 8-17 Houston allowed an NFL-low 71.9 rushing yards per game and three rushing TDs.
(Bill O Brien photo courtesy of the Houston Texans)
DETROIT @ SEATTLE, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. (EST)
The line: Seahawks by 8
The weather: PM rain/snow showers, high of 38
The story: Let's call this one as it is ... or should be: Seattle should win and win easily because it's home. But the Seahawks have been nothing short of unimpressive the past six weeks vs. lesser opponents (they were 3-3) – so much so that you never know what to expect anymore (hey, they lost at home to Arizona). Yes, I trust Russell Wilson at home in playoff games, but, no, I don’t trust that Legion of Boom without Earl Thomas. It's been vulnerable to underwhelming opponents, and, beware, Seahawks' fans: Detroit will keep this close. Furthermore, you better hope the outcome isn’t in doubt late because that’s when the Lions are at their best – even with Matt Stafford handicapped by a bad finger. They won an NFL-record eight times after trailing in the fourth quarter.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Lions' 15 giveaways were their fewest in a season since 1940.
(Matt Stafford photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)
MIAMI @ PITTSBURGH, Sunday 1:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Steelers by 10-1/2
The weather: Mostly cloudy, high of 19
The story: Miami beat these guys earlier this year, and the score wasn’t close. So why the big spread now? Well, let us count the ways: 1) The Dolphins won with Ryan Tannehill; 2) that game was in Miami; 3) Ben Roethlisberger was just returning from a significant injury; 4) Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards and 5) Matt Moore was a spectator. But now ... well, now Moore is the starting quarterback, and, yeah, I know, he was decent the last three games, throwing 8 touchdowns and three interceptions. But these are the playoffs, and these are the Steelers at home in the playoffs – where they won four of their last five. Roethlisberger is 11-6 in the postseason and playing well, and he has a franchise running back, franchise wide receiver and solid offensive line to keep the Dolphins on their heels. The Dolphins have weapons, too – heck, Ajayi and Jarvis Landry had big years – but this is Matt Moore starting his first playoff game in a hostile environment. So, be honest: Who are you going to trust: Matt Moore or Roethlisberger? That's why oddsmakers figure Pittsburgh wins going away.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: When Pittsburgh loses to a non-divisonal opponent, it is 8-12 against that team the second time around when meeting it in the playoffs.
(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
OUR BEST BETS
Clark Judge – Detroit (+8). No, they won't win. But the Lions can ... and will ... keep it close.
Ron Borges – Pittsburgh (--10-1/2). Miami is playing with a backup quarterback and half of its defense limping. That is no way to go into Pittsburgh against Ben Roethlisberger. Give me a Terrible Towel, and I will give you the points.
Rick Gosselin -- Pittsburgh (--10-1/2). Miami lost at home by 21 last weekend to New England. They are on the road now and playing a better offense.
THIS WEEKEND'S HALL OF FAMOUS
DETROIT QB MATTHEW STAFFORD. He's thrown for 703 yards and four touchdowns in two playoff starts.
HOUSTON RB LAMAR MILLER. He has four TDs in three career starts vs. Oakland.
PITTSBURGH RB LE'VEON BELL. He averaged 139.2 yards rushing per game and scored six times in his last six starts.
GREEN BAY PK MASON CROSBY. He made his last 20 field-goal tries in the playoffs.
PITTSBURGH LB JAMES HARRISON. He has nine tackles for losses and six sacks in eight playoff games.
SEATTLE WR JERMAINE KEARSE. He has six TDs in seven playoff games and scored in the last three postseason contests at home.
N.Y. GIANTS QB ELI MANNING. In his last four playoff games, he threw for 1,219 yards, with nine TDs and one interception. He's also 2-0 vs. Green Bay in the postseason.
GREEN BAY LB CLAY MATTHEWS. He has 10 career playoff sacks, most in team history.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Winners in the wildcard round have won the Super Bowl nine times, with the 2012 Ravens the latest.
With a win Saturday, Russell Wilson ties Ben Roethlisberger for the most playoff wins (8) in his first five years of play. Tom Brady and Joe Flacco hold the record with nine each.
Six of the eight divisions featured new champions from last year, the most since 2011. Only New England and Houston were repeat winners.
Houston was the only team not to allow a 300-yard passer this season.
Miami is the ninth team since 1990 to qualify for the playoffs after starting 1-4.
In 13 of the past 14 seasons, a team that finished last in its division one year went on to win it the next. That team this season is Dallas.
The Packers are the only NFL team to have winning streaks of four or more games in each of the past eight seasons. They won their last six this year.
Since 2002, the Patriots have been to the playoffs the most (13 times), followed by Green Bay (12).
Of the 12 teams in this season's playoffs, New England has the best playoff percentage (.604) and Kansas City the worst (.360).
Aaron Rodgers led the league with 31 red-zone touchdown passes, including nine to Jordy Nelson.
The number-one seeds in the AFC and NFC each advanced to the Super Bowl the past three seasons.