NFL Hash Marks: Wild Card missing in action - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

NFL Hash Marks: Wild Card missing in action

Oakland's Derek Carr, Houston's Tom Savage, and Miami's Ryan Tannehill will not be leading their teams into the NFL playoffs this weekend. (Source: AP/Wilfredo Lee/Eric Christian Smith) Oakland's Derek Carr, Houston's Tom Savage, and Miami's Ryan Tannehill will not be leading their teams into the NFL playoffs this weekend. (Source: AP/Wilfredo Lee/Eric Christian Smith)

(RNN) - The first round of the playoffs begins Saturday. If you'd like to be an NFL quarterback this weekend, please raise your hand and you'll be called upon shortly.

#StrangerDanger - Five of the eight teams are going in with the guys that got them there. But the three others have a backup, a backup to a backup, or a starter that became the backup but is back up to start.

It's Wild Card weekend, all right.

Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans, 4:35 p.m. ET Saturday

The Raiders (12-4) lost starting QB and MVP candidate Derek Carr when his leg was broken in Week 16. They lost backup QB Matt McGloin - not to be confused with yearbook prank "Pat McGroin" - when he hurt his shoulder Week 17.

That leaves rookie Connor Cook. He'll be the first QB in the Super Bowl era to have his first start in the playoffs. His accuracy is questionable, never completing better than 59 percent of his throws at Michigan State, but he has an NFL arm and is careful with the football.

Oakland coach Jack Del Rio talked up Cook's confidence, but they should lean on their run game to set the tone and keep him from having to do too much. Left tackle Donald Penn is the anchor of a large and talented offensive line that sends three to the Pro Bowl, and he's expected to play despite missing some practice this week with a knee injury.

Every year, one division is less than the rest, and its winner makes the playoffs only because the rules say someone must. That division is the AFC South, and that team is the Texans (9-7).

Houston never found anything resembling an offensive identity in 2016. It was so bad, starting QB Brock Osweiler got benched in Week 15 … against 3-13 Jacksonville. Backup Tom Savage came in and saved the day … against 3-13 Jacksonville. They would've lost the division in the final week, thanks to a loss to the Titans, but the Titans lost their QB and the game the week before … against 3-13 Jacksonville.

A team should lose its playoff spot when the 3-13 Jaguars play that much of a role. And Osweiler is back in charge after a concussion to Savage.

The Texans defense carried the team, as it gave up the fewest yards in the league. Former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney had a breakout season, with six sacks and 16 tackles for loss. The only category the D didn't dominate is turnovers, with 18 on the year (tied for 26th).

Oakland won the Week 11 matchup between the two teams in Mexico City, 27-20.

Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks, 8:15 p.m. Saturday

Once upon a time in Week 14, the Lions were 9-4, sitting atop the NFC North and in good position for a first-round bye. Fast forward, and Detroit (9-7) finds itself in the postseason despite its three-game losing streak. Its consolation prize is a game in Seattle, where road teams’ dreams of advancing go to die.

The Seahawks (10-5-1) are 9-0 in their last nine at home in the playoffs - their last loss was in ’04. Owner Paul Allen had the stadium designed specifically to bring the noise, and the "12th man" had the loudest crowd noise record until the Chiefs took the title in '14.

These aren't the same 'Hawks of the last few years, though. They were a top-four rushing team every year from 2012 to 2015; this season they were 25th - including only 87 yards against an NFL-worst 49ers rush defense in Week 17. That’s left much more responsibility on QB Russell Wilson, who threw 63 more passes than his previous career high. More dropbacks plus an inexperienced offensive line also led to the Seahawks giving up 42 sacks this season.

They sure would like to have Marshawn Lynch back. Or at least that "Planet Earth II" lizard.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford hasn't been the same since injuring his finger in Week 14, the week before their three-game losing streak started. He's been wearing a one-finger glove with a splint, and it’s shown in his accuracy.

Their success may depend on Golden Tate, the team’s top playmaker, getting the ball in space to create against the outstanding Seattle defensive backs, although the Seahawks are without safety Earl Thomas. The Lions' Darius Slay has been among the top cornerbacks in the league, and he will likely see a lot of WR Doug Baldwin. He'll need the rest of the secondary to perform better than they have in a month to quiet Wilson and the passing game.

Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:05 p.m. Sunday

The Steelers' (11-5) Le'Veon Bell became the first player in league history to average 100 rushing yards and 50 passing yards per game. The Steelers' Antonio Brown finished in the top two in the NFL in receptions for the fourth-straight year. And the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger again had one of the most massive heads in the history of heads - the guy’s Funko Pop! doll is actual size to-scale.

They all sat Week 17, and the team needed OT to beat a one-win Cleveland squad. That’s the long way around to say these three are vital to Pittsburgh’s success, and they have their team on a seven-game win streak. The Steelers D is hardly the terror it's been in known for in years past, but it's in the top 10 in points allowed, at just over 20 per game, and linebacker James Harrison is still getting it done at age 38.

First-year Miami head coach Adam Gase looks like a genius after turning a 1-4 start into a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. The team even navigated the choppy waters of losing starting QB Ryan Tannehill in Week 14, going 3-1 in their last four with backup Matt Moore.

The Dolphins' turnaround coincided with the emergence of Jay Ajayi at running back. The second-year pro has a nice mix of strength and slippery and managed 200 yards on the ground in a game three times this season. The defense has playmakers up front in Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, but it’s struggled all season. Miami gave up 140 rushing yards per game this season, the worst among teams not named Browns or 49ers.

Bell should have plenty of room to run, Roethlisberger should be slinging the ball around, and Ajayi should have opportunities to respond - a good chance for a high-scoring game here. Moore has a trio of talented receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills, but this will be the 32-year-old's first taste of the playoffs. The Steelers haven’t had a consistent performer at receiver outside of Brown, but he’s used to getting extra attention from opposing defenses. 

Miami knocked off Pittsburgh 30-15 at home in a Week 6 matchup, when Roethlisberger was hobbled with a knee injury.

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, 4:40 p.m. Sunday

The Giants (11-5) finally may have found a running game in Week 17, going for 161 yards against Washington. Or it could be Washington’s D is just that bad - defensive coordinator Joe Barry was fired this week.

Head coach Ben McAdoo got the job after two seasons as offensive coordinator in New York, but his team's production has slipped on that side of the ball. They join the Texans as the only playoff teams not to average more than 20 points per game. One reason for that may be the Giants didn't need it - their D is second in the league in points allowed.

McAdoo is familiar with the opponent, serving as an assistant from '06 to '13 with the Packers (10-6) and their coach, Mike McCarthy.

The Packers beat the Giants 23-16 at home in Week 4.

Green Bay needed every game in its ongoing six-game winning streak to capture the NFC North. QB Aaron Rodgers shook off a rough 2 1/2 months - at least by his standards - and hasn't thrown an interception since mid-November, with 19 TDs along the way.

The defense has given the offense little room for error (24.2 points per game, 21st), and a 20th-ranked rushing attack hasn't helped much either. They've gotten some ground production down the stretch from Ty Montgomery, a receiver who converted to running back, as well as Christine Michael, who they signed in November.

Giants receivers don't mind that it's expected to be a high temperature of 13 degrees Sunday, calling it "perfect football weather," according to Odell Beckham Jr.

That's harder to believe than an early morning Twitter rant. Still, Rodgers and Eli Manning can keep their wideouts warm by giving them plenty of deep routes to run.

Hash Marks, formerly NFL of the Week, is a preview/analysis of games and a satirical look at the entire NFL Universe - the players, coaches, owners, fans and media. For more sports and other news, follow @MattQuillenRNN on Twitter.

Copyright 2017 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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