Winter makes its presence known in NFL playoffs
Weather might be the best bet in the opening round of the NFL playoffs this weekend.
Pittsburgh is hosting the Dolphins of balmy Miami in what’s expected to be temperatures in the teens.
Matthew Stafford has to lead the Detroit Lions, even with his messed-up throwing hand, in what may very well be a typical cold, damp day in the Pacific Northwest of Seattle.
Then there’s the Green Bay Packers. I see temperatures will struggle to reach 10 degrees as the New York Giants with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham come to town.
Finally, that leaves the probable air-conditioned comfort of the retractable-roof NRG Stadium for the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.
We’ll give ’em a break on the weather, since one team is playing its third-string quarterback and the other has a demoted starting QB who’s back on the first string after his replacement got knocked out.
Here’s how I’m handicapping all this, listed chronologically with game times and TV coverage:
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN — Even though you might be able to find a half-dozen non-playoff squads that would be favored to beat either one of these teams, this has the potential to be the most competitive game of the weekend.
But will anyone care if neither team scores an offensive touchdown?
I’ll call the QB matchup a wash with Houston’s Brock Osweiler back after a demotion just a few weeks ago and Oakland’s (and former Michigan State’s) Connor Cook becoming the first signal caller in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in the playoffs.
The difference? A far superior defense on the Houston side, which is what the playoffs are supposed to be about anyway. Texans, 17-11.
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, NBC — Limping in off three straight losses, the Lions have to be happy just to get this far.
On the other sideline with the loudest stadium in the NFL backing them up, Seattle ain’t thinkin’ that way. Seahawks, 29-19.
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS — If these were actual dolphins, it would be considered inhumane to expose them to air temps 20 degrees below freezing.
Given that, I’d like these Dolphins against a porous Steelers defense if it wasn’t for Pittsburgh’s relatively healthy offensive stars Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger. Steelers, 33-26.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox — A lot of plusses for the Packers — weather, health, a hot streak. Then there’s that banged-up secondary.
Three players went out against the Lions last week, leaving open the possibility of Giants’ prima donna receiver Beckham going off for some crazy 25-catch, 300-yard day. Ugh.
With New York’s strength on defense being its pass coverage rather than its pass rush, I believe in an Aaron Rodgers who can buy himself an extra five, 10, maybe even 15 seconds to finally find a receiver open — and hit him. Packers, 24-20.
Last week — 11-5, 69 percent. Regular season — 161-93-2, 63 percent.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.