The NFL is entering Week 11, and fans are getting a taste of exactly who their teams can be. In that spirit, TGH is predicting who would win the Wild Card matchups if the playoffs started today.
Keep in mind, these matchups are only representative of where the teams are ahead of Week 11’s Thursday Night Football game. Since the future potential is speculative at best, we will be talking about the teams as they are today.
Wild Card Weekend
AFC Wild Card – Pittsburgh Steelers (#6) vs. Houston Texans (#3)
While the Texans have a bona fide MVP candidate in Deshaun Watson, their defense is suspect. The back end of Houston’s defense is especially questionable. Now, with J.J. Watt out for the year and Jadeveon Clowney being traded to Seattle, can they even get to the quarterback?
On the other side, the Steelers have the opposite problem. Mason Rudolph has been serviceable, but his lack of comfort throwing the ball deep is still prevalent. A check down offense is something the Texans would invite, because no one would be testing their bad cornerback play. Their turnover-centric defense, however, has been fantastic.
In the end, football is a game of momentum, and this is an article centered on, “if the playoffs started today.” So, the only answer is to go with the hottest team, which is the Steelers. They have won four in a row, after all.
Deshaun Watson’s offensive line is much improved this year, no doubt. But, in hypothetical scenarios, it is best to air on the side of history, which would point to the Steelers’ good pass rush getting to him early and often. Then, if a lead is created, the aforementioned check down offense can eat up enough clock to secure a close win.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC Wild Card – Buffalo Bills (#5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (#4)
Speaking of suspect defense, no other contender has a worse defense than the Chiefs, and it is not close. For example, Patrick Mahomes threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Chiefs still lost by three.
Sure, blame can be placed on special teams, but with numbers like those the vast majority of that loss is on the defense. This Chiefs team smacks of the Packers teams of old. Aaron Rodgers was consistently terrific, yet they would lose games and get bounced in the playoffs because they could not stop a nosebleed defensively. Mahomes cannot be expected to do everything.
The Bills defense, however, is solid. Their question marks come on offense, where quarterback Josh Allen is becoming a runner more than a thrower. Their lack of playmakers is a huge concern, and it is highly doubtful they can win a shootout. Especially against one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL.
In short, it is much more likely Mahomes and company beat a third-ranked pass defense than Buffalo winning a shootout. Especially in Arrowhead Stadium. This matchup would probably not be close.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
NFC Wild Card – Minnesota Vikings (#6) vs. New Orleans Saints (#3)
The Vikings’ rushing attack is incredibly potent. Dalvin Cook has emerged as one of the premier backs in the league, as he leads the NFL in rushing over MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey. The defense also holds its own consistently, so there are no real worries there.
The problems start and end with Kirk Cousins and the passing game.
Yes, he has been impressive as of late, and even secured the elusive primetime win on Sunday Night Football last week against Dallas. But a good stretch does not a Super Bowl quarterback make. Cousins has a ways to go in proving he can lead this team to a playoff run, despite the talent at every position.
The Saints, however, have next to no holes on their roster. An over-the-top threat is the one thing they lack. It has not been much of a problem up to this point, but those kinds of weaknesses are what playoff contenders will exploit.
Regardless, they still have Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. That’s a triumvirate that even the best defenses in the league may not have the power to overcome. As long as the defense retains any kind of solid play, it is hard to bet against them in most matchups. Sunday’s game against the Falcons notwithstanding.
It is hard to imagine a scenario where the Saints fall to the Vikings. Sean Payton can key in on their offensive shortcomings and do enough to win.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
NFC Wild Card – Seattle Seahawks (#5) vs. Dallas Cowboys (#4)
This one is pretty easy.
Seattle has a potential front-runner for MVP leading the offense almost flawlessly. On Monday, they beat a previously unbeaten team in a grind-it-out overtime game on the road. Jadeveon Clowney is coming to life, and Josh Gordon may prove to be the secret weapon if he can stay on the field.
Dallas, however, is losing bad games. Their offensive line is regressing, and the play-calling is questionable at best. Dak Prescott is throwing the ball well, and Zeke Elliot can still be Zeke Elliot. But pretty much everything would have to go right for the Cowboys if they were to beat the Seahawks.
If the way Seattle disrupted a good offensive line in San Francisco is any kind of trend, then Dallas would have a lot to worry about in this game. Even at home.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
Featured Image courtesy of Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
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