After 17 weeks and 256 regular season games, the NFL playoffs are now upon us.
The Wild Card round of the playoffs is important. If you’re a non-believer, just research the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. Then research the 2011 New York Giants. Two teams who recently trekked to the Super Bowl mountain as Wild Card round participants. One of the Super Bowl favorites this season is the home team in this interesting matchup.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) enter the playoffs behind a lethal trio on offense and a steadily improving defense. The team has won seven in a row, including four against AFC North division opponents. Impressive considering how the team was 4-5 at one point in the season. As for the Dolphins (10-6), Miami is arguably the most surprising team in this year’s playoffs. First-year head coach Adam Gase has led the team to nine wins in their last 11 contests. Can their surprising season continue on the road against the mighty Steelers? Here is the preview of the Sunday kickoff at 1 PM EST.
What To Know About Miami
Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (2,995 yards, 19 TDs, 12 INTs) was having a decent season until he suffered a sprain ACL & MCL late in the season. So backup QB Matt Moore steps up to the plate. Moore tossed for eight touchdowns in the last three games of the season. He is not spectacular by any means but he is one of the better backups in the NFL. Moore is handing off to running back Jay Ajayi, who had one of the year’s best breakout seasons. Ajayi ran for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns on the year. Ajayi became the fourth RB in NFL history to rush for over 200 yards on three different occasions. A solid offensive line led by left tackle Brenden Albert and rookie guard Laremy Tunsil led a run game that was ranked ninth in the NFL. Slot receiver Jarvis Landry (94 catches, 1,136 yards, four TDs) is the leader of a young receiving corps. Although it’s only a matter of time until receiver Devante Parker (56/744/4) is the #1 guy.
The defensive unit is led by the aggressive Ndamukong Suh. One of the best defensive tackles in the game today, Suh is fifth on the team in tackles with 41. He also is the focal point of most offenses that are lined up against Miami. That only helps defensive end Cam Wake, who led the team in sacks with 11.5. If only they were able to get production out of veteran Mario Williams (nine tackles, 1.5 sacks). The 12-year veteran who is a former 1st overall pick has been a non-factor the entire season and recently benched. The unit is tied for ninth in the league in total interceptions with 16. Ten different players on the defense have recorded an interception this season. As a whole, the defense has been average for most of the season but have found ways to make key winning plays.
What To Know About Pittsburgh
To have an offense that possesses arguably the best RB (Le’Veon Bell) and WR (Antonio Brown), game days can be fairly easy. Bell (1,884 total yards, nine TDs) was suspended three games and he still posted a season similar to his All-Pro 2014 season. Brown (106/1282/12) posted his fourth straight 100-catch season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sixth in the NFL in passing touchdowns with 29. That’s despite missing one game due to injury and another due to rest. Overall, the offense ranked seventh overall and 10th in scoring offense thanks largely to the productive trio. Whatever the team can get out of receivers Eli Rogers and Derrius Hayward-Bey is an added bonus.
Entering the 2016 season, the biggest question mark on the team was the defense. As we enter the playoffs, it’s safe to say that the unit is very much reliable. The unit was 21st at the end of last season, now they are 12th overall. They are also 10th in scoring defense and have held seven opponents to 16 points or less. Linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons are the nucleus of the defense and have combined for 133 tackles, six sacks, and five interceptions. Rookie CB Artie Burns is tied for the team lead interceptions with three and has been a bright spot this season. Outside linebackers James Harrison and Bud Dupree have 9.5 sacks between them. On the backend, safety Mike Mitchell is the enforcer providing even more aggressive play.
The Steelers have been in this position before. Playing well late in the season, entering as a Wild Card, and going on a deep run. Coming into this contest, they are one of the AFC favorites. Even considering that two higher seeds (New England and Kansas City) are even hotter than them.
The Dolphins are upset-minded. Although they will not have Tannehill, they still have considerable talent. The run game behind Ajayi is capable of gashing the Steelers. Be mindful that the two teams faced in Miami back in week six. During that contest, Ajayi torched Pittsburgh for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Which resulted in the Dolphins getting a 30-15 victory.
In that game, Tannehill was present for Miami. Now Moore has to guide the team in a hostile territory to get a playoff win. He has played well to end the season. Moore has to be as close to flawless in this one also. Not to the tune of 400 yards and four touchdowns. But Moore has to be protective of the ball and make sharp decisions.
The run defense for Miami will have to be sharp also. The unit is 30th in the NFL against the run and now face an elite back in Bell. If Bell has his way in this one, it will be a quiet flight back to Miami.
The playoff experience will likely play a hand in this one. The Dolphins are capable of making the upset, believe it or not. Pittsburgh will lean heavily on Bell and Brown on offense. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin will send waves of pressure at the career backup in Moore. Miami will give Pittsburgh a game for four quarters. However, the playoff experience will be something to monitor. Especially with a Dolphins team with a backup QB and a rookie head coach.
Score – Pittsburgh 28 Miami 23