NFL wild card round 1 open thread

Jazz: The last week of the regular season was pretty good to me and I closed out with a 5-2 showing. While I had dipped perilously close to the .500 mark a couple times in the early weeks, I finished with a 73-44 record, my best ever at Hot Air. But as we’ve traditionally done, we’re wiping the slate clean in our contest and starting a new game for the playoffs. Perhaps the brightest spot for me in this stage of the contest is that the Jets have been mercifully put out of their misery so I won’t feel obligated to pick them as I had to do all season.

This hasn’t been a good year for the NFL at large, in my never very humble opinion. The ratings are down and the league has been plagued with far too many scandals and off the field drama which seems to have turned off the fans. I know that I’ve found it more difficult to be excited about the prospect of watching the non-Jets games every week. But here’s to hoping that Goodell and company have learned a lesson and can turn things around during the off season. For now, we’ll put on a stiff upper lip and plunge forward into the playoffs.

Ed: Alas, my Week 17 was much like the rest of my season — all right, but not good enough. My picks went 4-3, giving me a 71-46 record in 2016, two games out from the lead. Congratulations to Jazz on a fine winning season, but … wait’ll next year. Or wait to now. I’m feeling irrationally optimistic about the playoffs, so be sure to stick around while reality does its dead-carp slap in the face over the next four weeks or so.

Jazz and I agree about the NFL’s terrible year, and I wonder whether the election might provide the NFL a wake-up call. The league’s fans mainly reside outside the progressive coastal enclaves and the Northeast, in areas that made it clear that they don’t appreciate the Politicization of All Things and especially not the political correctness that has descended like a plague not just on the league but on the coverage provided by ESPN and NBC. Goodell’s not the only problem here — so are the players. Perhaps they’ll figure out that people watch the games for the games, and not for tendentious lectures on politics. We can only hope that they’re looking at the revenue losses ahead from falling ratings and connecting the dots.

Jazz: The first wild card game today contains two hopefuls who may not have as much hope as they once did. The Houston Texans host the Oakland Raiders. (4:35 PM, ESPN) in a game which has big question marks hanging over both teams. The Raiders had a fantastic season until suddenly losing QB Derek Carr in the final stretch. They replaced him with Matt McGloin, and he wound up going down also. Now they’re starting their third string passer, Connor Cook. Houston posted an admirable 9-7 record, but their own QB, Brock Osweiler, seemed to struggle in the last few games. Cook is seeing his debut NFL start in a playoff game, so he’s either going to shock the world and shine like a diamond or collapse as everyone expects. Houston has the better defense by the numbers and should be the logical pick. But I’m going to throw Ed a bone here and declare yet again that I believe in miracles. It will be a low scoring game, but Oakland’s front line will support their rookie passer and rally to beat Houston 19-14.

Ed: Generally speaking, two things matter in the playoffs — defense and quarterbacks. Both Houston and Oakland have the former, and neither of them have the latter. However, Brock Osweiler has more experience on the field and in big games than Connor Cook, and Houston’s playing at home. It’s tough to see how Oakland overcomes the shock of losing both its QBs in the final three weeks of the season and the division title that was all but theirs. Houston’s defense gives up four fewer points a game than Oakland’s. It’s the second-best defense against the pass in the league, but 12th against the rush. Oakland’s rushing game is 6th in the league, but with a rookie QB starting, Houston’s D will be keying on the running game today. It’s not going to be pretty, but Houston wins 21-10.

Jazz: The Detroit Lions visit the Seattle Seahawks (8:15 PM, NBC) and it isn’t shaping up to be much of a thriller as far as I’m concerned. Detroit has played well above expectations in many ways, but Seattle went 7-1 at home this season. While not as dominant as they have been in the past, that 12th man advantage can’t be ignored. Matthew Stafford had a great season leading the Lions, but since he injured a finger on this throwing hand a few weeks ago he’s not been at the top of his game. I have to go with the oddsmakers on this one and give it to Seattle 28-21.

Ed: The Seahawks don’t have the same dominance as they have over the last few seasons, and even their home-field advantage doesn’t quite seem the same. Their one loss at home was just two weeks ago against the Cards, who didn’t make the playoffs. They’ve gone 3-3 over the last six weeks of the season, coasting into the post-season while losing to teams with winning records. On the other hand, Detroit has dropped three in a row — all against playoff teams — after a five-game winning streak against teams without winning records. They haven’t won a playoff game since Bush was president … the first Bush. Seattle outranks them on both sides of the ball, and they’ve been here before and know how to handle it. I’d like to see Detroit break its streak, but they really needed a home game to do that — especially against the Seahawks. Seattle 35-24 over Detroit.