Fearless Rick's NFL Football Picks - Wild Card Early Games

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WILD CARD NFL Playoff Picks

All times Eastern

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Week 17 Results: Coin: 7-9; Rick: 8-8
Cumulative Complete Regular Season: Coin: 108-126-8; Rick: 117-117-8

Saturday, January 7

4:35 pm Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans (-3 1/2, 36) - First victim on the wild card program is the wounded Oakland Raiders, whose quarterback - and potential league MVP - Derek Carr, was injured in a week 16, 33-25 win over Indianapolis, suffering a broken leg that forced backup Matt McGloin into action.

Entering week 17, the Raiders still had hope for winning the division title, but those dreams were smashed by the Broncos, who missed the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl last season and now are looking for a replacement for head coach Gary Kubiak, who announced that he was stepping down due to health reasons.

McGloin didn't fare well in the week 17, 24-6 loss at Denver, the substitute himself said farewell in the second quarter, leaving the game in the hands of untested rookie Connor Cook. McGloin was largely ineffective, completing just six passes for 22 yards.

Cook did a little better, hitting on 14 of 21 passes and a TD to Amari Cooper, but he tossed an interception and lost a fumble en route to the Raiders not only losing out on the division crown, but a first week bye as well. Kansas City took the division and the Raiders dropped all the way down to the #5 seed and a wild card road game.

With all of that happening to the Raiders, it brings up the matter of Houston's quarterback situation.

Brock Osweiler had been the starting QB all season, but when the Texans fell behind Jacksonville in week 15, he was replaced by Tom Savage, who led the team back to a 21-20 victory, a key win in Houston's surge to the AFC South division title.

Savage also got the start the following week, leading the Texans to a 12-10 victory over Cincinnati. With their playoff position secure, the Texans put Osweiler back on the field in week 17, replacing Savage as the game neared half time. The Texans dropped a meaningless, 24-27, decision at Tennessee, but Osweiler wasn't bad, though he wasn't very good, either, throwing for 253 yards on 21 of 40 throws, with a touchdown.

Controversy is still swirling around the Houston camp over who should be the starter against Oakland, though the scales seemed tipped in favor of Osweiler. Though he's not a great thrower, he should be consistent enough to move the ball into scoring position against the sloppy Oakland defense. The Raiders were 20th in points allowed, giving up an average of 24.1 per game. Houston's defense was the league's best in terms of yardage, allowing a league low 301.3.

From what's known about the Raider offense, it doesn't appear that it will be much of a threat without Carr, and Cook, the likely starter, is a rookie our of Michigan State who has never started an NFL game.

On the Houston side of the ball, their defense is probably going to help win the game more so than the offense. The game plan would be simply for Osweiler or Savage - there's a possibility that both could see time behind center - to simply not lose the game with turnovers or sacks.

With problems at the quarterback position for both teams, this looks like it could be a very low-scoring outcome. Field goals and field position may become the primary objectives.

Houston place kicker, Nick Novak converted 35 of 41 attempts and made 22 of 25 extra points. Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski was 29 of 35 in field goals and missed just two of his 39 extra point tries. This looks like a wash. Though Novak may prove to have the stronger leg than the aging Janikowski, the Oakland kicker has more experience.

The punters - Marquette King for Oakland and Shane Lechler of Houston - also appear closely matched. King averaged 48.6 yards per punt, Lechler, 47.5. Houston's Tyler Ervin and Oakland's Jalen Richard are below average as returners of both kickoffs and punts. Neither had a return for a TD during the regular season.

As hard as it may be for the NFL to admit, this game is a dud. Neither team has significant upside considering their offensive woes and the winner is likely to be knocked out in the next round. For whatever it's worth, the Texans, with home field and a superior defense, should prevail, though it will likely be one of the uglier wins of the season.

Coin Flip: Oakland

Rick's Pick: Texans 23 Raiders 10

8:15 pm Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks (-8, 43) - Having backed into the playoffs when the Giants defeated the Redskins earlier in the day last Sunday in week 17, the Lions - after their Sunday night, 31-24, loss to the Packers - are capable of playing well against any team in the league on any field, as they have proven throughout the 2016 regular season.

Despite being a wild card, Detroit offers a variety of offensive weapons and a defense that is adequate and sometimes comes up big. Against the Seahawks, the Lions may find some success against Seattle's secondary, especially if they pick on cornerback DeShawn Shead, who's been prone to being overmatched in a number of games.

The Lions come into the game with the #11 passing offense, led by QB Matthew Stafford and buoyed by wideouts Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. Stafford also enjoys throwing to running back Theo Riddick. Success in the throwing game will be predicated upon keeping the Seahawk defense honest by running the football, something the Lions haven't done well, averaging 81.9 yards rushing during the regular season, third worst in the league.

Seattle also has had difficulties moving the football offensively, as QB Russell Wilson has been slowed all season with a knee brace, which has limited his mobility, though he's thinking of shedding it for the playoffs, now that he's fully recovered and healthy. The Seahawks were marginally better than the Lions in rushing. At #25, they gained just 99.4 yards per game on the ground.

Seattle can also find success through the air, and home field also gives them a significant advantage. Seattle lost just once at home this season. Detroit is 3-5 on the road and also has limited playoff experience.

As the line indicates, this could turn out to be a Seattle rout, but the Seahawks - who finished 10-5-1 and won the NFC West division - don't appear to be as good as they were a few years ago or even last season. They haven't been able to overpower anybody on the ground, making them somewhat dependent on Wilson's throwing, and their receivers - Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse - are nothing special.

The Lions may fall behind and have little hope late in the game, but with 8 points in the bag, a late TD or field goal could prove to be enough to cover the line and upset the chalk players.

Coin Flip: Seattle

Rick's Pick: Seahawks 24 Lions 19

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