Fearless Rick's NFL Football Picks - Wild Card late games

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Wild Card NFL Playoff Picks- late games

All times Eastern

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Sunday, January 7

1:05 pm Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers (-10, 46) - The biggest spread of the week goes to the Miami Dolphins, getting 10 points from the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh is on a serious roll, winners of their last seven straight after a 4-5 start. Pittsburgh lost four straight before they started winning, the last loss a 35-30 defeat at the hands of #1 NFC seed Dallas.

Pittsburgh may have the most explosive offense of the 12 playoff teams, with the notable exception of the Patriots and/or Green Bay. The Steelers scored at a rate of 24.9 points per game, tied with Buffalo at #10 overall.

Miami checks in at #17, averaging 22.7 ppg through the regular season.

Leading the Steelers offense is veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was injured earlier in the season but missed just one full game - notably against the Patriots (a 27-16 loss). He was injured against Miami, a game which the Dolphins won handily, 30-15.

However, that game was all the way back in mid-October, making it ancient history as far as the NFL is concerned. With Roethlisberger at QB and targets such as the incomparable Antonio Brown and Marcus Wheaton on the wideouts, the Steelers pose interesting problems for Miami's defense. Making matters more intriguing, running back Le'Veon Bell is among the league's most productive backs, having gained 1268 yards on 261 carries this season.

Pittsburgh's defense is also quite respectable, having allowed 20.4 points through 17 regular season games. They're ranked #10 league-wise, as compared to #18 for Miami, which allowed 23.8 ppg.

Miami has some serious issued with which to deal offensively. Regular starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, has been ruled out for this contest, putting veteran Matt Moore behind center. Moore is not terrible and he can rely on sensational running back Jay Ajayi to pick up the slack. Ajayi rushed for more than 200 yards in three games this season, two against the Bills and one in the Dolphins' win over Pittsburgh (204). He's a bruising type with good speed, very similar to Pittsburgh's Bell.

While the Dolphins appear to be severe underdogs but they are a decent road team (4-4). It's important to note that of their four road losses, two were to playoff teams, New England and Seattle, and those games were played in September.

Pittsburgh has a heavy edge in experience, many their players having been in playoff situations multiple times. Miami is a pretty youthful bunch, but the secondary is shaky, as evidenced by their season-ending, 35-14, loss to New England, as the Pats wrapped up the #1 seed in the AFC.

Even with Moore at quarterback, the Dolphins may be able to keep this competitive, though it's difficult to see them upsetting the power-packed Steelers at home. The nod goes to Pittsburgh to win and cover the line handily.

Coin Flip: Pittsburgh

Rick's Pick: Steelers 30 Dolphins 17

4:40 pm NY Giants at Green Bay Packers (-4 1/2, 44 1/2) - In what may be th toughest call of the weekend, the Giants come into Green Bay with one of the best defenses in the entire league.

At 11-5, New York wrapped up a wild card spot in fairly easy fashion as the rest of the NFC contenders wilted in the final weeks of the season. Green Bay's fate wasn't certain until the Giants knocked off the Redskins in week 17 with a 19-10 victory at Washington, essentially eliminating the Redskins and Buccaneers from the playoffs, while ensuring that Green Bay and Detroit would be in, regardless of their Sunday night outcome. The Packers prevailed over the Lions in Detroit, 31-24, capturing the NFC North division and home field at least for this game.

As far as defense goes, the Giants have it in spades over the Packers. New York was second in points allowed to New England, allowing 17.8 per game. The Packers were well down the list at #21, giving up 24.3 points per outing. That number may prove the Packers' undoing, as quarterback Eli Manning has proven over time to be one of the toughest competitors in post-season play, already with two Super Bowl victories on his resume.

Green Bay's counterpart to Manning is potential league MVP, Aaron Rodgers, who limped through the middle of the season but kept the Packers in contention. On November 20, the Packers were a woeful 4-6, following their fourth consecutive loss, a 42-24 beating at Washington.

Rodgers led them to six straight wins to close out the regular season, capturing the NFC North in the process. While Rodgers has plenty of weaponry at wideout, including Jordy Nelson and Davonte Adams, the Packers lack a solid running back. Converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery has been a surprise in the backfield late in the season, but the ground game is certainly not Green Bay's strong suit. Neither is it for the Giants, but they have a number of backs that can get the job done, including Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins.

Should this game evolve into a dart-throwing match between Rodgers and Manning, look for the Giants to forge a lead and hold it. New York has an impressive group up front, able to put pressure on Rodgers and their secondary is possibly the best of the playoff teams. Don't discount the potential of two or three interceptions by the Giants to turn the game in their favor.

On offense, the two look pretty even, but the Giants' big advantage on defense should manifest itself into a big upset.

Coin Flip: NY Giants

Rick's Pick: Giants 34 Packers 23

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