Saturday, September 22, 2018
Sports

Who's playing? More like who's not

The tale of the season's first two NFL playoff games is all about the headline names who won't be taking their Pro Bowl talents to the line of scrimmage in Houston and Seattle.

Today, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (back surgery) won't be chasing down Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (broken leg), and Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas (broken leg) won't be blitzing Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, an injured star who will play, albeit with a 1-3 record since dislocating his right middle finger.

Here's a look at today's wild-card playoff games and who we think will win them.

Oakland Raiders (12-4) at Houston Texans (9-7), 4:35 p.m., ESPN and ABC.

The Texans have the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. The Raiders counter with the clubhouse leader for the defensive player of the year award, Khalil Mack.

Given the available quarterbacks, this game has all the makings of an offensive slog.

In Derek Carr's absence, Raiders rookie Connor Cook is set to become the first NFL quarterback to make the first start of his career in the postseason. With Houston's late-season starter, Tom Savage, in the concussion protocol, its $72 million quarterback, Brock Osweiler, will come back from the bench — where he was sent in Week 15 along with his 16 interceptions against 14 touchdowns.

The Texans will saturate the pocket with unhealthy amounts of the Pro Bowl pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney (16 tackles for a loss). Combine that with the return of 1,073-yard rusher Lamar Miller (ankle), plus a 7-1 home record this season, and Houston should like its chances.

The Raiders defense will struggle to get off the field. Oakland's offense has only 13 first downs in its 15 post-Carr drives — a sure way for the Raiders to wear out their defense from overexposure. They will need their sixth-ranked rushing game to buy time if they are to survive the franchise's first postseason game in 14 years.

Line: Texans by 4. Pick: Texans.

Detroit Lions (9-7) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1), 8:15 p.m., NBC.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has never lost a playoff game at home. But then, he has never been asked to do so without the Pro Bowl services of safety Earl Thomas and running back Marshawn Lynch, who retired after last season.

In Wilson's 10th postseason home game in five years, he will have to compensate for his team's suddenly vulnerable pass defense and 25th-ranked rushing offense if the Seahawks, the NFC West champions, are to advance.

Wilson has the requisite accuracy (64.7 percent completion rate) to pick apart the Lions' secondary; Detroit's opponents completed 72.7 percent of their passes, an NFL season record. As shaky as Seattle's offensive line has been, it won't capitulate to a Detroit pass rush that has 26 sacks, the second fewest in the league.

The Lions have lost three consecutive games since Matthew Stafford dislocated his finger, tumbling from the NFC North leaders to the last wild-card team.

Stafford's ability to throw will determine if the Lions win a playoff game for the first time since 1991, and one on the road for the first time since 1957.

Line: Seahawks by 8. Pick: Seahawks.

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