The playoffs get underway this weekend and all four home teams are favored by at least a field goal. In two of the cases, teams with inferior records will host teams that had more wins because they were division winners. One of those cases is the Oakland Raiders, who will also have to overcome some key injuries if they’re to win at the Houston Texans. That’s where we’ll start our preview of the four playoff games this weekend.
Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans
Odds: Texans -3
The Raiders will be making their first playoff trip since 2002 but they will be much weaker than their 12-4 record indicates. That’s because rookie quarterback Connor Cook will make the start as Matt McGloin, who replaced the injured Derek Carr, is now also hurt. The Raiders also lost last week in Denver, which meant that they dropped from the No. 2 seed in the AFC and lost both home-field advantage for their first game as well as a bye.
The Texans won the AFC South with a 9-7 record but even though their record is inferior, they’ll host this contest. Former starter Brock Osweiler stepped in for the injured Tom Savage and it now looks like he’ll be back under center for the playoff game. The theme of this game will be the quarterback play as the Texans and Raiders are enduring challenging situations.
The Raiders are 3-2 SU and ATS in their last five meetings with the Texans, including a 27-20 “home” win in Mexico City in Week 11. However, the Raiders won’t have Carr and the Texans will have a defense that finished first in yards allowed.
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks
Odds: Seahawks -7
The Lions are back in the playoffs even after a 31-24 home loss to Green Bay put them at 9-7. They stumbled their way into the postseason as they’ve lost three straight. Seattle has also struggled, as indicated by their narrow 25-23 road win in San Francisco to finish 10-5-1. They were a double-digit favorite in that contest but barely hung on for the win.
Seattle’s defense hasn’t looked great since losing safety Earl Thomas. Not including their game against the lousy Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks allowed 31.7 points per game in December.
The Lions are 11th in passing offense and they’ll need to rely on that. However, the bigger challenge could be the Seahawks’ home-field advantage. With Detroit’s loss last week, they now have to start the playoffs on the road in an outdoor stadium. All of the Lions’ nine wins this season came inside domes.
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds: Steelers -10
The Dolphins finished 10-6 after a 35-14 home loss to New England, but they’re back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Steelers are 11-5 and winners of the AFC North after closing out their season with a 27-24 home win in overtime over Cleveland and they got to rest their starters. While the Miami offense lost Ryan Tannehill, their defense is more of a concern as it ranked 29th in yards allowed while the Pittsburgh offense was seventh in yards gained.
Revenge will squarely be on the Steelers’ minds as the Dolphins beat them handily in Week 5 (30-15). Running back Jay Ajayi had his coming-out party, rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns in that contest. Stopping him will be the Steelers’ No. 1 priority.
These are two of the hottest teams in the NFL right now as the Steelers have won seven straight while the Dolphins have won nine of 11.
New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
Odds: Packers -3.5
The Giants are 11-5 after their 19-10 road win in Washington, which kept their NFC East rivals out of the playoffs. They won nine of their final 11 games but most of the headlines will be focused on the Packers, who have won six straight.
The Packers’ hot streak allowed them to claim the NFC North and host this affair. Aaron Rodgers has been incredible with 15 touchdowns and no picks during this six-game run but he’ll be tested by one of the best defenses in the league. The Giants’ defense ranked second in points allowed (17.8) and intercepted the second-most passes this season (17).