We've finally arrived to the elimination play portion of the NFL calendar. There are no rematches, do-overs or excuses to be used. Is that what Game of Thrones is like? For some of the ProCanes in the NFL this will be there first taste of postseason pie. Will their approach change or stay the same as they look to punch their ticket to Super Bowl LI (51) in Houston.
This weeks breakdown of games known as the wildcard round has 4 games occurring over the course of two days, Saturday and Sunday.
ProCanes making their 1st postseason appearance:
- RB Lamar Miller
- TE Clive Walford
- LT Ereck Flowers
- DE Olivier Vernon
- CB Artie Burns
- CB Ladarius Gunter
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans (Saturday, 4:35 EST)
The kickoff game of wildcard weekend will feature a game with a healthy number Miami Hurricane alums taking part. Fitting that it's wildcard weekend, there may be no bigger wildcard this postseason than quarterback play from either the Raiders or Texans.
Last week we mentioned that Walford would be doing himself and his team a service if he were able to establish himself as a safety blanket for QB Matt McGloin who was set to fill-in for starter Derek Carr. The football Gods can be cruel, and McGloin went down with a shoulder injury that will keep him out of this weekend's playoff game. The Raiders are going to need their skill position players to step up if there's any chance of the Silver and Black making it to the next round. The 2016 regular season seen a similar performance from Walford, who was projected to take a bigger role in his sophomore season. (33 receptions, 359 receiving yards 3 TDs, 10,0 yards per catch) . Those are the breaks when Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper top the pecking order.
Lamar Miller is finally going to have a playoff carry after 5 seasons in the league. Having missed the final two games of the season to be rested for the playoff race, you shouldn't be too worried about the lingering ankle injury that was responsible for keeping him on the shelf as he's been listed as probable for Saturday. Finishing 26 yards shy of a single season career best for rushing yardage, it will be all worth it if the Texans can play well in spite of QB Brock Osweiler. Houston will lean on Miller to pound the rock, look for #26 as a check-down option with the Texans' defense forcing rookie QB Connor Cook into mistakes.
As Devin mentioned in this week’s ProCanes Recap, big Vince Wilfork is considering retirement. He would be a first ballot for Canton when he eventual signs those papers. For now he will look to add another Super Bowl ring to his collection, starting with a win over the Silver and Black.
This game could come down to field goals with starting field position be all the more important given the offensive deficiencies of both teams.
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks (Saturday, 8:15pm EST)
The last time that tight end Jimmy Graham played a playoff game he was still had a fleur-de-lis on his helmet, was both a Pro Bowler as well as First Team All-Pro, and at the age of 27 finished the regular season with his second year of 1,000+ yards receiving (1,215) and 16 touchdowns. The now 30-year old returns to the postseason finally clicking with QB Russell Wilson, and has become a solid weapon in the passing game for Seattle. His 923 receiving yards this season was his highest total since his last playoff appearance in 2013.
Just when we thought that it was over for the Devin Hester in the league, Seattle signed the all-time returns leader for the playoff run this past week. As Devin mentioned in his piece, at 34 years old Hester is not the same player he was a decade ago when he returned the opening kickoff to the house in Super Bowl XLI (41) against the Colts. The signing makes sense given the season-ending injury to Seahawks top returner TJ Lockett.
Detroit closed the regular season in pitiful fashion with a 31-24 loss to Green Bay on Sunday Night Football to lose the NFC North division. The L was also the team's third straight loss to end the season. With the support of the 12th man behind them, as well as having the 5th ranked defense heading into the contest we expect Detroit to make a game of it, but look for Jimmy G and the rest of the Seahawks to capture a win at home.
Graham will also be sporting this babies Saturday Night!
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday 1:05pm EST)
There may not be a bigger contrast from week-to-week than Artie Burns having to defend against the Browns in a meaningless week 17 matchup, to having to defend Devante Parker and Kenny Stills in a playoff game the next week. PFF's 45th ranked cornerback based on coverage grade, Burns will need to do whatever he can (within the rules) to slow down Miami's receivers. This game is a rematch of the week 6 game from earlier in the season where Miami lit up Pittsburgh with the underneath passing game with Tannehill going 24 of 31 for 252, O INTS and dominance in the run game with Jay Ajayi rushing for 204 yards on 25 carries with 2 TDs.
This time around Miami likely won't have Tannehill's services for the game, relying on QB Matt Moore to pilot the offense to the second round. While some put plenty of stock into warm weather teams playing in the cold, the game will be held in Pittsburgh where the forecast is predicting game time temperatures between 10-20 degrees. Make of that what you will.
If Artie is going to extend his rookie year, both he and the secondary are going to need to clamp down on those short passes. Setting the edge outside so that Ajayi doesn't have an open field one his eyes and legs get past the offensive tackle.
NY Giants at Green Bay Packers (Sunday 4:40pm EST)
The final game of the weekend could set up as the most intriguing of the entire weekend. Green Bay won the regular season week 5 game in October 23- 16, yet both teams are different versions of what they were then. The only certainty that we have heading into Sunday is that Aaron Rodgers ability to get what he wants. After that, the rest of the game is up in the air. Eli Manning is sketchy at best in the regular season, but we have no idea if the post-season 2-time Super Bowl winning version will show up.
Ereck Flowers has gone pro in inconsistent play for most of his second season in the NFL. While some games have been more hideous than others, his saving grace comes in his run-blocking along with New York's short underneath passing game. Flowers is likely to see action against LB Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and help against DL Mike Daniels who is having an outstanding season. Flowers will need to play the best game of his career if the Giants look to leave Lambeau with another playoff win.
If there is one person that loved the image of the Giants receiving corp chilling on the beach in Miami instead of keeping a low-profile in Gotham it was Ladarius Gunter. Odell Beckham Jr and Russell Shepard are a difficult cover as is, so any sort of help that the Green Bay secondary gets would be a huge bonus. Teams have been throwing the ball at will against the Pack, given the lengthy list of injuries that portion of the team have suffered. Sunday night the secondary will be in a fight on the outside hashes against the wide receivers of NYG, but trying to field a healthy compliment of players to line up.
The best matchup to watch from this game will be DE Oliver Vernon going up against OT David Bakhtiari, both of whom representing the highest quality of play at their respective positions. Finishing the 2016-'17 season with 8.5 sacks, it can't be emphasized more how impactful he's been for the Giants in the run game. His ability to set the edge, stack , shed and make the tackle around the line of scrimmage. It would makes sense why he's tied for 1st in the NFL in the regular season in tackles for loss with 17. Foreshadowing success for the Packers running game is a tall order against NYG's 3rd ranked defense against the run (yardage per game) will be a tall order. On Sunday it should be a daunting task.
As of Thursday afternoon Ladarious Gunter is no longer the lone ProCane in the Green Bay secondary. Miami alum and former wide receiver Herb Waters was promoted from the practice roster to the 53-man roster. The rookie has been trying to make the transition to cornerback since September, hence why he was on the practice roster. Veteran cornerback Quentin Rollins went down in week 17, and has been in concussion protocol is viewed as iffy at best to play Sunday. Waters will now be among the five healthy corners that Cheeseheads will depend upon to slow down the Giants passing game.
While Waters will be active, his role will be more crucial on special teams than on defense heading into the weekend.
This past Tuesday the Finalist for the 2017 class for the NFL Hall of Fame were announced. Unfortunately for Canes great Edgerrin James, he did not make the final ballot. He will have to wait another season to submit his 11 year, 4 Pro Bowl and 1st year All-Pro resume for the selection committee to go over once more.Notes
- This past Tuesday the Finalist for the 2017 class for the NFL Hall of Fame were announced. Unfortunately for Canes great Edgerrin James, he did not make the final ballot. He will have to wait another season to submit his 11 year, 4 Pro Bowl and 1st year All-Pro resume for the selection committee to go over once more.
- With The Firing of Rex Ryan in Buffalo, former Miami safety Ed Reed may need to find employment elsewhere for 2017