Saturday, January 20, 2018
Sports

Giants-Packers and Dolphins-Steelers. Bundle up.

The New York Giants leapt through an arctic Lambeau Field in the postseason nine years ago, on their way to a Super Bowl parade. The 1972 Miami Dolphins won a playoff game in wind-chilled Pittsburgh on their path to a perfect season.

The Giants and the Dolphins may want to channel their former selves in today's playoff games. Each team's road to this year's Super Bowl in Houston winds through freezing conditions (temperatures will peak in the mid teens) and the city limits of a divisional champion.

Precedent makes for a great pregame speech in the visiting locker room. Expect the Packers and the Steelers to offer ingame rebuttals on their home tundra.

Here is a look at today's games and who we think will win them.

Miami Dolphins (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5), 1:05 p.m., CBS

On Oct. 16, the Dolphins were 1-4, worst in the AFC East. The Steelers were 4-1, kings of the AFC North. They met in Pittsburgh, and Miami won, in a game no one considered a postseason preview. But here they both are again, in a playoff showdown.

The Dolphins won Round 1 because running back Jay Ajayi gained 204 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns. It helped that Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 24 of 32 passes for 252 yards, but he has been out with a sprained knee since Week 11. It is up to Tannehill's replacement, Matt Moore, who is making the first postseason start of his nine-year career, to provide air cover for the running game.

Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell missed the past two postseasons with knee injuries. Now, his ligaments are as healthy as his numbers. Bell rushed 110 times in the last four games of the regular season, for 569 yards, and he averaged 187 yards from scrimmage. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who played with an injured knee in the first meeting with the Dolphins, has led the Steelers to seven consecutive victories.

Defense tips the scoreboard in Pittsburgh's favor. This seasons's team is not the Steel Curtain of old, but it pinches up inside the 20-yard line — with the NFL's fourth-ranked red-zone defense.

Line: Steelers by 11. Pick: Steelers

New York Giants (11-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-6), 4:40 p.m., Fox

Giants fans keep waiting for the return of the good Eli Manning, the quarterback who won two Super Bowl rings with wild-card teams — both of them after having successfully passed through Green Bay.

Only one team — the New England Patriots — has allowed fewer points than the Giants' this season. The Giants kept opposing teams to 10, 6 and 7 points in their last three victories. That was necessary because the Giants scored 19, 17 and 10 points.

The Giants need Manning to flip the playoff switch, especially if Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers turns this game into a Lambeau Leap-a-thon. That is what happens when Rodgers has at least five seconds to find open receivers. Giants cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie cannot cover their men forever, not against one of the best ad-lib throwers in the league.

Rodgers has not thrown an interception in 245 consecutive passes, which helps explain how Green Bay won its final six games (three against playoff teams). The Packers have scored at least 30 points in each of the past four weeks to outpace the shortcomings of their defense. Did we mention that they beat the Giants once already this season?

Line: Packers by 5. Pick: Packers

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