And then there were eight. The first week of the NFL playoffs reduced the contenders for the Super Bowl to eight teams to battle it out for the Vince Lombardi trophy, with a fascinating round of fixtures at hand for the divisional round.
The cream rose to the top in the fixtures last week as all four winning sides recorded comfortable victories over their opponents. The victors were all playing at home, which was a stark contrast to the previous campaign when the four road teams advanced.
We’ll now analyse if any of the sides on wildcard weekend made enough of an impression to enhance their Super Bowl credentials or will they be simply cannon fodder for the well-rested top seeds this week.
History was on the side of the New York Giants in their clash with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Giants quarterback Eli Manning had led his side to two victories over the NFC North outfit in the playoffs, while Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers saw their dreams of glory crushed in the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
It appeared lightning was going to strike again as New York’s defense stifled Rodgers for the majority of the first half, while Packers wideout Jordy Nelson was ruled out for the game after taking a hit to the ribs.
However, the game was to turn just before the break when Rodgers launched a Hail Mary with seconds remaining and Randall Cobb made the catch at the back of the endzone. The catch turned the momentum in the contest just like five years ago when Hakeem Nicks made a similar grab for the Giants on their way to victory.
In the second half Rodgers carved apart the Giants’ secondary throwing a further two strikes to Cobb to secure an emphatic win.
The 33-year-old will need to be at the peak of his powers when his side travel to face the number one seed Dallas Cowboys. New York let the Packers off the hook with several missed plays and Jason Garrett’s men are unlikely to be so forgiving.
However, Green Bay produced a similar run to the Super Bowl in 2010 and this surge is beginning to look similar with Rodgers finding his best at the perfect time. Therefore backing Mike McCarthy’s side at +550 with Bovada sportsbook might be a wise option.
The odds were stacked against the Miami Dolphins heading into their wildcard clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The club were without their starting quarterback and three quarters of their secondary, while several other players were playing through the pain barrier.
Add to that they were on the road and the fact that the Steelers had won their last seven contests, the Dolphins would have just done well to compete. However, they were totally dominated by Mike Tomlin’s men from start to finish as Ben Roethlisberger barely had to get out of first gear due to the form of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
Brown started the rout with a 50-yard touchdown and then notched his second score minutes later to put his team in command. Bell joined the party with a number of weaving runs through the Dolphins’ defensive line, racking up a Steelers playoff record 167 yards on the ground along with two touchdowns.
The potent offensive trio hold the key for Pittsburgh in their post-season run as their defense did display signs of weakness, giving up yards to Miami through the air even with backup Matt Moore in place.
Should Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell fire against the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round, we could be set for a mouth-watering contest at Arrowhead Stadium. Don’t sleep on the Steelers to win the AFC Conference with TopBet sportsbook at +375 .
The Seattle Seahawks have been a constant presence in the playoffs since they drafted Russell Wilson in 2012, and he won his eighth post-season match as Pete Carroll’s men crushed the Detroit Lions at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle were barely tested by the Lions in the contest as the NFC North side refused to get out of their own way, making several errors over the course of the match.
The Seahawks were able to capitalise, while wide receiver Paul Richardson made one of the finest catches you will see, corralling the ball with one hand. He could have been flagged for a penalty, but in the context of the game it was not a huge decision as Detroit never threatened to challenge the home side.
Therefore it’s difficult to evaluate where Carroll and his men stand ahead of their trip to the Georgia Dome. The Atlanta Falcons played them extremely tough in their regular-season game at the Link, while Earl Thomas who made the decisive play in that match will miss the contest.
Seattle’s defense has been the foundation of their recent success, although there were a few plays against the Lions that could well have gone against them. That will concern Carroll going against the second-best offense in the NFL and potential MVP Matt Ryan.
The Houston Texans were handed a playoff win by the Oakland Raiders in their clash on Saturday. Bill O’Brien’s men were far from perfect as quarterback Brock Osweiler continued to struggle, although he did manage to put enough points on the board to drive his side to the win.
The Raiders’ hopes of securing a positive result from the fixture were extinguished when backup quarterback Matt McGloin was not ready for action, leaving third-stringer Connor Cook to start his first game. The rookie threw three interceptions against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the visitors still mounted a decent effort in the circumstances notching 14 points.
Houston’s defense were opportunistic against Cook, but will need to be flawless when they travel to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Whitney Mercilus collected two sacks in the contest against the Raiders and he will need to be unblockable at Gillette Stadium for his side to have any chance, especially in the absence of J.J Watt.
The odds could not be stacked more against O’Brien’s men and they will need to have the performance of a lifetime or hope the Patriots have the worst display of the Bill Belichick era for them to advance to the AFC Championship game.
Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl
Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC Championship